Teri A. Coutu, Business & Marketing Consultant
Unlike many people, my life has not changed much since the onset of COVID-19. For the past 8 years I have worked remotely from home, aboard a boat while doing The Great Loop, and from an RV traveling to/from Florida, Prince Edwards Island, and Phoenix. As an introvert, I like working remotely, but I’ve still had to adapt my process and outlook at times.
Over the years, I have learned and developed some practices that help me stay on track even when everything else seemed to be going off the rails, so I thought I would share those in hopes that they resonate and help you adapt to these new work conditions:
1. Find Your Groove. If you are used to going to bed at 11 and getting up at 6, stick to that schedule. It’s what your body is used to, and what your psyche relates to. Just because it feels like summer vacation, doesn’t mean you should change your schedule. Set your start and end time and stick to it as much as possible.
2. Get Dressed. I must admit, there ARE days when I really just want to stay in my pajamas and maybe even work on my laptop in front of the TV – and sometimes I let myself do that! BUT I am much more productive if I get dressed and follow my general routine. Now, I am NOT saying you need to wear business clothes, just put on something more than sweats!
3. Get Organized. Generally, I am a pretty well-organized person. But, working from home full-time required getting even more methodical in planning my workday, week, and month. Since I have numerous clients to keep up with and an on-going “To Do” list that has constantly changing priorities, I created an Excel spreadsheet to plan, prioritize, and monitor my workload. It’s the first thing I view in the morning, so I can see and set my priorities for the day while looking at my week as a whole.
4. Set Up Your Office. You may not have the luxury of a separate room you can call your office right now, but that shouldn’t stop you from having what you need regardless of what you are using for a desk. When we moved from a 4-bedroom house to a 40’ boat I bought a tool chest on wheels that became my portable office. I organized my binders, papers, and supplies in the chest, and used a portable filing box for the info I need daily. This is still what I use when taking big trips, and it’s been a lifesaver!
5. Learn New Ways To Communicate. As my business is mostly digital, I rarely see my clients in-person. As a result, I had to start offering other options to stay connected. The key here is asking the people you are working with to tell you how they want to communicate – Zoom, Facetime, Email, Text, Phone…. AND, try to identify their behavioral style so you can better meet their needs. For instance, some people want quick, to-the-point communication, while others want to chit chat a bit before getting to business topics. Knowing what people prefer can really build a connection.
6. Take A Break. Or two! Working from home can be challenging because you may start to feel like you’re working 24/7. It helps if you take some breaks during the day and step away from your work for just a few minutes. Stretch, get some water, go outside and breathe in the fresh air – do something good for your health during your breaks.
7. Stay Healthy. It’s not always easy, but I have been practicing adding healthy activities to my regular day. It is too easy to get caught up in sitting at a desk and staring at a screen, and that is not good for the body or soul. I recently started doing YouTube yoga in the morning. I found a couple of great instructors that match my abilities and it has been really helpful. I also put some hand weights next to my desk so when I am waiting for files to upload/download, or am listening in on a conference call, I can do some easy exercises throughout the day. Nutritionally, I’ve learned that if you stock more healthy foods than you do chips and candy, you’ll eat more grapes, apples, bananas, carrots, celery….
8. Connect Regularly. It’s funny, but since we’ve been social distancing, some of the people I used to hear from often suddenly seem very far away, while people I rarely connected with have been sending more texts and making more comments on social media. It can feel very isolating when you can’t go out, even if there are other people in your house. So, do yourself and your friends a favor and just check in regularly. Get on group chats or organize them for your friends and family. If you work with a small team of people, check-in with them during the day.
9. Manage Your Emotions. It’s hard to stay focused on work when you’re worried about finances, your family, and your health. It helps if you expand your emotional intelligence and start with self-awareness. Identify what emotions you are feeling and dig down to figure out the root cause. Then, practice self-regulation and use the technique of Refrain, Reflect, and Respond. When something bothers you, refrain from engaging in a knee-jerk reaction and take some time to breathe. Then, reflect on the situation without judgment but with empathy. Once you are calm and are ready to address the situation, respond with the sole intent of finding a solution instead of adding to the problem.
10. Go With The Flow. Even when life is “normal” (Is that possible?) unexpected situations regularly interrupt even the most organized day. Learning to relax expectations and release the need to control everything is one of the most helpful things I learned while traveling. There really IS an ebb and flow in life, and it’s so much easier if we learn to enjoy the ride and focus on the good. The more we look for good things, the more good things we will experience.
Keep It Going
Regardless of whether you’re working from home temporarily, or as part of your regular work-life, maintaining a schedule or process is critical to staying productive. You may have to find what works best for you through trial and error. And, maybe you are simply someone who needs the structure and interactions of a conventional workplace. This is a great time to find out who you are and what you need to stay motivated, productive and fulfilled!