Tips for working from home

Michael Danner is the associate executive director for Church Vitality for Mennonite Church USA.

For most of my professional life, I have been self-directed in my work. That means that I have things to get done, but I have flexibility in when, where and how I get them done. I’ve worked in an office, from home, in coffee shops, from hotel rooms, in airports and so on. Within that, I did spend a significant season working from home.

As many of us are newly adapting our days to work from home to help contain the spread of coronavirus, I want to offer some of the tips that I have found particularly useful.

It is a different rhythm! Here are some tips for getting into a groove.

  1. Embrace the flexibility.
    Working from 9-5 in an office creates a structure for your work. Sometimes people who are new to working at home fear the lack of structure will leave them vulnerable to the temptations of Netflix! True, you must be a self-starter when you work remotely. But there are also advantages that allow many people to be more productive. The flexibility of working from home can be a strength. 
  2. Create your best routine.
    Freed from the constraints of 9-5, you can create a routine that allows you to perform at your best. When do you have the most energy? Are you a morning person or an evening person? When do you have lower energy? Everyone is different. The goal is for you to know yourself, how you work best, when you work best, and plan accordingly. For example, here is the routine I followed for many years on an average day.

    8:00              Wake up, breakfast
    8:30              Work out
    9:30              Get ready routine (shower, shave, etc.)
    10:00           Creative Block/Deep work (no interruptions, notifications off)
    12:00            Lunch
    12:30            Email (read and respond)
    1:00              Time Block Method (working in small blocks of time)
    5:00              Break w/dinner
    7:00              Email, calls, “end of day” ritual
    8:30              Relax
    11:00           Sleep 

    This schedule would vary if I had meetings, travel, etc. The beauty of flexibility is you can adjust your schedule to meet how you work best. If you work on a team, you do need to have an available block of time when others are also working. Consider the needs of folks in other times zones as well.

  3. Experiment with time blocks.
    A time block is what it sounds like – a block of time. Within a block of time, productivity generally diminishes the longer you work. One way to increase productivity is to work in small blocks, or chunks, of time. This is sometimes called the “time chunk” method or “pomodoro” method (pomodoro is Italian for tomato and is a reference to a tomato timer). I work best in 25 minute time blocks in the following two-hour pattern:

    25 min: work
    5 min: non-work related task
    25 min: work
    5 min: non-work related task
    25 min: work
    5 min: non-work related task
    20 min: work
    10 min: break

    You can use a tomato timer or kitchen timer to keep track of the time blocks.  I use a virtual assistant device. Another tip is drafting a list of tasks that you can get done in five minute blocks (i.e. wash dishes, switch out laundry, vacuum a room, read, practice a musical instrument, etc.). The key is that these are not work related, because this provides breaks for your concentration.

    Experiment with how you work best. You’ll notice in my example routine above I have a two-hour block for deep work, a four-hour block using the time block method, and two hours where I’m responsive to emergent needs (email, etc.).

  4. Manage interruptions.
    Interruptions come in all shapes and sizes. You can’t control all of them, but some you can. Have a dedicated work space. If there are others in your household, negotiate times when you are working and other times when you are available. Consider turning off notifications on your email and social media accounts – unless you are a social media manager. That little ping, even if you don’t read the email or post, disrupts your attention!
  5. Be proactive.
    Don’t hear me saying to ignore email or make yourself completely unavailable. Rather, be proactive and plan when you will engage email, make calls, check social media, etc. Let people know how to reach you immediately if they need you.
  6. Communicate.
    If you read email at noon and 4, let people know through an email responder (email me at michaeld@mennoniteusa.org to see mine). If you return calls at 4 p.m., let people know through your voice mail greeting. Let people know how to reach you immediately if they need you (for me, that is a text message). In my experience, people respond best when they know what to expect.
  7. Create an “end of day” ritual.
    One legitimate concern people have who are new to working at home is the concern that they will have a hard time separating work and home life. When does work begin and end? I recommend creating an “end of day” ritual. This is a set of actions you take that mark the end of your active workday. For me it is reading email, responding to matters that take less than five minutes to complete, scheduling new tasks, laying out tomorrow’s schedule, and then shutting down my computer.
  8. Be gracious to yourself.
    There is going to come a time when you just don’t feel like working. You try but can’t get in the groove. You have no energy. You can’t concentrate. That new Netflix series is too tempting. You will fail. Be gracious to yourself. The worst thing you can do is abandon the routine you created for yourself. Get back at it tomorrow. This is especially true during a pandemic. One of the things you have to do to remain productive while working at home is take care of yourself!

I hope these tips are helpful. If you have any questions about these tips or want to discuss these further, please email me at michaeld@mennoniteusa.org.

 


The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.