Raise your hand if managing your time during the COVID-19 pandemic means the lines between the office, home and your kids’ schoolwork now blur together — or might not exist at all. (If you raised your hand, we see you. If you couldn’t raise your hands because you’re listening in on a conference call while messaging your boss while also shouting homework directions to your kid, we understand).
Time management is a challenge during normal times, but when working remotely, it can be tougher without the parameters you’re accustomed to when you’re in the office. Here are eight tips for time management that can help you be more effective.
Plot your schedule
If you’re working at home with a partner, collaborate on a schedule each day or at the start of the week to determine who will be working where and when, and who will be in charge of any childcare or house duties. Writing it down makes it easier to follow, whether it’s on a shared calendar app (such as Google Calendar or TimeTree) or even written on a piece of paper hanging on the refrigerator.
Choose separate rooms or areas around the house and designate the expectations for each. For example, the desk you set up in your bedroom is only for work, the living room is only for leisure time, and the kitchen table is only for meals and kids’ schoolwork time. This helps you create the connection between physical space and what to mentally focus on. Using your living room for Netflix binging might make it trickier to get in “work mode” while sitting with your laptop on the couch, so find the best spots in the house to work and play, and try to keep it consistent.
Explore productivity apps
Take advantage of the wide selection of software designed to help people increase productivity (Evernote and Focus Booster are two free options). These apps not only help you keep track of projects, meet deadlines and be more organized, but also alert you when it’s time to take a break or finish out your workday. That can be pretty valuable on afternoons when you lose track of time and would otherwise keep going for an hour or more beyond quitting time. If you’re looking for break reminders and a good stretch, Stretchly is an open-source application that offers a screen reminder and timer to get you up and moving from your desk.
Dress like you’re going to the office
Don’t just throw on a pair of sweats every day. This may not seem like a time management tip, but having a routine — getting up at the same time each day and wearing clothes you wouldn’t mind going out in public in — will help you get in a frame of mind to focus on your work projects. And when you’re focused, you manage your time more effectively.
Treat free time like work meetings
It’s important to continue taking breaks like you normally would in an office setting. Schedule them on your calendar like you would for any other work meeting, even if it’s for 10 or 15 minutes at a time. Not only does this mean you’ll get a reminder, but it’s also a chance to block your calendar so colleagues see you’re busy. Use your free time to take a quick walk or have “watercooler talk” with your coworkers (also known as your family or pets).
Minimize social media distractions
Are you finding that social media is constantly distracting you? Log out of your social media accounts during work time so you’re less inclined to use them. You can remove them from your web browser shortcuts or try working on a private or “incognito” browser so you can’t auto-login to any social media pages.
Be transparent with your manager
The typical 9 to 5 workday may not be the most realistic if you have family obligations competing for your time. You might also notice you’re more productive during nontraditional hours, such as before others in your house wake up or after dinnertime. Either way, communicate openly with your manager so you’re on the same page about work hour expectations.
Set boundaries that work for you
Now that your commute home after work might just mean a walk from your kitchen table to the couch, it can be difficult to end your workday definitively. Having mobile access to work email and apps can also make shutting down a challenge. To maintain a healthy work-life balance, set an alarm to remind yourself when to end your workday. Turn your computer off and store it somewhere away from where you are so you’re not tempted to keep checking in. Some people even disable notifications for work-related apps on their mobile phone at the end of the day. A final tip: Include your work hours in your email signature or as a status/away message, if possible. That might help cut down on colleagues reaching out to you outside your work hours.