The Best Ways to Structure Your Work from Home Schedule
Experts weigh-in on how to make the most of working from home.
If you're used to working in an office, adjusting to a work-from-home routine can feel overwhelming. And, when you're trying to maintain normalcy during a global pandemic, working from home—or working at all—may feel downright impossible. Structuring your work from home schedule in the time of COVID-19 has distinct challenges, but there are ways to transition into remote jobs more easily.
Schedule in Blocks
You can lose hours of your workday at home when you're unsure of how to begin. That's where "block scheduling" can help. Sabrina Garba, founder and CEO of Glass Ladder Group, recommends "focus blocks" to make your responsibilities more digestible: "[I] focus on specific tasks for an hour or two without interruption. After each 'focus block,' I give myself a 15-minute mental break." That can look like doing a quick at-home workout, or even texting friends before starting your next "block." Career coach Brittany Cole suggests creating visual reminders of these blocks: "I write down [my top three areas of focus] on a note near my laptop… then tackle that list before lunch." Cole advises prioritizing your "most challenging or time-consuming" tasks during the earlier part of the day—before answering emails, if possible—so you can spend remaining energy on smaller to-do list items.
A work-from-home schedule becomes stressful when there aren't clear boundaries between personal life and business. Scheduling time blocks on a calendar can combat that problem. "My calendar is not open to all meetings all the time because I have different blocks set aside for [different] things," says management coach Kishshana Palmer. This set structure means your workday won't "meander on."
Breaks Are Important
Many people prefer working from home because of the flexibility. "What may need to be completed by 5 p.m. in an office can now be completed at 9 p.m," says Brittney Oliver, creator of networking platform Lemons 2 Lemonade. "You can find the times where you are most productive to start your day." This flexibility also means you can take smaller breaks throughout work. "I have Alexa reminding me every 60 minutes to drink water and walk," Palmer says. For your traditional lunch break, you can then spend an hour away from screens to eat lunch, sit in your backyard, or do laundry. Working from home can bring lots of distractions, especially while everyone is practicing social distancing. Janie McGlasson, a licensed therapist, advises her clients to "check-in" throughout the day to judge if a break is necessary. "I do this when I notice I'm having difficulty staying engaged in the work in front of me," she says. "I've also taken some mid-week naps when my schedule allows… Being healthy [can] mean letting yourself shut down for a bit."
Palmer agrees with having a "shut down time" at the end of your workday. "When I have reached the hour to stop working, I completely walk away from my laptop… [That's] probably one of the most important things you can do to protect your sanity."
Use a Non-Traditional Schedule
Being glued to pandemic news updates—even for your own safety—doesn't help you get work done. "Media consumption can impact productivity and executive functioning skills," says Marline Francois-Madden, LCSW. Meanwhile, Career Maven Consulting founder Tiffany Waddell Tate emphasizes this fact when recommending a "fragmented schedule" with lots of breaks outside (while social distancing) or with your children if you're a parent. "The work will be there when you get back," says Tate. "Prioritizing health is not only good for you but good for your overall productivity."