For many people, the coronavirus has meant switching from going into the office to working from home. This can be especially difficult for members of the legal profession, who work almost exclusively in the office. While the commute is definitely shorter and the flexibility greater, it can be a challenge to find the right combination of routines, manage your time and minimize distractions. What follows are some tips and guidance for making the best of our new normal.
Establish work routines that are as similar to your in the office routines and will trigger you entering work mode. Note it’s important to start with a morning routine (breakfast, walk the dog) and ease into the work. Similarly, it’s helpful to wrap up the working day with a routine (touch base call or email, compiling the day’s hours, jotting down tomorrow’s to-do list or just closing down your computer for the day). This helps you keep the two modes separate
Ideally this would be distinct from high traffic areas like the kitchen or personal areas like the bedroom. Wherever you choose, make sure that it’s uncluttered, professional and comfortable. Don’t forget ergonomics. You will also want to have good lighting and A/V accessories.
With all of the traffic on the last mile (or even several last yards), your internet speed can slow to a crawl. With a working spouse or partner and/or kids on multiple devices, it can get worse. Take the time to properly configure your network. Sometimes your internet provider can help (after they’ve tried to sell you an upgrade). Learn how poorly your network performs at its worst and then have a back up plan. Tethering with your phone can work in a pinch. If your tablet has a cell chip, you can use it on the cellular network. Some communications providers like Xfinity and AT&T have public networks you may be able to access. If you chose this last, make sure to follow your organization’s security protocols (e.g. use a VPN).
Consider chunking up work into bite-size intervals. Some prefer 60 to 90-minute periods while others like the shorter periods like 30 minutes (e.g. the Pomodoro Method). The important thing is to leave a space of time 5 to 15 minutes at the end of each period to take a break.
This goes beyond faithfully calendaring your meetings. Set time aside for heads-down work so colleagues will think twice about disturbing you. On the flip side, consider dedicating a block of time to catching up with people.
More than half of all communication is non-verbal and we miss valuable visual cues when we it’s just a collection of voices. To lighten things up and have a little fun, many video conferencing apps allow users to change their backgrounds. Snap Camera, which modifies your camera, is another option. Also, don’t be afraid to converse on multiple levels. Chat can enhance and add nuance to teleconferences.
If you have kids at home with you, establish ground rules for moving around the house and when and how you can be disturbed. Consider creating blocks of time dedicated for meetings or heads down time. By the same token, establish times when they know you’ll engage with them. That said, know that you’re in a fluid environment and chaos is bound to appear so embrace it with good humor when it comes.
Because the work day is no longer book-ended by a commute or determined by time at the office, it's helpful to have milestones or structure to measure a day's work. Pick three big things, things that are priorities for the day. Not only will this give you focus, but it will help define a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.
It’s very easy to remain in one place for hours at a time. While it was no track meet, the office had a series of events — meetings, lunch, caffeine break, walk to the car, bus or train — that got you on your feet regularly. At home, you need to be more deliberate about moving. Wear a fitness tracker to count your steps and remind you to get up and move about. Take meetings in other rooms or on a walk outside (if you can). And drink lots of fluids
Carve out opportunities for spontaneity with banter time at the start of regular meetings. Consider virtual events such as meal times or happy hours. Slack has apps like Poke or Donut that encourage ad hoc engagement.
Regulate the amount of news you consume and pick your times to check it. Many of us were or have become news junkies. It’s easy to get distracted and even consumed by events in the world around us. While the new information is constantly coming to light, the overall narrative rarely changes. And if it does, the information will come to you.
Take breaks regularly and use them as times to reach out to friends and colleagues. Walk around the house or apartment. Consider a standing appointment with one of your friends, to catch up on the phone, or better yet walk the dog (taking social distancing into account). Practice the art of conversation. Spring is arriving so get outside, breath in some fresh air and soak in the energy from rebirth all around you.
With all that’s outside your control, it’s easy to forget that there are some things you can control. These include taking care of yourself and your family -- eating healthy, getting proper sleep, exercising, setting time aside to engage with friends and family, and staying safe when you do go out. When we recognize that these are conscious choices we make to protect ourselves, our family and the public at large, we create a sense of order amid all the chaos.
In this new WFH environment, we bounce from the extremes of video calls to email or instant messaging. Many of us are getting burnt out on the former and conducting more of our discourse on email/IM. Don’t forget there was a time when people talked by phone. It’s easy, personal and works much better when sorting through complicated or detailed issues. Plus, we could all benefit from the sound of a live person’s voice.
At work, you had to wear headphones that pinched your ears or sounded tinny. Music was meant to be played over a tweeter, midrange and subwoofer! Dust off your old stereo or fire up your wireless speaker. Select tunes to ease into your morning, concentrate for intense work, pick you up in the afternoon or celebrate the end of a long day. Dig up your old favorites or try new stuff. Use music to suit or improve your mood!
It’s so easy for work to intrude on personal or family time. Your time has never been more fragmented. But trying to squeeze in work and email responses whenever you have a few spare minutes during what would otherwise be personal or family time not only creates resentment from those around us but is unhealthy. Try to establish and stick to a regular scheduled work day. If you have to carve out time for family or pets, set expectations by signaling you’re unavailable or may respond slower than usual. Also consider the temporal boundaries of others. Asynchronous communication (e.g., email or IM) is a tremendous time-shifting tool, but it can cause people to feel pressured to respond out of hours. If you send a message at the end of the day or after hours, let the recipient know whether an immediate response is necessary or it can wait.
Loads of us are feeling stressed and anxious. Tamping these feelings down only makes them worse. Indulge yourself in the moment. Scream, cry or punch a pillow. Acknowledge these feelings, reflect on how they make you feel and call out what’s causing them. Now you can start coping. Go for a walk in nature. Catch up with an old friend. Meditate. Do a workout. Rearrange your bookshelf. None of these will banish the feelings but they will restore balance, context and sense of control.
Think about the fact that you’ve been given the gift of time and place. Sure, there's a lot of uncertainty, but you have more time of your own and it's your space. In many respects, the pace of life has slowed down. Be selfish with this newly found time. Spend it with the people with whom you are close — at home or virtually. Reach out to lapsed friends or family. Finish a project. Read a book.
Think of others. It sounds trite, but doing something nice for some else benefits both of you. Not only are we social creatures, but we crave fulfillment. An act of kindness, even if it doesn’t require a lot of effort, can make you feel better about yourself and bring a little more light into a dark world. Pick up groceries for an at risk neighbor or walk their dog. Donate to a food bank. Talk with those who are alone.
Eventually this period will come to an end, Make the best of it.