The COVID-19 pandemic has flipped our world upside down. In these dystopian-like times, where ghost streets and empty supermarkets have become a reality, the simple idea of working is secondary. But amid concerned phone calls with relatives, bulk ordering supplies via Amazon, and disinfecting your home from the ground up, your work pile is slowly turning into an insurmountable mountain. Not to mention, if you’re working from home, small distractions you never faced at work start to surface (e.g., TV, cooking, playing with your dog, etc.), turning 15-minute breaks into hour-long intermissions. So the question is: how can you leave all of these peripheral disturbances aside, and increase your productivity while working from home? Search no more, we’ve got the answer.

Create a dedicated space for work.

Turning your home into an office is more difficult than you’d like to think. For years you’ve programmed your body to associate home with relaxation and the office with work. But now, all of a sudden, both worlds are forced to collide. For this union to be as smooth as possible, make one specific area of your home your new workspace and the rest will be dedicated to winding down. The clear separation between your professional and personal space will set physical boundaries that, if respected, will help better manage your work/life balance. This means no more working from your bed.

Optimize your dedicated work space.

Once you’ve created an at-home office space, optimize it for ultimate efficiency. When working remotely and alone, distractions are more common. You’re no longer feeding off your co-workers’ productive energy or sitting one seat away from your manager. And while you desperately want to focus, a big part of you gets a bit too excited at the thought of greater freedom. Therefore, to keep yourself in check, set up all the necessary work tools right at home. Used to working with a monitor? Ask your HR if you can take your monitor home. Loved that standing desk in your old office? Use your kitchen counter as a workstation. You get the gist — source whatever materials and tools you need to optimize your work space (even if that means using a specific brand of gel pens and notepads.) 

Get ready for work like you usually would.

Remember when you used to wake up at 7 a.m. sharp every morning, hop in the shower by 7:15, get dressed, and wrap up your lunch prep by 8:00 so you could head out the door by 8:15? Efficiency was your middle name, and still can be. By maintaining the same habits you had before the change in schedule — however small they may be — you’ll subconsciously prime your mind for work, and maintain a productive lifestyle. Your normal morning routine isn’t the only ritual you should stick to. If you’re used to taking afternoon breaks, take a daily 4:00 pm stroll in the nearest park by you. Do you leave work at 6:00 pm? Shut down your laptop, turn off slack notifications, and leave your at-home workspace when the clock strikes six. As long as you keep your days structured and organized, you’ll keep producing high-quality work — just remember, stick to the routine!  

Clearly define and distribute tasks with your manager.  

Working remotely means you don’t have the ability to simply turn around for your coworkers’ advice. On the contrary, you’ll have to set up a Zoom call to contact your teammates, or Slack them hoping they’ll answer in less than an hour. Reduced communication can seriously slow you down, so try to get ahead of the curve. Set up a meeting with your manager (and teammates) every week to define and distribute tasks. You’ll then have a better idea of who you’ll need to contact throughout the week, and anticipate accordingly. 

Define work hours and make daily to-do lists.

Add more structure to your schedule by defining work hours, and communicating them to your team. Map out a timetable with all of your to-do’s for the week. Give each task a time limit to keep yourself productive. Once your program is set, share it with your teammates. You’ll be letting them know when you’re free to talk and when you aren’t. They might also notice that they can help you with a certain project, or that you can help them with theirs. Not to mention, sharing your work plan with teammates will keep you accountable for all those deadlines you have to meet that week. It’s a win-win!

Over-communicate and be totally transparent with your teammates. 

As previously mentioned, working from home can cause some serious communication delays. By reducing the amount of information being shared, project completion deadlines can easily get pushed. To avoid these constraining time delays, adopt a policy of over-communivation. If there’s anything that confuses or bothers you about an ongoing project, make it known immediately through a 5-minute phone call, Slack, or text. The quicker information travels, the quicker you and your team can get things done. 

Another thing to note: when you explain a concept over the phone or text, be extremely precise and descriptive. The more comprehensive you’ll be, the less confusion your coworker will have to deal with, and the more productive your team will be in the long run. In other words, spell out the obvious, don’t make assumptions about your coworkers’ knowledge bank, and don’t hesitate to repeat yourself for greater clarification.

Recognize when you feel disconnected and reach out to your teammates.

Is cabin fever kicking in? That’s okay, it’s totally normal — that’s what long periods of isolation tend to do to people. To counteract the anxiety and stress of being confined to one space, have a few casual, relaxed conversations with your teammates (like you usually would at the office). Maybe grab a coffee over video call, or catch up with each other on Slack during your “lunch break.” Whatever it may be, don’t hesitate to reach out to your teammates for a heart to heart. It’s likely you’re not the only one feeling lonely.

Take breaks to boost productivity.

Working from home can feel so comfortable that taking breaks can feel unnecessary. But sitting in your apartment from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. can definitely make you go stir crazy, even if you have the coziest home in the world. Make sure to take a few breaks throughout the day. Walk around your neighborhood for 15 minutes, do an at-home workout, or go on a 7 p.m. jog. Even the smallest break, like getting up to make yourself some coffee, can help keep your body somewhat active and give your mind a little rest. You’ll find that implementing dynamic breaks will lighten your mood and make the transition to working remotely for the time being feel a lot less like a struggle.