dog working from home on laptop

10 Ways I’m Staying Productive and Sane Working From my 350 Sq. Ft. Apartment [Video Diary]

While scrolling through Instagram at an ungodly hour of the night because I have lost all sense of time during this quarantine lock-down, I saw this quote, that I thought was worth emphasizing, “you are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.”

While this blog is filled with tips and fun ideas you can try to steal and embed into your own WFH routine, I do know this is a strange and difficult time for many. As someone who has the opportunity to work from home, I’m incredibly grateful – but I’m also human and anxious and I too can find it difficult to focus during this uncertain time. But, as a company with 90% remote first workers, we do know a thing or two about working from home. This blog is simply a list of the top ten things helping me navigate this new “normal” – from the moment I wake up and fall asleep (scrolling through insta and playing strangers in Words with Friends).

PS: I am not a parent and I don’t have the extra stress of child-care or homeschooling on top of my typical workload. I praise you for everything you’re doing. I know some of these tips can seem far-fetched so if anything, scroll down and read number nine. 

Waking Up

1. Clean your space.

Being in a small space, I don’t have the luxury of closing my office door and stepping into a separate, designated workspace. So that means I need to clean my apartment! Unless my bed is made, my dog’s toys are (somewhat) put away, and dishes from the night before are washed and in their place, my brain feels as chaotic as my environment is.

2. Maintain your normal pre-COVID-19 morning routine.

Let’s just start with: I really miss my neighborhood barista and real espresso, but I can’t function without my morning coffee. So I’m trying to do my best at making my own lattes – despite my lack of espresso machine – each morning while I get ready for the day.

Yes. I did just say get ready for the day.

Get out of your bed, take off your PJs, and put REAL clothes on. For me, the process of picking out my outfit each morning changes my mood and self-worth for the day. With a good outfit, I feel like I can GSD (and I don’t feel mortified when I need to turn on my zoom camera). My personal go-to, as you can see in my video below, is this white cotton coverall (did you know that’s what overalls with sleeves are called?). That, and the combination of a red lip, makes me feel like a badass who is ready to plow through my agenda.

Working Hours

3. Establish your working hours, communicate them with your team (and stick to them!)

It can be really hard to escape the guilt of “signing off for the night” when you’re living in the space you’re working.

And when you’re especially focused, you can easily find yourself working up until dinner, despite logging on at 7:30 AM. What’s worked best for me is to set stern working hours. Unless there is a serious escalation or deadline my team is working against, I open up my laptop around 8 or 9 AM and make sure to sign off before 6:30 PM. Taking time for yourself in the day will help you avoid burnout and feeling resentment towards your work.

4. Leave your phone outside your office/workspace when you’re not on calls.

This is easier said than done, but what I’ve gotten in the habit of is having my phone on a separate surface than my work desk.

I’ve essentially created a mental fence around my desk. Inside that workspace, I’m focused on Acorio and work only. If I have my phone and start scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, I’m overstepping that boundary – and allowing distractions into this sacred space of GSD.

If I feel like I need that mental break to social scroll or check in on a friend via text, I need to physically move away from my workspace to do so. This helps me realize if the desire to be on my phone is actually worth it. It’s kind of like a diet – the cake might look delish, but if you’re going to feel bad about eating it after or have to work-out overtime after, is it worth it?

5. Start a virtual water-cooler chat.

At Acorio, we’ve always hosted things like V-Team or V-Beer when our whole team is invited to hop on zoom and just chat – or, if Steve Socha’s on the call, you can best believe we’re playing some sort of game.

Now, more than ever, we’re making it a habit to keep-up with these virtual water-cooler chats. For our Spanish team and east coast early-risers, there’s a coffee break each morning. And every Thursday or Friday starting around 4:30 PM, there’s your typical crew of beer connoisseurs yapping away. On St. Patrick’s Day we held a costume contest, and on April Fool’s Day, we played a guessing game.

Aside from company-wide calls, be sure to check in on your extroverted friends and co-workers, as this time, cooped up in their own home, may be difficult for them.

6. Write out your to-do list and break up large projects into small tasks.

As an avid journal-keeper, I need to make sure I have a to-do list for the week and the day. Each Monday morning, I’ll take the time to make a list of my larger tasks I need to tackle that week and daily I’ll create a breakdown of what’s achievable that day. So, for example, if I need to edit an entire podcast I might break it down like so:

  1. Record intro/outro script
  2. Edit intro/outro
  3. Edit first section: getting started at Acorio
  4. Edit second section: managing at Acorio
  5. Edit last section: lessons learned here
  6. Create podcast episode artwork in InDesign
  7. Send to team to review – make any necessary edits
  8. Add to Buzzsprout and schedule to publish tomorrow
  9. Send Sarah voice snippets for social scheduling

Breaking down larger tasks into subsections makes larger projects feel less daunting and gives me the confidence in finishing the project, versus feeling overwhelmed and in way over my head. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy the sheer thrill of checking off an empty box?

7. Take worth-while breaks between meetings.

First off: Let’s all try to get on the bandwagon of 45-minute meetings. Now that we are all working from home, we have a little more responsibility than before. Coworkers may need to make their kids’ lunch or set them up with another activity or home-schooling lesson. Some coworkers might have dogs that need to go outside and get some exercise. Others may have been in back-to-back meetings and haven’t had the chance to get that 2nd cup of coffee.

If you can make a meeting 45-minutes, do it. Your attendees will thank you. If you can’t, be thoughtful and ask if people need a 5-minute break before you dive into your agenda.

Personally, I need breaks to help me context-switch between meetings and take a mental breather. I get out of my chair and move around for a bit – whether it’s taking the time to water my plants, play with my dog, go out for a walk around the block, or do a few yoga poses and stretches.

8. Spread positivity.

Acorio is pretty active when it comes to slack, recently our Director of Technical Consultants, Dan Lyons, started a trend of sharing his #SilverLining moments on our random channel on slack. Taking the time to either read of join-in on these positive snippets makes the world of a difference.

I find that ending my workday (especially if it’s been stressful) reading these notes, allows me to decompress and feel fortunate for the small things. You can read more about this positivity initiative in this blog post from last week.

Signing Off

9. Do something for yourself.

This is a scary time. If you’re a parent, you’re doing a billion jobs right now. If you have loved ones who are sick or are on the front lines of this pandemic, you might be feeling incredibly anxious and afraid. You need to be able to take the time and focus on your mental and physical health.

I urge each of you to pledge to yourself that you will take at least 30 minutes each day to focus on you and your well-being. Workout, read a book, journal or meditate. Whatever it is that your body or mind needs right now – listen to yourself, and give yourself that time.

I was a fine arts minor in college, and last week was the first time I picked up a paintbrush in 4 years. Challenging myself to paint again (even in my very small apartment), has forced me to have time to decompress and let my mind wander, without the depressing distraction of harrowing news headlines.

10. Plan something for the end of your day so you have something to look forward to.

Gone are the days of catching up with friends after a workday or going out to dinner at your favorite spot for a Friday night date night (until May 4th, fingers crossed). But that doesn’t mean you have to be moping around, feeling like you’re just in a time-loop of repeating days.

I find that having a consistent “schedule” of activities throughout the week is super helpful. Here’s how I’ve been breaking out my week:

  • Monday 7:00 PM call with my family. Since my family’s annual girl’s trip to visit my grandma in Florida was cancelled because of COVID, 12 of us hop on a weekly call to catch up, play trivia, and just yap (what my family honestly does best) – just as we would have in Naples… minus the delicious food.
  • Thursday Night Top Chef texting. So, I’m mildly obsessed with competition shows and Top Chef has to be one of the best ones. My friend Drew and I now have a weekly date at 10:00 PM Thursday nights to watch the show together, separately, and text each other updates – one rule: no pausing the show or else one of us will inevitably ruin it for the other. So far, my top three: Melissa, Karen, and Gregory are killing it.
  • Saturday Virtual Game Night with Friends. I’ll switch it up with friend groups, but each Saturday, we make an effort to hop on a call and connect and play games.

I hope this list of ten tips helps you balancing this new “normal” of WFH, as we continue to social distance and flatten the curve.