All pajama jokes aside, we've been working hard, whether from our kitchen tables or, for essential workers, in their away-from-home workspaces. But still, life has been off-kilter, and many of us have gotten out of a solid work routine.
As we head back into a more traditional way of working, here are a few things to consider for the new normal, as well as some tried-and-true methods to help you establish a winning work routine under any circumstances.
There are a lot of unknowns as U.S. businesses get back to “normal" work routines. Office life as we knew it will be very different.
Trainer and productivity consultant Audrey Thomas, president and founder of Organized Audrey, has recently met with businesses large and small to discuss the new normal. She points out the following things to think about as you head back to work:
Establish a habit of making and taking your own lunch since cafes and restaurants may not be open or able to serve you as quickly.
Your employer may not have sanitizers on hand — for all the elevator buttons, door handles, phones and keyboards you'll touch multiple times a day.
Factor in extra time for commuting and for getting from the front door of your office to your desk. Companies may have new processes for getting people into and out of buildings safely — checking temperatures and having them sign in to tracking software, so that if they contract the virus their movements in the building can be traced.
To relieve crowding, you may be asked to bounce back and forth between working from home and working from your office. It will be the same for others, so if you're scheduling a meeting, always make sure to include a video/online option for those working from home.
If you're the kind of person who needs to walk around the office to recharge, have a back-up plan. Many offices may limit movement — some will even put taped arrows on the floor to direct a movement pattern or tape off spaces to create distance. The number of people allowed in a restroom may be limited, as well.
You can't get to where you're going without a destination. Reserve a half-hour on Friday late afternoon or on Monday morning to review your calendar and the work you must do for the week. But don't just mark the date of the event, back it out.
“If you're going to have a meeting, plan in the time you'll need to prep for it. Order any materials you might need for the coming week or weeks. The value of the weekly planning meeting is that you can mark out all the steps," says Ellen Faye, a productivity and leadership coach based in Naples, FL. “If you have a report due Friday, and you don't think about it until Thursday, you're in trouble. But if you block out all the steps on a task list, then you're not surprised when it's due."
Start your day knowing the top three things you need to accomplish that day. Figure out how long it will take you and when you can do them in your schedule.
“If you've got 20 things to do on your list, you won't do all of them and you won't know which ones to do first," says Laura Vanderkam, host of the Before Breakfast podcast and author of "168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think." "But if you force yourself to whittle down the list to the top three, you know you will make progress. You can always find more to do if you finish those three things."
If you have a work and a personal calendar, review them both for overlaps when you're planning or combine them if possible, Faye says. “Even if your employer doesn't allow a personal and work calendar and you have a dentist appointment, you're the one who has to be responsible that it doesn't fall at the same time as the weekly staff meeting."
Nothing disrupts a winning work routine like the bings and beeps of incoming emails, calls and texts. It's no surprise that research by Udemy showed that distractions reduce productivity, work quality and motivation, among other things. One way to push aside the distractions, says Vanderkam is to take “conscious email breaks."
First, turn off the sounds. Then, check email (or texts or phone messages) at a designated time in your schedule. “Don't dart in and out of the inbox every two minutes. Even if your job requires that you check email frequently, it's better to say you'll work for 45 minutes and then check for 15 minutes. You can do a lot in 45 focused minutes."
The time doesn't necessarily matter, it's knowing what time is most productive for you. “When you accept your body clock as opposed to fighting it, it's easier to get into your flow to do your best work," Faye says.
For example, you want to plan your work routine so you can “meet with clients when you're your best self." And if you know you'll face an afternoon slump, schedule email time and other things for which you don't need power focus.
A method known as the Pomodoro Technique can help you stay on task. Created by entrepreneur and business consultant, Francesco Cirillo, the method is simple:
Part of the reason this helps you focus is that it schedules in break times for your brain to refresh itself.
Mental efforts need to be balanced by physical movement. Many studies have shown that exercise sharpens your memory, helps you learn more quickly, improves your concentration and lowers your stress, among other things. Make it part of your work calendar — even if exercise is limited to stretching behind your office chair.
And a new study shows that even a four-second workout — intense exercise for four seconds several times a day can be an antidote for hours of sitting at a desk. Certainly, you can find four seconds in every hour for a few quick jumping jacks.
No matter how long it's been, we all remember how to ride a bike. The same can be said for your work routine. But it can't hurt to tweak your usual routines to be successful going forward.