We all have been living in this period of social distancing and mitigation of COVID-19 disease transmission for several weeks, if not longer. Justifiably, we have all been preoccupied with the health of our friends and family. Parents are trying to master continual learning of students at home. We have been working diligently to avoid spreading infection. Many are of course concerned with their professional lives and financial security. For those of us who have been asked to work remotely from home, in addition to the many challenges we are facing during this pandemic, we also confront the challenge of maintaining our productivity despite the disruption of all of our routines. There are several tools you can use to maintain productivity during this exceedingly difficult time.
Maintain a Schedule
There are a variety of humorous memes surrounding working from home that can ring true. Waking up late, spending all day in your pajamas, not wearing pants during conference calls. The first step to maintaining productivity is to maintain your schedule despite working from home. Nobody loves to wake up early. But allowing yourself to sleep in because you don’t have to commute, because there may not be an 8:00am patient, and because no one is watching when you arrive, is a lost opportunity. Forcing yourself to wake up at the same time every day starts the momentum of productivity.
Also, it allows you steal a bit of time for yourself before the many other tasks and obligations begin to pull at you including getting the kids started with school.
However, these other tasks will need to be addressed at some point in the day. One parent will likely have to help the kids with home schooling at least once or twice. There is also a long list of housework that you’ve told yourself you were going to attack while stuck at home. Unless you structure your time, the hours will quickly disappear. Consider mapping out your day. Create a schedule where one might not exist. Some time may be structured by your organization. You will likely have conference calls, zoom meetings, and perhaps telemedicine blocks. But there will likely be swaths of time that won’t be structured. Create a schedule for these blocks of time so you are as efficient as possible. Dedicate a certain amount of time to each task, including those that are not directly tied to work.
Use Productivity Tools
Now that you’ve mapped out your day and decided how to spend each block of time, it’s helpful to make a concerted effort to accomplish all of the tasks on your list. The best way to do this is with a productivity tool. A simple To-do list will do, like the one that came preinstalled on your phone or computer, or the one attached to your email client. However, there are many far more powerful task list apps that have broad functionality and allow for collaboration with spouses or colleagues, such as ToDo from Appigo.
However, my preferred approach for organizing any project or task list is a productivity tool such as Asana or Trello.
These are incredibly flexible tools that can be organized in a variety of ways and allow collaboration. I use them essentially as virtual white board. I can track projects and simple to-do lists. This allows me to understand at the start of each day what I hope to accomplish, and to review at the end of the day whether I completed this list of tasks, and what needs to be pushed to the next day. Your work environment may already have something similar tied to the organization, such as Slack or Basecamp, but I prefer to have my own productivity tool to manage each day while at home.
Connect With Colleagues
It is easy to become isolated while working from home, particularly in organizations for which remote work is not typical, like medicine. Health care, is by its nature a collaborative, social profession. We of course interact with many patients each and every day. We collaborate with other providers including nurses, MAs, and PAs. Importantly we continuously exchanged ideas with our colleagues throughout each day in practice, formally and informally. In this period of social distancing and telemedicine, we have to make a concerted effort to connect with each other through virtual meeting platforms that are available, including Zoom or Skype For Business, or any video calling app such as Google Hangout, Facetime, or Skype. These meetings allow you to stay up to date on practice management issues, remain connected to your professional community on innovative solutions to complex problems associated with the pandemic, and maintain the exchange of ideas that is the lifeblood of our profession.
Create Time for Professional Development
We are all spending time focusing on what is absolutely necessary in work and in life. From toilet paper to considering what constitutes emergency surgery. However, in approaching productivity while working from home, we all should continue to carve out time for professional development activities that often are placed on the side burner. By mapping our day, and using productivity tools to be accountable to ourselves, we can include time to continue to read our professional journals, and continue the continuing education activities that help us to stay current in our profession. There is an opportunity here to dedicate even an hour or less to reading journals that might be piled next to your desk.
Give Yourself a Break, or Two
Taking an overly-austere approach to daily productivity can be counterproductive. Trying to motor through an entire day in front of a computer can lead to the eyes glazing over, distraction, and exhaustion. It was not a life any of us chose to lead. Taking a few minutes to step away from your work can actually enhance your productivity when you return to the task at hand. Take time to help the kids with work, make the family lunch, or take a walk outside. You will come back to ‘work’ refreshed and ready to win the day. Tied to this advice is the importance of continuing those recreational activities you enjoy, despite the chaos happening around you, as long as you abide by social distancing rules. For many of us, this includes fitness. Taking a break to complete a virtual exercise class indoors, to get on the stationary cycle, or to go for a run, can go a long way to maximize productivity over the course of the entire day.
Among the many challenge we all face in this pandemic, we are also expected to be productive at work, despite the fact that many of us are asked to work from home, and all of our routines have been dramatically altered. For those of us who are not accustomed to this work environment, there are many pitfalls to productivity. Maintaining efficiency while working remotely requires discipline and structure. Keeping some of the issues in mind described above, we can all make the most of our days in social isolation.
Take Home Points
- Start Strong: Re-establish your morning routine, including waking early, making your bed, and eating a healthy breakfast.
- Create a Schedule: Map your day, and protect time for each work-related task and non-work related activities.
- Use Productivity Tools: Rely on a structured to-do list or virtual white board to organize projects and remain accountable to yourself to accomplish everything by end of day.
- Remain Connected: Force yourself to connect with colleagues through virtual meetings and video conference calls to avoid professional isolation.
- Don’t Forget About Professional Development: This is as good a time as any to catch up on continuing education and current literature, and can actually provide a break to the monotony of working from home.
- Give Yourself Time to Relax DURING the Day: Unless you allow time to connect with family, to get outside, and to exercise, you may become burnt out or distracted, and your productivity will suffer. Just remember to respect social distancing rules in the process.
- WIN EACH DAY