I’m struggling with working at home during COVID-19

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. This week, it’s two questions on the same theme.

A reader writes:

What suggestions and recommendations do you have on staying productive and proactive while working from home with COVID stress? To give context, I’m incredibly fortunate to work for a company that has remained profitable and revenue generating during the past few months. I started a few weeks before lockdown and so I’m still technically onboarding.

The issue is that I’m having problems with focusing. It’s embarrassing because I’m not measuring up to my expectations. I try to organize my day every morning by writing down what I want to accomplish. But even doing that isn’t helping my concentration. I’m being more reactive than proactive and feel scattered and burnt out.

I know most people are likely struggling to work while this is going on, as this isn’t a typically working from home situation.

And a second reader writes:

I have been working from home as a data analyst since everything shut down due to COVID. This has had a serious effect on my mental health, since I live alone and have no partner. Due to this and other related factors, I have basically been crap at my job. I’m just not sure I can work effectively in this isolation. My main issues are motivating myself and paying enough attention. I was, for whatever it’s worth, regularly ahead on my work before all this. My boss is very patient and trying to make things work, but I know things will remain like this for the foreseeable future, so I need to shape up. I would really appreciate your input on this.

Readers, what advice do you have for people struggling with this?

{ 303 comments… read them below }

  1. tempanon*

    It’s genuinely challenging. I have always (well, for several years) been a remote worker and not had a problem with it, but the past six months have seen my productivity plummet even on the rare days when I have help with childcare in the absence of schools and camps. My mental health is likewise in the toilet this year.

    Advice from professionals is, first, to be kind to yourself: You would be generous in spirit to a friend of yours in these circumstances, so try to extend that generosity to yourself as well.

    Second, routines help. And so does physical activity, and being outdoors. So if you can, have a fixed time each day where you can get out for a half-hour (or longer) walk, if you are able, and try to make a routine also of meals and sleep. After three months inside without exercise I found even three days a week of getting outside in the early morning, before it gets too hot, had a profound effect on my ability to cope the rest of the time.

    1. Jzilbeck*

      Routines help. Every day I go out at lunchtime to walk the dog. It’s great for him and it gives me a much needed break in the middle of the day.

      I’ve also been keeping not only a to-do list, but an accomplishments list too. I normally keep this for performance review purposes when the time comes, but since my brain is mush these days, I refer to it as a reminder of what I did the day/week before!

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Yep, setting the routine really helped me, too. My boss was pretty cool about me taking a loooong lunch everyday so I could go on a bike ride. I wasn’t able to work a full 8 hours everyday because of limitations of working from home, so it didn’t take away from productivity for me to block out that time. I’m back in the office now (but there are only 3 of us and we’re social distancing). Now I miss those mid-day bike rides :(

      2. liz*

        I find having a designated space helpful. Setting a place away from my living room or kitchen (for me, a guest room not being used for visitors now) helps take me away from distracting thoughts and helps me focus. I also took some time to redecorate it for this purpose. I bought a desk, a whiteboard and have a plant to give it an office feel.

        I also try to stick to a routine similar to what I had when commuting.

        And lastly, as others have said be kind to yourself! It is a big shift!

      3. Krabby*

        I have a friend who worked from home permanently even pre-Covid. One of the things he said that helped him the most was to get dressed in work clothes, walk around the block, then get to work. He’d do another walk at the start and end of lunch, then do it again when he was logging off for the day. It helped delineate work time from leisure time.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          This is one of my tricks too. My “morning commute” is up to the top of a nearby hill & back. On days when the weather is nasty, I substitute 15 minutes on the exercise bike.
          The other thing is to keep a *personal* to-do list on Google docs. If I think of something midday I write it down for doing at lunch or after work.

          1. Shirley You’re Joking*

            It might help to set a timer for 25 minutes, knowing that at the end, you’ll take a 5-10 minute break. It seems easier to focus when I know it’s temporary!

            And, as everyone has said, cut yourself slack.

            1. Kaitlyn*

              Sprints like that have super saved me. I put my phone in a drawer, promise myself I can get a sparkling water when the sprint is up, and then just set the timer for 20-60 minutes.

              I take breaks where I go and do something else – walk to a coffee shop, watch an episode of a sitcom, knit for a while on the porch – before or after a solid block.

              I keep a lot of to-do lists: daily, weekly, monthly, and what I need to follow up on. I also recognize that work time is my time to NOT be a mom (love you kiddo, but you also came into my room seven times in 20 minutes asking for Lego help, so bless, but I’m dying over here), so I sometimes bark at my husband to take him out, and then I really put my head down. If I only have 30 minutes to do 45 minutes worth of stuff, best believe I’m going to power through, because those last 15 minutes will turn into an hour.

        2. Aerin*

          Yes yes yes, put on clothes! I don’t know how people can stay in their pajamas all day because it’s absolutely miserable for my mental health, plus I feel really weird talking to customers like that even if they can’t see me. I don’t wear the same thing I wear to work (the office is on the dressier side of business casual, and at home I wear jeans and T-shirts) but it really does help with the right mindset.

          I know I need to work on being more active. When lethargy sets in it’s really hard to break free and find your energy again.

        3. PJ Raynor*

          I like this. I am still getting dressed in work clothes, but the walk around the block rather than just across the floor, will help establish the line between work and home.

    2. Sher-Bert*

      Yep! I am an introvert and love to work from home a lot but even I have my limits…. hence the multiple refreshes of AAM to see what’s new. Thanks for the tips!

      1. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

        –hence the multiple refreshes of AAM to see what’s new

        YES i’m over here lamenting that there isn’t a forum here or something to keep me busy!

    3. It's a fish, Al*

      Very much seconding being kind to yourself, and patient. I have been a self-employed at home worker for most of the last 15 years. It definitely took me the better part of a year to find my groove.

      Something I find helps me is being more task-focused than time-focused. I get paid by the piece, so it may not work for hourly workers, but perhaps you have room in your schedule to be more flexible, and build little rewards in when you finish tasks?

      1. Bostonian*

        Echoing the idea of being task focused instead of time focused (for those that have that possibility in their role). When I’m not on a deadline, sometimes the idea of putting in 7-8 full hours of work can be exhausting. So I think about what I absolutely have to do that day, and if I’m done by 3pm, I let myself say, “Ok, you’ve accomplished everything you needed to do. Today, that is enough.” This balances out those days where I get caught in a “one more thing” spiral and end up working past 6-7.

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        Yeah, I’ve been spreading out some of my work that isn’t dependent on my coworkers’ input and doing that outside of standard office hours to give myself a bit more flexibility. It’s a bit counter intuitive, but letting myself stop a bit early or take a longer lunch and then working on some of my document updates after dinner has been a big help for me.

        I will go out and take a walk or do something like that, but that is starting to lose it’s effectiveness. I am SO SICK of the two mile radius around my house at this point. I need to come up with a way to shake things up that doesn’t require a car or taking public transit out of my neighborhood during the workday. I can take a long-ish lunch, but I don’t have access to a car and going somewhere far enough that transit is required would really be pushing it time-wise, since transit is running at a bare minimum right now and, really, I’ve been avoiding the bus when I can for exposure related reasons.

  2. Cake Wad*

    Regarding this line: “It’s embarrassing because I’m not measuring up to my expectations.” Most of us aren’t, but are you living up to your EMPLOYER’S expectations? If so, then you’re OK. You’re doing well enough and can chip away at where you PERSONALLY want to be. If not, focus on their expectations first and set some concrete, short-term goals for getting there.

    1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

      One of the questions I ask when being interviewed for a new position has always been, “what does full performance look like and how is it measured?” My current president remembered this when we went into lockdown and now one of the things we, as a team, access bi-weekly is what we expect full performance to look like under current conditions across our teams.

      Some places are going to be better than others, but it’s an important conversation to have both up and down. What does full performance within your organization currently look like? Many places have adjusted expectations, but some people just need to hear them to help their own anxiety levels. Communication is key, as always.

      1. Chinook*

        Oohhh…a boss that remembered Allison’s “magic question” and then applied it to future work practices! They must be good to work for.

      2. Kira*

        I really like that. I went from working remotely in a position with clear performance expectations (so I knew I was a high performer!) to working in a newly created role with very vague performance expectations. As Cake Wad describes, I get regular feedback that I’m productive enough for my employer’s expectations. It’s just not clearly defined by anyone what those expectations are.

        So I miss the days where I had clear expectations and could see myself as a rock star….

    2. Luke G*

      This! Take your cues from your manager. I was very up-front with my team, that the official company statement that “in these trying times, we expect everyone to be just as productiv as before- in fact, we want you to be MORE productive!” was unreasonable and basically impossible. I never have a problem with someone checking on how they’re meeting my expectations of them, and that goes doubly true now.

    3. Annony*

      I agree. The first step is to make realistic goals. If you set ambitious goals and then don’t meet those goals you lose motivation and can just end up in a downward spiral. I have had to seriously downgrade my goals and it has helped a lot. If I see a very long to do list then at some point in the afternoon it just feels hopeless and why even start when I know I can’t finish. If I have smaller tasks listed then I end up at a point where I see things I can get done and it helps me end the day on a high note and therefore start the next day feeling more motivated.

    4. Sparrow*

      This is true – I could’ve written both of these letters, and I’ve been struggling at how terrible I’m doing at my job (per my standards) and how generally useless I feel right now. Yay depression. But my boss is really pleased with the work I’m doing and just gave me a really stellar review, so I’m trying to keep that in perspective and and use it to lessen the guilt a bit, since guilt doesn’t really help improve the situation. It’s not going well, but I am trying.

    5. OP Reader #1*

      Hi! I made a longer comment below, yep, it was my internal expectations. My boss has given positive and valuable feedback.

      I like your suggestion on short-term goals. Back at the start of June I was thinking of creating a list of SMART goals but never did. Would it be weird to do that now after I’ve been at the company around 5 months?

      1. Washi*

        That actually seems like a great time to do it! For the first 3-6 months of a new job, often your goal is just…learn the job! For most of my jobs, I wouldn’t even have known what were appropriate goals in the first few months, beyond like, being independent enough to not have 50 questions for my boss at the end of every day.

        A lot of companies do a 6 month review, but if you don’t you could also ask your boss about doing a 6 month check in and run your goals by her then.

  3. Colette*

    My first thought: can you tell someone else what you’re going to do, and then check in with them at the end of the day to report on what you accomplished? Sometimes having that external motivation is enough.

    Secondly, do you have set work hours and a workspace (however small) that signals its work time? The key is both to have a time when you start and a time when you finish, so that you have a deadline to get the work done.

    1. Taniwha Girl*

      Agree that for me, I have lost all sense of time and deadlines mean nothing. Projects have been pushed back, I get no feedback from coworkers now that everyone is remote. I wanted to have a small list of tasks to get done each day but had no idea where to start.

      I created a project plan to connect my long/medium term goals with short term ones. It’s helped me break down large tasks and see how much I’ve gotten done each day. And I can see every day what 3 things I need to do. I can motivate myself with food or pomodoro or music or whatever works that day to do just 3 things. Making it in the throes of depression was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but it has helped so much!

      That and regular walks outside!

  4. S*

    Wish I had some advice for you but all I can do is commiserate. I work and study for a master’s at the same time, all from home, and it is so, so hard :(
    I am personally hoping dearly that everyone saying that work from home is here to stay is wrong. I absolutely hate it. Hang in there!

    1. Lena Clare*

      I am also working and studying for a masters, all from home. It’s so very hard, I hear you! Pandemic commiserations!

      1. Banana Ghost*

        Me three! What helps is making myself a schedule of what I am working on each hour, and making sure I get some execise.

    2. ampersand*

      I think it will vary–for some companies yes, for some no, and it will be industry dependent. My husband’s company decided not to renew the lease on their office this year, as everyone is working from home and it will save them money in the long run to have people wfh–and they can easily work remotely (in the literal sense; their jobs can be done on laptops). He loves it, thankfully. I have friends who are itching to get back into the office and whose employers want them back in the office, even though they technically *can* work remotely, because those jobs just function smoother when everyone is in the same space.

    3. Sparrow*

      I feel your pain. Not commuting has been amazing, and I think I would like working from home IF I could do things after work. Right now I’m really struggling, but I do think it would be easier if I was balancing it with an actual social life. I’m an introvert, but extreme social isolation always makes my depression spiral – if I could see friends/have my regular routines (gym, grocery store, etc.) and keep my mental health closer to equilibrium, and if I could pick up my laptop and go to a coffee shop if I needed a change of scenery, I think it would be an entirely different experience and I’d be infinitely more productive.

    4. OP Reader #1*

      Oh man, good for you! Studying on top of regular work would be hard, even if we weren’t in a pandemic! That’s an amazing accomplishment! :)

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Please reassure yourself that working from home now is harder than pre-covid. I have done both, and in normal times, periods of remote work is often interspersed with site visits.

  5. Stephanie*

    Oh man, feeling this quite hard. I also live alone. And then my Outlook is currently imploding (I just got sixteen meeting notices from April that it says I need to respond to), so I may just go crawl back in the bed.

    My employer forced us to take a week vacation back in April to save money (it was paid, luckily), so I’ve also just been feeling super burnt out since I can’t really take any meaningful time off.

    1. 3DogNight*

      Stephanie, are you disconnecting fully, when you’re done with the day? I have been working from home for 12 years. The first couple of years I dealt with burn out from not fully disconnecting. It’s hard, because work is right there in the corner, waiting.
      What helped me was turning off my system when I called it a day. It was too easy to check that one thing, and get sucked back in. Turning it off forced me to think about checking that one thing, because rebooting and logging into our network takes so long. Gradually I lost that feeling of needing to be available, just because I could be available.

      1. Stephanie*

        Trying to! I think what’s made it a bit tougher is that my boss is feeling anxious around all this too and he often calls me at the end of the work day for an hour to ask questions. It’s hard since I have a work phone and am in a one-bedroom apartment.

        1. kt*

          That sounds awful, frankly…. internet hugs if you want them, and wishes that your boss can figure out how to manage his anxiety with less phone time on your part :(

          1. Cj*

            I first read that as “internet *bugs*”. But I guess that works, too, if your goal is to disconnect from your computer.

        2. Important Moi*

          Attempt to re-frame your thinking. Re-frame may not even be the right word. You are not obligated to do the emotional labor of managing your boss’s anxiety. You can listen to him. You can murmur words of support. You do not have to internalize any of his issues. After you get off the phone with him, create a ritual for yourself. Tell yourself the purpose of the ritual is to separate you from your boss and his anxieties. Your work day is over. The ritual doesn’t have to be any big. Get a cup of tea, drink a soda, do a crossword,take a shower, listen to a specific song, whatever…

          1. Sparrow*

            I change clothes at the end of the day. I generally don’t dress up for work and end up changing into a very similar outfit, so it’s purely ritualistic, but it’s one of the few things I could carry over from Before and maintain as a familiar signal to my brain that work was done for the day.

          2. Stephanie*

            Good advice! Yeah, I was trying to be a bit empathetic since I know everyone’s stressed and it was a little hairy in our industry for a bit, but oof…I have been in a lot of phone calls and WebEx managing anxiety. I got 15 minutes’ notice once for a team meeting where we mostly got to hear him being upset his boss was slightly critical (the word “victimized” was used).

            What was helping me was my living room window is west facing and around 4-4:30 pm each day, I would get a bunch of direct light that made it hard to work. That usually was a pretty good sign to close the laptop.

        3. Mad Harry Crewe*

          AAM had a question about how to push back against late in the day multi-hour phone calls a few weeks ago – maybe see if any of that advice fits? If your boss is calling after work hours, you could just inform him that you’re going to start turning everything off (including your work phone) at 5pm because you need some more space from work.

        4. RF*

          Are you able to set a time for the daily call with your boss? Having control over the timing and having it be part of the schedule may make it less soul sucking. As for the small space, would adding a visual barrier to your workspace help? Like a freestanding paper screen to block the view of your desk. Or a blanket/towel to cover the desk set up. Or putting your stuff into a basket with a lid (if you work on your couch).
          Setting up an end time to the workday and doing something that physically removes you from the space might help, like taking a walk.

          1. Matt*

            “Are you able to set a time for the daily call with your boss? Having control over the timing and having it be part of the schedule may make it less soul sucking.”

            Yes, very much this! I work for a small company, and my (even smaller) team is often working on different projects from each other (even multiple projects) that are being run by the various PMs, and my former boss (was in a financial position to “retire” super early and decided to do so after she got pregnant) would pop in at random to try and check up on us and see what we were doing. It got to be very frustrating, and it was more about not getting good communication with her (on both sides) when that happened, plus the interruptions… so after raising these points with her, we all agreed on a daily 4:45pm standup-style ~15 minute status update meeting to help keep her apprised of how our projects (at least, the ones that she wasn’t also on) were going, and for her to be able to give us her updates/taskings as needed, etc. It didn’t eliminate all of the interruptions (which we understood), but it made the regular stuff more manageable.

        5. Seeking Second Childhood*

          How reasonable is your boss? If the answer is very, what about simply admitting that you need the last hour of work to mentally wrap things up?
          Suggest a midafternoon or *morning* check-in and see what your manager says.

      2. Green great dragon*

        Definitely disconnect! Shut the laptop, take it off the dining table or whatever. And for me, don’t log in until your pre-determined start time the next day, so you can have a leisurely breakfast or whatever without feeling you ‘ought to’ be hurrying to log in.

      3. Ama*

        My office space is in the room where my clothes and all my craft supplies are so I have to come in here even on my days off — when I took some vacation a few weeks ago I experimented with packing away all my work stuff so I wouldn’t have to see it all set up while I was off and it was such a nice psychological break that I created a permanent storage space in that room where I move all my work items at the end of the day — my keyboard, mouse, mousepad, notebook, etc. On weekends I unplug the work computer and put it on a shelf as well.

        It was a really minor thing but turning this room back over to my own personal space when I’m not actually working has made my weekends and vacation days feel more like separations from work because my space is more the way it would be if I was going in to the office.

        1. Sam.*

          I don’t have a separate office space, so I am looking at blocking off a corner of my living room and putting up a screen so it is physically out of sight when I’m not working. I haven’t done it yet because it would require shuffling furniture I can’t move on my own (yay for living alone), so for now I’ve pretty much abandoned my living room when I’m not working. I spend almost 100% of my non-work time in the kitchen or bedroom, but it’s been worth it to get that physical/mental separation.

        2. Jay*

          I do this. I leave my laptop and phone plugged in overnight during the week, either on my desk or in the dining room depending on where I land at the end of the day. On Fridays, both laptop and phone go into my bag and get put in the closet. They stay there until Sunday evening. It helps me keep my weekends as weekends, even when we can’t go anywhere or do anything.

        3. Djuna*

          I have a drawer in my office space (aka the living room) where I stow my work laptop and all its peripherals at the end of the day.
          Close the drawer, work is done.
          It’s a really simple mind-trick, but it works wonders for me.

    2. Kristie Lynn Campana*

      Hi Stephanie! Organizational Psychologist here! I agree with a lot of comments here that suggest you might not be truly separating from your work when you need to. Generally, you want to match your desired boundaries to your actual boundaries, and there are 4 categories of boundaries you might consider using:
      -Time boundaries (I work during ONLY these segments of time; if I find myself workout outside of them or thinking about work too much at my leisure times, I stop or distract myself with something fun)
      -Physical boundaries (hard to do in a 1BR apartment, but even hiding changing the environment after work can help, like hiding your laptop, throwing a different blanket over your “work couch” or putting up a screen so you can’t see your working area can help)
      -Communicating your boundaries (no calls outside of working time, telling people you’re not available during your lunch break)
      -Behavioral boundaries (this might be doing some physical behaviors that signal the “end” of your work day. It might be shutting down your laptop, taking a walk, changing clothes, or taking a shower. This can be hugely helpful too for people in human service roles — for example, when I was a counselor, I always took a shower when I got home to “wash away” my clients problems so that I could focus on my own things in the evening).

      I hope this gives you some ideas! I agree that the hard part is not having a good evening social event to go to. Even as an introvert, I miss my evening happy hours with my friends!

  6. STL*

    Try setting a timer for 15-20 minutes. Work for that amount time – don’t look at your phone, scroll social media, etc. When the timer goes off set it again for 5-8 minutes and use this time as a break. The cycle really helps. You have periods of short intensity and then regular breaks.

    1. Lena Clare*

      Second this.
      OPs, I would also not be so hard on yourself. This period in time is hard on everyone!

      Try to stick to a routine as much as possible, e.g. go to bed and get up at the same time.

      If it helps and if it’s possible, have your workspace in a quiet and separate part of your home, so when you go in there you know it’s work, and when you leave you can switch off mentally.

      And maybe try wearing something that indicates you’re in work. Not a suit necessarily, but maybe not tracksuit bottoms either :) I say this as someone who has stopped wearing a bra since working from home, so obviously only do what feels best for you. But it might help!

      Most of all though, do what you can and be kind to yourself.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I have a little timer thing that’s great for that sort of thing – it’s pre-set with 5, 15, 30, 45, 60 minutes, depending on how you put it down (that’s a terrible description, I’ll put a link in a comment) so you just turn it to whatever side you want, or to the plain old clock setting.

        1. KaciHall*

          That is awesome and I need one. But I already spent my Amazon allowance for wants this pay period.

          It would be even cooler if one side was programmable.

          1. Anax*

            Windows 10 also has an “Alarms & Clock” app built in, where you can set multiple timers. I have one timer set with my “work” time, and another with my “break”, and get a notification when it’s time to switch.

    3. Apfelgail*

      I sometimes start with a 5 minute timer, just to get myself going. That helps if I’m blocked and seems to get momentum going. These days, sometimes even 15-20 minutes feels… daunting.

    4. A Poster Has No Name*

      I was going to come in and suggest this.

      It sounds counterintuitive, but increasing focus by taking breaks does seem to help me, especially if I can set one particular task to be accomplished.

      Also, turn off email notifications/go on do not disturb during some of those focus times. I need to take my own advice on this more often, because I inevitably get pinged by someone as soon as I get focused on something and it slows everything down.

    5. Casual Librarian*

      This is called the pomodoro method. If you don’t want to buy a clock, there are multiple websites or browser extensions that help. Mine even blocks out sites that I don’t want to allow myself to visit during my “focus” time.

      1. Let's Do This*

        I use a free app called Brain Focus that I believe uses the Pomodoro Method. I find it very helpful to get started when my motivation is low or if I am feeling overwhelmed.

      2. Atalanta0jess*

        Yep yep, I came to recommend doing Pomodoros.

        I think the other thing is….we are in this for the long haul. It’s becoming more clear that we are not back to normal in a few weeks or even a few months. Which I say not to be depressing, but to say, it’s time to think about making those adjustments that we would make for a long term sitch. Decent workspace with monitors and a comfy chair. Some buddies to join your quaranteam. I don’t know what else, because this is hard.

        1. Atalanta0jess*

          Oh, and for me using a pomodoro timer that goes “Tick, Tick, Tick” is super helpful.

          1. snoopythedog*

            Same.

            There’s something so focusing about the tick tick tick. I use the free pomodoro app for android. It also helps on days when I have a bit to do list at home. I use the 5 min breaks to quickly hammer out something (changing over the laundry, unloading the dishwasher).

            1. MayLou*

              I have mentioned this before here but I love it so much that I am going to mention it again – I use a virtual coworking room on Complice. It uses pomodoro timers (different rooms have different lengths – the one I use is 32/8 but several are 25/5) and you’re only meant to chat during the breaks. You can stream video or screen share (without audio) as a way to add accountability, although in my coworking room most people don’t. It is like having colleagues, from all over the world, working on all kinds of different things. You can choose whether or not to have your to-do list visible to the other room users, and you track how many pomos you’ve done against each item. I honestly don’t think I’d have got through my Masters dissertation without it, and I’d have crashed out miserably trying to work from home without it.

              1. MayLou*

                Oh oh oh and I forgot to mention that it integrates with Workflowy too, so I can do the cognitive executive functioning planning part when I’m best suited to do that, and then just use #tags to pull in the relevant tasks when I want them.

                Complice isn’t free, but you can use the rooms and the timers without a subscription. But honestly, I would probably pay double what it costs to subscribe because it is so good.

      3. Betty*

        Yep, another vote for Pomodoro! I used to use an extension called Pomello that integrated with Trello boards if you use those– I am betting that whatever digital task-management system you use, someone has created a Pomodoro integration. (And the origin of the Pomodoro method was someone using a tomato-shaped kitchen timer– so it can definitely be a low tech method as well.)

    6. Snark no more!*

      Yes! The Pomodoro Technique works well for many. Not certain if I’ve spelled it correctly.

    7. Formica Dinette*

      This helps me immensely—now that I’m working from home as well as in The Before Times when there were office distractions. Music also helps me, too.

    8. Raia*

      Theres an app called 30/30, its a light green colored app with 30:00 in the middle of a grey circle. I believe it is free for iOS but im not finding it on google Playstore. It is fully customizable and repeatable pomodoro, so you can make the timers whatever time you want, change the color, name it coffee or work or whatever, and then save it as a playlist and allow it to repeat continually until you stop the series. I used it a ton to focus on studying and homework in college and schedule a 3 minute stretch break and 5 minute water break after 22 minutes of focus, as an example.

  7. Lobsterman*

    Ritalin. I had a few left over from previous life, and on bad days I take one and power through.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Someone genuinely having ADD/ADHD is one thing, but I’m not sure we should recommend unprescribed stimulants ….

      1. Sylvan*

        +1.

        Also, stimulants increase anxiety. If you’re considering ADHD medication during a stressful time, talk it through with your doctor.

        1. Atalanta0jess*

          Yeah. For some of us, even coffee can be pretty devastating to the ol’ anxiety levels.

        2. TardyTardis*

          But there are some people who are Different–I know some people that caffeine puts to sleep, like my son and a long time friend of mine.

  8. Observer*

    Three suggestions:

    1. Get out of the house every day. Take a long walk / run whatever. I’ve been walking to a local park and I’ve seen a lot of people exercising. Of course some people are being stupid about it, but most are doing it the right way – distant from others, masks etc. Just getting out and perhaps even getting some sunlight does people a lot of good.

    2. Make sure to have a conversation with at least one work person and one non-work person each day. It doesn’t have to be a deep meaningful conversation. And, for the work person, just a couple minutes of water cooler chat or, depending on your office culture, chat about whatever is going on in the office. Even introverts need some human connection.

    3. Find a few people to make a social bubble with. I’ve heard this from many epidemiologists – we need to look at harm reduction, as it’s just not good for humans to be this isolated. With a bubble you get some social interaction while keeping risk factors down.

    1. Mazzy*

      This is true about the social contact. I found that when I went a week with WFH, the work started to feel sort of fake, for lack of a better word. You need a reminder that your work impacts real people in the real world.

    2. Lena Clare*

      The thing about sunlight – or just daylight if it’s not sunny – is so helpful, I second this! Plus being out in nature is good for your brain and body too.

      1. Chinook*

        I second daylight. If you are not from a place with long winter nights, you may not realize how important regular doses of daylight is to your mood. Even sitting on a porch woth a coffee or at a window looking out at the sky daily will help – bonus if you can feel the air at the same time. (Those of us in northern climes know this instinctively from experience)

        Humans need to see nature regularly. If you are in a place where seeing the sky regularly isn’t practical, get a few green plants and care for them as part of your daiky routine.

        1. Stephanie*

          Humans need to see nature regularly. If you are in a place where seeing the sky regularly isn’t practical, get a few green plants and care for them as part of your daiky routine.

          It is very much beginning to look like Rainforest Cafe in my apartment.

    3. Hazel*

      When I read your #3 too quickly, I saw, “Find a few people to take a bubble bath with”! That alone has helped make my day better!

      And I’m also going to add a daily walk to my routine as so many people have suggested. I knew all along that that was a good idea, but it’s hard to motivate myself. Now I have the external motivation of the AAM commentariat!

      1. Hazel*

        And I want to add that I have been doing better since I stopped being hard on myself. This time is hard for everyone, and feeling bad about yourself is not going to help. If I need to take a break after a productive and content-filled meeting, then I just take a break. Never mind that I would not have needed that if I was working in the office and didn’t think/worry about a pandemic 24/7. The situation now is not the same as the situation pre-pandemic, so WE are not the same. Taking the pressure off myself to be just as productive as before has made it easier for me to take the break and then sit back down and do the next thing.

        It has also been helpful to me to create a task list of every project I’m working on and to take whatever time I need to update it as often as I need to. I used to try to jump from one thing to another and viewed “administrative” tasks, like having a project list and taking the time to prioritize and organize my work as time wasters. I was so wrong!

      2. juliebulie*

        I’m imagining the next letter to Alison: “We’re all about to return to the office, and our manager just announced that we’re going to start a mandatory daily check-in bubble bath!”

    4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      #1, yes. My housemate and I go out and walk around the block at, roughly, 9am noon 4pm and 8pm every day, which is about a mile each time. (It’s a big block, plus we also detour down a cul-de-sac and back in the middle.) We started doing it because we both had our annual physicals coming up and wanted to minimize angry red numbers and doctor lectures about being sedentary, but we’ve both noticed improvements in our mental workings too. (And I’ve waved to more of my neighbors in the last couple weeks than in the five years I’ve lived here. Some of them even wave back!)

      Also, I’ve learned quite a bit about snake husbandry (he has four) on our walks, which is fascinating. :)

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I’ve learn to appreciate my neighborhood so much more during all of this. I live on the edge of city limits of a large city, so feels kind of suburb-y in my neighborhood. I work close to downtown and traffic during normal times is miserable. After work, I would walk/jog a 3-mile trail around downtown to wait out some of the traffic. Because of that, I rarely exercised in my own neighborhood. During the pandemic, I’ve walked just about every street in my winding, maze-like neighborhood (there are like 2 straight roads in the whole thing). There are a lot of streets I had never even been down before March. Since March I’ve easily walked or jogged 3 miles each time, but never repeated the same route. It made me realized I had never really appreciated my neighbors or what I have right outside my front door. But I do miss that trail downtown…*sigh*

        1. Frideag Dachaigh*

          My housemates and I live on what is technically an island (a river does a weird split and curves around us, maybe 1.5 mile from the furthest points, but multiple bridges so it never really feels like an “island”), with mostly windy residential neighborhoods in a similar “suburb feel but I can literally see the city limits out my window”. We printed out a Google Map view of the island and began coloring in the streets as we moved our way between all of them, with the goal of walking the entire island. It made for a fun way to get to know the area, since we’re relatively new, get out for exercise, not have to play a “where are we walking today” game since we can consult the map before we leave and figure out the newest route to take, etc.

      2. university admin*

        Just this morning I finished a book by Shane O’Mara, _In Praise of Walking_, which includes information about how walking, especially in nature, can help not just the body but congnitive processes, even creativity, among other things.

      3. Lilly76*

        When I first read “snake husbandry” my mind immediately went to a shady spouse situation ~but with an actual snake ~if that makes sense and I have no idea why but it did make me chuckle.

    5. Whatchadoin*

      Number 3!

      I have studied epidemiology for over 10 years.. I live alone, and as someone who does well with isolation, even I was struggling. I and 2 coworkers (2 of us live alone) teamed up and have a monthly “work from home…together day”. We document exposures we had for the two weeks prior, monitor symptoms, and are really mindful of the risk. But it’s been super helpful in terms of my mental health, and then I feel like my productivity does increase as well. So if you have someone you can team up with it can be a true godsend.

  9. Mazzy*

    I work in an analytical role. What I found was that when I WFH, I can’t juggle the routine tasks and big picture analysis on the same day, the way I used to in the office. Not only is social media etc distracting me, but minutia is distracting me from the bigger stuff. So I forced myself to alternate days between them, one day is “paperwork” and followup, the next day I try to ignore emails and do the stuff that requires coding. Yes, I get less done overall, but at least something is getting done. And I set up loads of appointments for myself. 4 hours to analyse last month’s churn, two to check if any payments didn’t go out, etc. And then that makes my status go to “in a meeting” which hopefully stops being from bugging me.

    1. Damn it, Hardison!*

      I love the idea of alternating days for routine work vs analytical work, and am going to start trying this out. I’m struggling with the problem of balancing my work and always end up focusing more on the routine work, probably because it never ends. Maybe more structure around both will help. Thank you for this suggestion!

      1. Quill*

        Sounds like a good idea for me too, I have varying stages of “analysis, paperwork, followup.”

        And I can do analysis from home…

    2. Ashley*

      I do this in a smaller scale. Mornings I do brain intense activity. Afternoons I do less intense more clean up projects. One thing that helped is pre-shutdown I actually did an activity to plan my work day in hour blocks (that makes sense for my job) and plan generally how my week should flow. I paid attention to when I was most and least focused. I work best when I have a plan and a lot to do. I have never been great when I have loads of time to get projects done so I try to create a sense of pressure to finish something.
      I also have a strict rule of no social media during work hours to help keep focus but I clearly don’t have that policy for AAM.

      1. Washi*

        Same! Mornings are for the thought-intensive stuff, plus anything that I’m dreading, I try to do first thing. I’m a morning person anyway, plus it sets up some momentum for the rest of the day. And then even if I’m sluggish in the afternoon, at least I got a good chunk of work done in the morning.

      2. allathian*

        Me too. I’m definitely a morning person, so I try to do tasks that require intense concentration in the morning and more routine stuff in the afternoon. I have a family so my son and husband limit my options somewhat, but if I lived alone, my preferred working hours would be 6-2, even when going to the office. I have a reasonable commute, only 45 minutes door to door.

    3. Jane Plough*

      This is a really interesting idea which I’m going to try. Thank you! I’ve also found the task switching quite challenging and it feels like I never really get going on any of the big pieces of work because the small things intervene. I think it’s also connected to the fact that in my work, when I’m in the office, the small stuff gets dealt with as a quick chat with a colleague, and the big stuff is via email. Now it’s all emails and so everything takes so much longer.

    4. Mockingjay*

      “when I WFH, I can’t juggle the routine tasks and big picture analysis on the same day”

      I think you just saved me. This is exactly the struggle I’ve been having, only I couldn’t find words to describe it. I am going to try alternate days; I think it will work well for my particular role. Thank You!

      I’m really tired and need a vacay or a staycay. I probably won’t be able to take any big chunks of time until September; we’ve got a critical project this month. We have support, but I am doing one of the biggest pieces. I’m training a couple junior team members but it will be awhile before they can step in.

    5. OP Reader #1*

      Hi! This is really good advice, I work in a data oriented role as well, so I can adapt some of this.

    6. deesse877*

      agreed with others–this is sharp. I had been groping towards a similar arrangement, but crystallizing the concept is helpful.

  10. Verb*

    I’m self employed so I have a little more control over my workflow and schedule, but the pomodoro technique has been super helpful for me to keep productivity and focus going during quarantine. I set a timer on my phone for 25 min and the rule is that I have to stay focused and power through until the timer goes off, and then I get a 5 min break to stretch or read or switch a load of laundry. The shorter bursts of focus work really well for me to break up the day so it doesn’t feel like an endless slog of being stuck in my house. I recently downloaded the forest app on my phone, which lets you plant and grow pretty little trees while you work.

    1. Consultant Catie*

      This strategy has worked really well for me too. Even telling myself that I’m going to work for 15 minutes instead of the official pomodoro 25 has really helped – I feel like once I get into a groove, I end up blowing past my timer.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        I’ve used it for daunting yard work, too. I committed myself to “just 15 minutes” and knew that if I stopped then, it would still be helpful. But as I suspected might happen, once I actually got started I kept working for quite awhile – maybe 45 minutes or an hour.

  11. 'nother prof*

    I try to create variation in my days. For awhile, I would work in my pajamas on the couch. Then, I shifted to the dining table. After awhile, that routine became stale, so I shifted to a new pattern of locations/clothing.

    1. Consultant Catie*

      This works really well for me too! During a normal day at the office I’m up, walking to meetings, working with people in different cubes, etc., so moving from my desk to my dining table to my couch really helps to break things up.

    2. Medievalist*

      I endorse this, if you have the option (e.g., space and/or flexibility to do so).

      Back in grad school, shaking things up helped me re-focus and break bad habits. Wearing a full-on cocktail dress helped me break through bad writer’s block one day; proofreading while sitting in an empty bathtub helped me focus another day (and I’ve done non-electronic work in full bathtubs too); etc.

      Obviously these exact options aren’t practical for anyone whose work involves video-meetings, but you can find an equivalent that adds some short-term recalibration. (And also other people’s posts include great options for more systematic adjustments.)

    3. RemingtonTypeType*

      I’ve been doing that as well, using the app Plantie. You grow a little tree during the 25 minutes and earn coins to buy other trees. But if I switch away from the app to do something else (*cough*twitter*cough*) it shuts down that session and I don’t get coins. It’s really helped me settle down and be a lot more productive.

  12. Eleanor*

    It’s funny… I started the pandemic as a data analyst, and started a job a few months ago so am still onboarding at my new role. So I kind of relate? But I digress…

    One thing that has really helped me is using the Forest app. It’s kind of like a pomodoro timer app, but while you’re working a “tree” is growing in the app. If you close the app or switch to others, the tree dies. It’s a silly thing, but I’ve been finding growing fake trees (and buying new types to plant with the in-app money you earn) to be a good motivator to focus on my work, even if it’s only for twenty minute bursts. It may not be for everyone, but on days I’m feeling tired and stressed and not at all able to focus, opening the app and growing a forest gives me something smaller to focus my thoughts on. And seeing all the cute trees I’ve grown at the end of the day makes me smile.

    I think being kind to yourself is also important right now. Some days are just hard, and so I let myself step away and take a power nap if I’m feeling it’s too much. It’s not something I can do every day (and I think getting into a habit of doing that might be dangerous), but it is a weird and hard time. So it’s okay if you’re not your usual productive self.

    And if you’re really feeling a toll on your mental health, maybe look into online counselling? I’ve found that to be a big help for me as well.

    I’m sorry you’re both feeling burnt out. I have no idea if any of my advice will actually be helpful, but I have my fingers crossed for you!

  13. Amanda Blosser*

    Remember we are working during a pandemic and we’re humans trying to get through this. We should give ourselves some slack and understand we aren’t going to be as productive as normal.

    1. Clisby*

      Yes, and being back at work likely wouldn’t be the same as pre-pandemic, either. It would carry its own stresses.

    2. Coffee Powered*

      This is definitely where I was at the start of this working from home period back in March, you’re absolutely right. But now that it’s August, I’m finding ‘giving myself some slack’ difficult when I’ve had nearly 5 months to get used to this.

      1. Taniwha Girl*

        But that’s the point–we will never really “get used to this.” The guidelines are constantly changing, there is a high background threat of illness or death to you/your loved ones, we are in an economic depression that is about to get so so much worse, and the situation is inherently uncomfortable because you can’t meet the bottom 3 levels of Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs: food, water, warmth, rest (shortages and grocery shopping is difficult); security, safety (pandemic!!); intimate relationships, friends (you can’t see them).

        How are we supposed to “get used to” an inherently unsustainable situation that changes regularly? And why should we “get used to” it, just so we can work more? And what does “getting used to it” even look like, are we not supposed to feel stress, are we supposed to be happy and productive? Who writes these rules and what planet are they from??

    3. Exhausted Trope*

      Agreed but I wish my employer would cut me some slack. My workload has only grown since WFH. No relief in sight.

      1. ER*

        Me too, you are not alone!
        I had awesome work-life balance before this, now its a disaster.
        The joke is we went from working from home to living at work.
        I know management is stressed about keeping things afloat, but their behaviour and expectations are… the opposite of movitating.

    4. allathian*

      Yes, this. One important thing to remeber is that WFH during a pandemic is not the same as WFH when there’s no pandemic.

  14. opalescent unicorn*

    These could have been written by me a few weeks ago. Take a break. If you’ve got vacation, take it. Your brain and body need to walk away for a bit. I took an extra long weekend and came back much more focused. It completely reset my brain and I’m more productive and proactive because of it. What you need is permission to let yourself not be productive for a bit – not stressing about going back to work tomorrow or on Monday. One of the things that compounded my lack of productivity was feeling guilty that I wasn’t performing where I knew I could and should be.

    I never thought working from home would be so difficult but the added stress of living through a pandemic and having our attention split in so many different directions is difficult and distracting. Plus, somehow the monotony of working from home day in and day out is extremely exhausting. Find a way to take a break. Take a long weekend. Give yourself permission to be unproductive and not feel guilty about it.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      If you’ve got vacation, take it. Your brain and body need to walk away for a bit. I took an extra long weekend and came back much more focused.

      So much this! We’re often socialized that “taking vacation” is for going away somewhere, for at least a week. But there’s no law saying you have to take all your vacation time that way. I’m taking a long weekend (at least 4 days) a month from now until the end of the year. Sometimes I’m combining it with a holiday to get a longer weekend. Even just driving an hour away to hike at a different park than usual made a huge difference to my mental state last month.

      1. MayLou*

        I had already planned to take a day or two off every month this year (I’m in the UK where statutory annual leave allowance is 28 days a year for full time employees) and I’m really glad I have stuck with that.

        I’m also trying to make sure I go to new places every month or so. Round here, indoor tourist attractions aren’t open but stately homes and other places are opening their grounds and gardens so I am prioritising getting out to walk somewhere new. It provides the variety my brain is craving after five months spent in the same room every single day for 18 hours.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      OU – you nailed it with the comment, “I never thought working from home would be so difficult but the added stress of living through a pandemic and having our attention split in so many different directions is difficult and distracting.”

      I had a vacation mid-July. It wasn’t the most relaxing vacation, but we went to a lake in a neighboring state and I didn’t do work or make frequent phone checks.

      I still feel like I need another staycation. Already. It’s ridiculous. (Of course, I did work a few hours last Sat./Sun. to catch up on the things I didn’t catch up on in my first week back.) I have a lower tolerance for problems than when I’m in the office and you can wander down the hall to the trusted coworker and complain (things like a problem team member, a 2-day evening meeting that gets bumped back a week every week). I’ve also had a lot of coworkers move on to other departments during this time out of the office, and I feel a little isolated. I have my project team (I’m the PM), but they’re all people I haven’t worked with before and we weren’t assembled pre-pandemic, and I have my grandboss.

      I also think since we returned from vacation, my husband is losing his mind with our kids and their problems, like fixing their cars, them messing up his stuff (23 and 16 y.o.). The older one said he was moving out this month, but everything is held up with his Canadian 3rd roommate, and the younger one’s school situation is of course an issue. And now work management has lost that whole “what can we do to help? Is everyone doing okay?” approach they had early on. No. We’re still not okay.

  15. anonymous 5*

    I have embraced the “x-amount-of-time (in my case ~1hr) on a given task” mentality, and have forced myself to take breaks in between. I’ve even gone so far as to cut out a bunch of cards (I had excess cardstock paper lying around), label them with things I want/need to do (either work things or recreational things), and either store them in a “quarantine accomplishments” box (for the self-enrichment things) or throw them out (for work tasks accomplished). And I’ve made a point of moving–whether taking a walk, doing a workout, or just doing 5min of stretching/crunches away from my desk–at least 3x per day. I still struggle with motivation, and with a bit of self-flagellation when I fall short, but these strategies have helped a lot. Lots of good wishes!!

    1. Luke G*

      I even plan that with a timer sometimes- it’s not just “an hour on project X” it’s “Project X from 10:30 to 11:30.” that forces some structure beyond just the to-do list. Plus, if you’re struck with a sudden REAL inspiration for Project Y during that time, you can switch over and strike while the iron is hot.

  16. Green great dragon*

    Yep, also feeling this and hoping to pick up good ideas. I let myself take more breaks – like a planned 30 mins in the middle of the morning and afternoon plus 10 mins here and there – which helps. Though it means I’m working a longer day overall coz I have to make up the time.

    Can you identify times where you’re particularly unproductive/work you’re least able to concentrate on and link that to a planned break?

    (My boss has frankly no idea whether I’ve spent half an hour on a phone call or half an hour playing video games, and doesn’t care as long as I’m reasonably responsive and put the hours in at some point.)

  17. Important Moi*

    1. Music, television or movies in the background if the silence is too much.
    2. A scheduled conversation with a friend/family member during the work day
    3. Taking a break during the work day to:
    – play solitaire with playing cards
    – play a game on your phone,computer
    – getting instruction on something completely unrelated to your job (foreign language, crafts, etc.) digitally or in
    person.

    1. SongbirdT*

      Some Twitch streams can also be good for background noise, if you’re into that kind of thing. There are lots of non-gaming related categories available.

    2. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

      Man, you’ve read my mind. I play solitaire on the coffee table in front of the TV all the time. It’s a habit I picked up from my grandmother many years ago. We would sit at the kitchen table and chat while we each had our own solitaire games going on across from each other. That woman could never stop moving, she was like a land shark! If she would cook, garden, take care of their animals, then get tired and sit down to rest…and play solitaire so her hands wouldn’t be idle. I find it helps me clear my mind and stop thinking about whatever is causing me anxiety.

      I’m also a big fan of word games, so I play crosswords and Wordscapes on my phone. I’ve also been doing Duolingo to improve my Spanish-speaking. If I feel like I’m getting overwhelmed with work, I’ll stop for 15-20 minutes to play one of those games and improve my mood. I usually block out an hour for Duolingo, but I can justify that because I sometimes work with Spanish-speaking people and I really should get better…

  18. mli25*

    Take breaks. Wash the dishes, fold laundry. It gives your hands something to do, while getting you out of your chair and physically moving. Let your mind drift.

    Try to change your physical location once or twice a day. Whether it’s moving your chair 3 feet or to another room, it can help things feel different/see something different out the window.

    Take time off. As silly as it sounds, taking 1-2 days for YOU can be really beneficial. What you do with those days, you ask? Sleep. Binge TV. Cook an involved meal you wouldn’t during the week. Exercise. Read. Whatever helps you.

    I also find physically moving my phone out of reach and on vibrate/silent can help me focus. Music also works wonders for me too.

    1. Erin*

      I second the taking breaks. Remember if you were at the office, you’d likely get up to go get coffee or water, chat briefly with a coworker at their cube, etc.

    2. New Job So Much Better*

      I just returned from a trip to the driving range during lunch– great stress reliever to whack golf balls with a club.

    3. OP Reader #1*

      Hi! Yeah, back in the office I would take hourly breaks to walk based on my FitBit. I don’t have the space to take that many steps without going in circles now, but I could try to do something.

  19. HermitCrab*

    I can speak to what not to do…During Q2 2020 my whole company started working from home. I have roommates, but no partner and my family is a thousand miles away. My mental health tanked – like panic attacks, depression, the whole nine yards. I had trouble focusing, everyday business emails had me feeling paralyzed and unable to respond…it was bad.

    What I did: try to muscle through and pretend everything was okay. Things that helped me meet the bare minimums included forgetting about the big picture and tackling one email at a time, one client call at a time, and reminding myself that if this is the best I can do, it’s not a moral failing and I’m trying as hard as I can.

    Result: my performance tanked, my customers were unhappy and I got put on a performance improvement plan.

    What I should have done: take FMLA leave. Benefits are there for a reason, and companies act in the interest of their business and customers. I’m moving back to my parents and doing what’s in my best interests now. If you honestly don’t see yourself improving, beef up your emergency fund as much as possible and pay off debt while you can. Squeeze in all your medical appointments while you have benefits. If you have family to fall back on, be honest with them and communicate that you might need help, whether it’s money, a place to live, or just having more contact than normal.

    I’m sure other folks will be able to speak to more typical productivity tips/setting up a home office/co-working on Zoom calls and the like, but if all of that doesn’t work, these are things to think about. For what it’s worth, at this point I just feel relieved and lucky I have a loving family who supports me. My mental health is already on the upswing and I’m hopeful that things will be okay.

    1. Reluctant Manager*

      My insurance company is waiving patient pay portions for mental health care for a stretch of time. Some of these feelings and observations sound like depression, so find out what resources are available for short term therapy if you aren’t in therapy currently. (“You” meaning LW.)

      1. not that kind of Doctor*

        Mine is doing that too, and with all the different stressors out there right now, there’s nothing like free therapy. I highly recommend it.

    2. Sylvan*

      I’ve been there, too, down to a PIP in April. Good advice here. I hope you’re feeling better soon.

    3. Quill*

      I’m staring down the idea of having to take some days (unpaid, because contractor) but honestly I just. Don’t. Have. Oomph.

      I was holding out for Labor day (and before that, the 4th of july) but I don’t think I’m gonna make it, or make it through the fall, with all my wits intact…

    4. Koala dreams*

      I hope you feel better soon!

      I would like to add that looking for medical help is an option too. Depending on your health situation, you might need to see a doctor or therapist (or other health professional). For many illnesses, like depression and anxiety, there are several kinds of treatment. You don’t have to solve everything yourself, sometimes you need help.

  20. Arya7*

    I can certainly commiserate with the first reader – I started a new job six weeks before my company moved to working remotely. I too struggle with being productive and being motivated during this time. I’ve found a few things to be helpful: I try to get outside several times a week, even if it’s just to walk around the block or drive around the neighborhood – I’ve found that changing my scenery can help improve my overall mental state. I set short goals for myself with rewards – if I finish X number of tasks, then I can take a 15 minute break. It helps to break up the monotony of the day. I’ve tried to make my work from home space as nice as possible – I’ve found that I enjoy having lots of pictures around, I burn a nice candle, invested in a nice office chair, etc. I’m also trying to be gentle with myself – the reality is that you are working amidst a global pandemic, and it’s ok that things aren’t normal right now and that you may not be as productive as you typically are. I try to remind myself that I’m doing the best that I can given the chaos going on in the world and that can help put things into perspective. Best of luck to you both!

  21. AGD*

    I’m an academic and I work really well on campus, because getting to come home at the end of the day and relax is my reward for getting through the workday, and (unless I’m teaching in the evening), if I’m more efficient, I get to come home earlier! The first few weeks had me feeling adrift. I’m not sure what my productivity levels were actually like, because everything is so self-paced in terms of research – but it definitely felt as though everything were totally unfocused, because it wasn’t physically separated anymore and no one was watching me. I paid close attention to the first three or four Zoom meetings, then started getting apathetic and impatient, both of those things uncharacteristic.

    Things that have helped me:

    • Having a pretend office space. Dressing as if I were going to work, then shutting the door to my workspace. Keeping fun things off my desk and stashed away out of sight.

    • Maintaining separate computers, or at least separate virtual desktops (to access this option, press the Windows + Tab buttons, at least on newer versions of Windows) for fun things.

    • Rules about no social media or Netflix during normal work hours; reminding myself, “There’s a whole evening/weekend ahead for that.” If not helpful enough, there are apps like Freedom that can lock you out at specific times.

    • An understanding with myself that occasionally I will find myself having a completely unproductive/useless day, and that it’s okay. If so, that’s when I walk away and clean the house or run all the imminent errands, or both. Different kinds of useful.

    • The best thing for my work style (before and during pandemic alike) has been conditional rewards. Self bribery, basically, in whatever direction motivates you best. Like Kickstarter stretch goals. Written down in advance as a pseudo-contract with yourself. If you get through X, you earn Y (otherwise, Y has to wait).

  22. AVP*

    I would be curious to hear about what systems keep you on task when you’re in the office, and why they seem to be failing now!

    For reference – I’m fully remote, pandemic or not, and I have ADHD so I have a mix of elaborate and simple systems to keep myself on task. Previous to this job, I was underemployed so my WFH days were mostly “when I know I don’t have much to do and just want to screw around,” so it was a big adjustment to take a busier new fully remote job. When I got serious about it, though, I did realize that most of what makes me work hard in an office works just as well remotely – if you have the right tools and environment.

    COVID stress is an added layer that I think we’re all struggling with, though. But maybe if we can mentally separate it out of the equation, find some systems that would work well for us at home in a regular situation, we’d get at least partway to where we need to be?

    1. Quill*

      One of the things about being in-office for my job is that I have a nice, wide desk and multiple screens. My work from home setup has been my coffee table, and I really need to fix that. Fortunately I have help turning up this weekend to get a desk I own but can’t use where it is (basement does not have enough plugs) setup where I need it.

      Prior to all this my work from home days weren’t frequent enough to need an actual setup and were usually just “I am going to do ALL THE EXCEL WORK and no one will CALL me.” And now I’m just overwhelmed with emails instead.

  23. christine*

    Oof. Solidarity with LW #2. I’m also living alone and have been WFH since March. There’s been so much conversation about how to deal with kids and partners all at home, and that conversation is needed, but it can make those of us who’ve been intensely, profoundly alone during this whole situation feel even more isolated. (I haven’t been hugged in over four months, is the level of alone I’m talking about here.) So, yeah. It’s incredibly, incredibly hard, and it takes a profound toll on your mental health. Humans are social creatures, we’re not meant to be isolated in the way that those of us living alone right now are.

    I’m getting everything done at my job, and I’ve even taken on new responsibilities, but I’m not… focused? I do work in small bursts, then putter around the condo and do other stuff before going back for another burst. Everything’s getting done and no one’s had any complaints, so I guess it’s fine. It’s hard and painful, and if you and your boss can work together to create some new pandemic-era expectations, it might help. Go easy on yourself as much as you can.

    1. saby*

      I am in the same boat! I get done the things that need to be done, but between meetings and short bursts of productivity, I kind of wander around my apartment, or get distracted by other things. It doesn’t help that summer is always slow for me, so the “what I need to get done” isn’t huge, and I cooooould be getting ahead on longer-term stuff or self-directed projects with the rest of my time but… I don’t. I’ve always kind of known that I’m bad at motivating myself to do things absent external factors like upcoming deadlines or coworkers asking about my progress, but it turns out it’s way worse when I’m totally alone!! So then I feel guilty, especially when coworkers with young kids are so stressed trying to get things done, and other coworkers are talking about how productive they are without the open-plan office. I keep trying to remind myself how much time I normally spend at work, especially during the summer, running out to Starbucks to get coffee, chatting with coworkers, being distracted because open plan office, etc. so maybe my productivity isn’t actually that much worse than usual.

      Also, being bad at motivating myself to do things absent external factors also, it turns out, includes things that I never realized before, like how when no one can come over to visit I have no reason to tidy up ever and now live in the middle of a cyclone of clutter. I don’t mind the clutter for itself but it does add to the guilt!

      1. allathian*

        Yes, that’s a timely reminder of how much time we spend doing other things rather than working at the office.

    2. need more hugs*

      Christine – I’m in almost the same boat. Apparently a brief hug with masks is pretty low risk. Is there anyone you could do that with?

  24. Natattack*

    I’ve found it helpful to put my phone in another room entirely, put on headphones, and remove anything from my desk that doesn’t need to be there. When I’m at the office it’s very easy to get to a focus space because everyone around me is doing that and the environment is made for it. But at home there’s SO much to distract me! I have to force my brain into the “it’s time to work” headspace.

  25. AD*

    I listen to way too much news during the day. I think I’d be happier if I waited until the evening to get caught up on current events.

    1. earl grey aficionado*

      My social media site of choice is Twitter, which tends to bathe you in the worst news of the day no matter how selective you are in curating your feed. By late May I’d reached a point where I was regularly breaking down in tears every time I checked the site. I decided to log out of Twitter for the summer and check in with established news sites once every few days instead. I can’t believe what a difference it’s made. I honestly might never go back. Cutting back on your news intake (and making sure you’re getting news from the most level-headed sources possible) is one of the most important ways to improve productivity and focus right now, I think.

      1. NeonFireworks*

        I had almost exactly the same experience, except back in the fall. I recovered my ability to absorb the news a couple of times a week without feeling run over by daily flash floods of secondhand apprehension. I don’t blame anyone for being anxious, especially those having a particularly hard time, but years of being pummeled with that from so many angles at once meant I felt it constantly, even in the occasional cases where I would have thought I had a different opinion. So I lost all ability to gauge how bad anything was. I didn’t go back when 2020 started, and have managed to have little or no pandemic anxiety at all. I have regained the ability to understand, intellectually, that something is bad and tragic, and that this is what I can do to help, without being completely incapacitated by seeing hundreds of people latching onto the thing they’re most upset about, all the time. Of course, now I have no idea what’s going on with my friends, but I’m doing much better. I glanced back in once in July only to see two colleagues having an ugly fight (one of them a smug white guy convinced he had all the answers to racial inequality, if only people would just listen to him, which…no). Wasn’t worth it.

      2. ReadingTheStoics*

        Some philosophers/therapists call this “adjusting your circle of concern to more nearly coincide with your circle of control”. I call it checking Facebook once a month, and never checking Twitter. I did a FB fast for a month as an experiment earlier in the summer, and sort of dread looking at it again, though it’s an important source for family stuff – but I don’t have to check every day. And not regularly watching news – I stopped that several years ago, and I am *still* one of the first people to find out important updates like ‘we are now on statewide mask mandate’, because I am good at identifying dependable streams of information, and most of my sources don’t have motivation to fill up a 24hr news cycle. When it’s time to do a citizen thing, I do a couple hours of research and make a decision. I don’t need to be emotionally jerked up and down constantly.

        My more recent big discovery to improve my concentration/self-discipline, which is not a ‘quick tip’, is that I am in love with Morning Pages. As in journaling, 3 pages longhand, first thing. It’s a kind of meditation…anything goes, don’t worry about perfect or interesting, whatever’s on the mind, dump it on the page. Stick the pages in a manila envelope for later reference…maybe, and put an actual shiny star on the calendar for the day. (Walmart sells them.) I’m 8 weeks into this practice (doing Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way book/course, which is for anyone who feels they can’t quite hear themselves) and I may never stop. I started seeing major results at about a month in. It’s amazing.

  26. SWFgoesketo*

    I am struggling with this as well. I have begun to use a focus music Pomodoro that I found on YouTube. I am really into a piano version that uses the classic 25 minutes of focus and 5 minutes of relaxation cycle, but there are 50 minutes of focus and 10 minutes of relaxation cycles as well. For me, a musical (instrumental only) version works best at home. In the office, I favor an ambient/brain wave version to help block out noises.

    I also take my breaks—really take them, not just pretend to not work while staying at my desk for a few minutes. I go outside to water my plants during one break, or walk to my car to raid my car snacks and drink stash. Basically, I stand up and walk away. The movement is key.

  27. Jen M.*

    One thing I’ve found helpful is scheduling in movement. I always hit a slump in the afternoon, so have started doing dance workouts on my lunch break. It puts me in an energized, happy mood and helps with focus during a time when I’d normally struggle to get much done.

    1. 2QS*

      This. I started running again, and I can’t understand why I stopped (okay: because pandemic, that’s why). It’s a break in the mid-afternoon and the endorphins have been so good for me.

    2. kt*

      Yay! I was going to write this too — dance workouts!!

      I have not taken a dance class since high school, but something prompted me to start searching for online dance workouts, and there are free and paid dance workouts for every style. I took the opportunity to explore some stuff I probably would not have otherwise. I still have trouble scheduling in 30 minutes or 40 minutes (this is more psychological than logistical) but I’ve done a lot of 15-minute dance workouts from Youtube now. I liked some of the 305 fitness workouts (get to pretend I’m at the club for a bit while still making it to daycare pickup and going to bed by 10:30, hahah) but what I found I really *love* is Kukuwa Fitness’s ‘tour of Africa’ dance workouts — the women who run it have a beautiful energy, I like the moves, they have lots of 15 minute ones, and after 15 min I’m smiling even if my SQL pull is s&*^ or I’m encountering mysterious 504 error codes…

      As a visual person, putting my tasks on a whiteboard so I can literally see them helps me keep on track. Getting outside really helps too — I like putting my laundry in the wash in the morning and then taking a mid-morning break to hang it outside, as I’m lucky enough to have a line. It’s a ‘productive’ break. Last, drinking herbal tea is a way to entertain my tastebuds without dying of a caffeine overdose. But working from home is still hard.

      1. Jen M.*

        Oooh — I’ll have to check out Kukuwa Fitness. I’ve been doing BollyX (Bollywood-inspired) workouts and have loved them!

    3. slmrlln*

      I’ve been doing radio exercises in the middle of the afternoon. They only take about three minutes, but it forces me to get up and stretch, and I feel so much better afterwards. Search on Youtube for Radio Taiso, there are lots of videos.

  28. earl grey aficionado*

    I’ve created a loose self-care schedule for myself in my personal life and it’s helped a ton. I’ve been happier and more attentive at work because I know I have nice things to look forward to when I’m not working. A rigid schedule is too hard to live up to and tends to make things worse for me, but planning little rituals like “take a hot shower every day at the end of the workday,” “go for a walk around the block every morning before breakfast,” “read a book for half an hour before bed to give myself time off of blue light screens and doomscrolling the news”…have all upped my productivity very tangibly. Sub in whatever nice things might be motivating and/or soothing for you!

  29. Ranon*

    Your brain lives in your body and both work better if you take care of both of them. Sometimes taking care of your baseline self can help higher level problems. So:
    – Sleep, get enough, on a consistent a schedule as possible (i.e. don’t let it swing wildly on the weekends)
    – Food- feed your body food that makes it feel good at intervals that make it happy, in a variety your brain enjoys
    – Light- daylight if at all possible, especially in the morning. Your brain schedules itself using light. Open your blinds, go for walks.
    – Movement- move your body in a way that makes you feel good- if there’s a time of movement that particularly makes your brain happy, do that- dance, gardening, hoisting bags of cement, whatever
    – Socialization- humans are social animals. To the extent you can, make sure you’re getting the social contact you need
    – Variation- humans like variability in their environment. You can rearrange furniture, change up lighting, grow a plant, heck tape some magazine pictures to your wall. It’s surprisingly stimulating.

    None of these things are work things but it’s going to be much easier to do work the closer you are to thriving generally

  30. Sue3PO*

    I like looking at famous people’s routines and trying them out for a few days. This now-defunct blog does have a good selection of archives – I’ve linked to Benjamin Franklin because it’s simple and pretty practical for modern adaptation (I want more sleep than he did apparently) but I also like CS Lewis and PG Wodehouse (in both cases, skip the smoke breaks). One common denominator that I really find helpful: an afternoon walk.
    https://dailyroutines.typepad.com/daily_routines/2007/07/benjamin-frankl.html

    1. Chinook*

      Some contemplative nuns who never leave the convent (and some even have vows of silence for 23 hours a day) actually walk in circles in their courtyard, for a set period of time, sometimes while reading. This is on top of daily chores and prayers, all of which are done in different, dedicated spaces. These techniques have been used by hundreds of yeas to help deal with being isolated in one location.

  31. Hey Nonnie*

    Regarding feelings of isolation: this is obviously an imperfect solution, but there are so many options for video calls these days that it’s easy to take advantage of them. Set up regular calls with friends. I have set up an every-other-week virtual “lunch” break with my cube-mate from work; we just talk about whatever non-work stuff that we would have been incidentally chatting about if we were still working in the same room together. There are even options like roll20.com which is a virtual tabletop gaming platform, where you can not only video chat with friends, but you can play games together. There’s probably options out there for different kinds of games too, if you look.

  32. Llellayena*

    On days that I’m doing things that don’t require verbal interaction with others (basically few meetings or regular phone calls), I’ve found that having background noise is very helpful for concentration. It depends on the individual what type of noise helps: I use music (vocal or instrumental depends on the person), Mom puts the tv on, some people can work with an open window/street noise, some with a radio (talk or music). I think the brain’s effort of ignoring the noise helps with the focus on the actual work. I do need to shut the music off if I’m doing a task with tricky/fussy details (complex data entry/comparison type tasks) or heavy reading, but most of my daily tasks are lighter than that.

  33. Process Geek*

    My company is offering specific classes on how make working at home work for you. A few things I learned from the class I took:
    * Create a morning and evening “commute.” Our commutes were our cues that we were starting work and ending work. Some co-workers literally take a walk for their commute. Other suggestions were to make yourself a cup of morning beverage of choice and give yourself x minutes to drink it before you dive in.
    * Give yourself a physical cue that work is starting and ending. My wife has really struggled with working from home. She was skeptical about this, but stunned to discover that simply changing her hoodie helped significantly. She has her “work hoodie” and her “home hoodie.”

    1. Rose by another name*

      Those are all great ideas. I take a walk before and after work as well, and wear clothes that are on the casual end of what I’d wear to the office. On the couple days I jumped straight into work without those preparatory steps, my productivity definitely suffered in the afternoon.

      One thing I like about the office is that I can see people working nearby, so I’ve tried to replicate that by playing “study with me” videos on YouTube while doing the parts of my job that require sustained, focused work. A lot of those use some variation of the Pomodoro method.

      It’s still fairly difficult because I live in a studio apartment and can’t go to a separate room to work. I’d leased the place in the then-reasonable expectation that I’d basically just sleep here. So I’ve tried to create what division I can: I don’t sit at the table unless I’m working, and sometimes stack books on it to create a “standing desk” because sitting can be distracting.

    2. OP Reader #1*

      But sleep in the morning! LOL. I’ve been better at getting up at a certain time and taking my dog out before and after “work”. I miss my commute, and I can’t believe I just wrote that.

  34. Spicy Tuna*

    I’ve been working from home for the past 5 years. The following are some things that have been helpful to me for productivity:
    1. Create a routine / schedule. Get up, get dressed, make and eat breakfast away from your computer. If you usually wear make up to work, put it on even if you’re not going into the office. If you usually shower before going into the office, do it at home.
    2. Schedule breaks. Allow yourself 10-15 minutes every 2 hours or so to do something non work related
    3. If your job allows, turn it off and walk away from the computer at 5PM or 6PM. Whenever the usual “quitting time” is. Personally, I’ve always worked in finance and it’s not a 9-5 job, so that’s not possible; however, I ALWAYS turn the computer off at 6PM so I can exercise and make a nice dinner before logging back on for evening work.
    4. If it’s possible, create a “work zone” in your home so you can shut the door and walk away when you are finished working. This is not possible for people in small spaces, so if you’re working from your living room or your kitchen table, put as much “work stuff” – laptop, paperwork, etc, away and out of sight so you’re not constantly reminded of work.

  35. VermiciousKnid*

    This may sound stupidly simple, but look for an ambient noise video. I’m a fan of bird song or ocean waves, but there are so many strangely specific ones out there, like coffee house or library. There’s a channel on YouTube called the Guild of Ambience that has a bunch of good/weird ones. It helps me concentrate and drowns out outside distractions.

    If my concentration is totally shot, I’ll put on a 10 min yoga video. It forces me to focus on one thing for 10 minutes straight and then I can go back to my desk with a clean slate.

    1. SongbirdT*

      For sci-fi fans, there are YouTube videos of ambient noise from Star Trek – Enterprise bridge, sleeping quarters, etc. They’re well done and the loop is long enough that my brain doesn’t pick up patterns. I love them.

      1. NeonFireworks*

        Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes when I have no video calls all day I put on the Enterprise idling noises and also wear my pretend Starfleet uniform. Because if I’m alone in the house all day, no one can tell me I’m not working alone on a Federation subspace communications relay station.

        Maybe I’ll set up my phone to make combadge noises.

    2. The Rural Juror*

      I’ve discovered a couple of Spotify radio stations with instrumental music that have been nice to have on in the background. Music with lyrics can sometimes distract me if I’m doing tedious tasks, but the instrumental has been fine. I do want to check out this YouTube channel now. Thanks for the recommendation!

    3. SomebodyElse*

      ambiant-mixer is a great one (add the usual stuff to find it). Free or subscription it has so many good ones that you can change to suit. I mixed one that has some fast industrial sounds that I use when I need to power through something, but they have pubs, libraries, street sounds, as well as more natural and unusual ones.

    4. Information Central*

      mynoise.net is another good one for this. Great variety of background noises. For me music can be too distracting (lyrics or even a strong melody line) if I have to think through something, so the white noise is really helpful.

  36. Grumpy Lady*

    Im fortunate in that I can have a dedicated space to work in that isnt my living room or where I eat. If you can do that, I think it helps create a mental separation from working and being at home. I also try to keep my routine the same. My normal one mile walk from metro to the door is now a workout video when I get up. I eat my breakfast at my desk like I used to. Try to emulate the routine you had at work as much as possible.

    Im also the kind of person who cant have TV on and concentrate. Its too distracting. I usually just use a white noise app.

    1. Chinook*

      If you can’t hve a separate work space, atleast find a way to close up shop for the day. Find a nice sheet or towel or tablecloth to cover your work items and/or put it under your bed. This way, your brain won’t get triggered into work mode by seeing it out of th corner of your eye.

      If you are usjng a persknal laptop for work, create separate logins for the two with differnt backgrounds and colour schemes. Again, this allows you to transition from work to home without worrying about the other seeping in.

  37. HJ*

    Hi I don’t have magic bullets but it’s helpful to
    – create a life schedule which includes breathing fresh air through a mask. Basically stick your face out a window if need be. And do things that feed your soul. Cooking, reading, workout, bird watching, watching a campy series in Netflix. Whatever. Just give your day and week milestones.
    – create human connections. Write letters to a pen pal in a retirement home. Nothing beats the anticipation on snail mail. Meet a friend weekly for a social distance brown bag lunch in the park. Set up a family Zoom call once a week. Join an online weekly meet up.

    It also helps so people to volunteer. Feeling useful To society helps some people. Other people find the key is nature. Wake up early to see sunrise in a special place. In any case push yourself a bit to feel alive and whole.

  38. Ewesername*

    We’ve created an optional work group “meeting” on Zoom. Who ever needs / what’s company while they’re working from home can log in. We’re all just there, quietly working away on our stuff like we would be in the office. Sometimes it’s just nice to know there’s life outside your four walls…

    1. Information Central*

      Yes, this! Someone in my group described it as “productivity by peer pressure”. For some reason the virtual presence of other people who are working signals to my brain “time to work now” like nothing else I’ve tried on my own.

  39. Cafe au Lait*

    My grandboss phrased the pandemic WFH arrangement like this: home has become your workplace. My grandboss is fantastic and has made it abundantly clear that, to her, working five hours is the equivalent of working eight. She knows that we are disrupted throughout the day by ‘working downtime’: patron questions, student employees needing clarification, checking in material, etc. Her mindset is work the same amount of time you’re working on project oriented work. Don’t try to force projects into ‘working downtime.’

    I’ve done three things to improve my WFH arrangement. The first was moving my ‘office’ from the windowless basement into my bedroom. I had to dismantle my sewing table to make the space but I now have a window in front of me, with sunlight!, instead of feeling trapped all day. The second is keeping my work laptop away from my worktable. I keep the charger in the TV console. Anytime I need to charge my laptop, it goes there. As a result I can’t ‘quick check’ emails because the computer is out. The third was buying patio furniture and working outside.

    If your workplace offers a loaner laptop or other tech support take them up on it. That way you’ll have a ‘you’ computer and a ‘work’ computer. Don’t sign into any of your work programs from your ‘you’ computer. It’ll help keep that delineation clear. Make sure you are taking your legally allowed breaks and lunch periods. I know this varies by state. When I take breaks and my lunch, I shut my computer down. That way I”m not tempted to keep working. Make sure to eat away from your laptop. That will also help create downtime throughout the day. When I “double dutied” by eating and working I felt like I wasn’t working fast enough. Separating the two has helped keep me balanced.

    I hope this helps!

    1. allathian*

      Your grandboss sounds like she’s a wonderful boss!

      I’m very fortunate to have a dedicated office space. I do use it for non-work stuff too, but not on workdays.

  40. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    So much sympathy. I’m normally pretty on-the-ball, but I’m foggy, distracted, unmotivated… I keep trying to force my family into a routine, but when I barely have the energy to get myself showered and dressed and the bed made in the morning, forcing a spouse and two kids to do the same…. they all just spend the day in jammies, in front of screens. (Spouse works, but does not have to be on video for meetings and just figures why not work laying on the unmade bed in boxers and a ratty T-shirt.) Being surrounded by mess and dirt and people laying around in pajamas on screens just frazzles me, and my brain switches off after a while.

    It’s an hour of whining and foot-dragging and yelling to get them to take a walk – so I stopped trying. I have enough time in my schedule for the walk, but not for the hour of arguing about taking one. We just stay in.

    Pomodoro timer is a bit of a help. I have one that switches your phone screen from red for working time and blue for breaks. The smaller kid knows they can only bother me when the phone is blue. But that doesn’t stop a small child from destroying the house when they are un-monitored, which just leads to huge background stress and brain fog.

    Mostly, though – I’ve really had it. This sucks.

    1. allathian*

      Even if your family doesn’t want to take the walks, you can. Trying to force everyone else to follow your schedule is an exercise in frustration, but you do you. Don’t try to force your spouse to clean up, but if being in a cleaner space would make you feel better mentally, why not do the cleaning yourself? Maybe that would help your spouse see the need for cleaning, as well.

      How old are your kids?

      Your spouse may be at the end their rope as well, and is dealing with it by doing the absolute minimum.

  41. Quinalla*

    1. Exercising everyday (and yes walks count) has been vital for me as is making sure to get outside at least once too.
    2. I’m not alone at home, but I know that even have a husband and 3 kids, I still crave other social interaction. We’ve set up a weekly zoom call in the evening with my siblings/parents – we also have a group signal (text) chat where we share funny/sad/whatever news/pictures/etc., twice a month remote D&D games (we used to host at our house) and I also make a point to reach out to at least one person a day at work with something unnecessary – to try and capture a bit of that casual coworker chatting or turning to someone and being like “OMG this client!!”. I’d encourage you to set up some regular communication avenues with people and to “make yourself” do some more casual communications once a day too.
    3. Take breaks during the day. I make a point to walk to the 2nd floor of my house to use the restroom for example (I am working in the basement). I take a short break to do things like unload/load the dishwasher, put in a load of laundry, read a quick online article, go get the mail, etc. My normal taking of breaks from the office are not the same at home, so I’ve been having to reform those habits. I also need more breaks during this time and I’ve just gotten over what I “should” be doing or be able to handle and just am facing reality that this time is very stressful and a lot of things are off and that is ok.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      Remote game groups have been a lifesaver, for me :) I got out of gaming when I had kids – who has the time? – but my old group has rebooted during quarantine. We’re all home on Saturday night anyway, so why not roll some dice after the kids are in bed?

    2. allathian*

      I can’t stress the importance of exercising outdoors if at all possible. I’ve been dealing OK with the restrictions and I’m not really missing the office (especially not now that I’m on vacation), but if it got to the point that I couldn’t even go outside to take a walk or ride my bike, I suspect that my mental health would suffer a lot.

  42. L*

    Hi there. I’ve worked remotely full-time since January of 2014. While I have introverted tendencies, the initial adjustment to not seeing anyone else, ever, was really hard, and I definitely struggled. Here are a few of the tricks I’ve picked up along the years that make WFH life easier for me, and hopefully easier for others.

    1. Separate out your work time and your non work time with little rituals. It isn’t always an option to have a dedicated workspace, although if you can, that helps a lot. But even if you DO have a room with a door or a corner with a desk, having some sort of ritual or routine to signal to yourself “OK, the workday is starting, I am now Work Me,” is helpful. For some people, this is showering and getting dressed in work clothes. For me, I pour my coffee and get a breakfast I like to eat, and while I drink my coffee, I read the news, twitter, whatever. When my coffee and breakfast are gone, I take my dishes to the kitchen, top up my coffee, and it’s work time. It’s a simple habit, but it’s one that helps me get my head right for the day. And then, at the end of the day, I close my laptop, plug it in, put it out of sight, and walk away. Having those two markers really helps me mentally delineate between Work Time and Home Time.

    2. Background noise. I personally prefer gentle background noise— instrumental music without words, or with words sung in a foreign language— but for some people, pop music, rap, or techno are helpful. I’ve also found that if I’m working in a space with a TV, turning on some sort of nature livestream is extraordinarily helpful. It makes me feel less like I’m trapped indoors. There are a number of really great streaming cams at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, some nice campfire or nature loops on YouTube, or (my personal favorite) the Cornell Bird Cam. Just having something where there’s peaceful (but unpredictable) motion helps break up the monotony.

    3. Structured breaks. Before the pandemic, this looked like going to a regular lunchtime exercise class several days a week. This one is a little trickier to swing with some employers, but I’ve made it clear to each of my bosses over the years that being able to get out, have a change of pace, and exercise for an hour in the middle of the day 2 or 3 days a week is a huge boost to my productivity. Now that the gyms are all closed, it’s a little harder, but even getting out for a walk helps. For people who don’t have that option due to climate, location, or physical ability, having some other way of breaking up your day in a scheduled way is really helpful. At times when I haven’t been able to get out of the house, my midday break often looks like a long shower, doing a bit of prep for dinner (chopping veggies or throwing things in the crock pot), and puttering around doing something pleasant, like reading for a few minutes, playing a game, or interacting with my pets. Having structured breaks from work is also key to keeping focused, because you can tell yourself “I really want to watch that latest Randy Rainbow video, so I’m going to save it for my 2:15-2:45 break.” If possible, schedule these structured breaks on your calendar and make them recurring events.

    4. Pick one thing you’re going to accomplish that day. It can be a work thing. It can be a not-work thing. But instead of overwhelming yourself with tasks lists (which are SO DEMORALIZING), just pick one thing that you want to get done, and at the end of the day, make sure you’ve done it. This doesn’t even have to be a big thing. Yesterday, my Thing To Do was call the exterminator and set up pest control services. The day before that, it was editing a specific slide deck. But having just one thing that you accomplish every day can help so much, because at the end of the day, you have the satisfaction of being able to look back and say “yep, I set out to do the thing, I did the thing, clearly I am functioning and OK.”

    5. Find a virtual community. When the pandemic hit, my friends and I set up a slack channel, and we all chatter with each other all day while we’re working. I’m also involved in several industry slack groups, which have been a great professional resource AND mental health tool. When the loneliness gets to be too much, being able to click over to a different window and see real words from real people in real-time is immensely helpful. It takes a little of the sting out of the loneliness.

    6. Practice self-care outside of work. I have “Self Care Sundays” where I go into the bathroom with a mug of tea or glass of wine, listen to tinkly French cafe music, take a bath and read a good book, exfoliate, lotion up… It’s ultimately only an hour or so of time, but it’s ME time, and I cherish it. During that time, my husband is responsible for kids and animals, and even though I sometimes get interrupted, it’s usually not a big deal. It’s an important part of making sure that I’m taking care of myself as much as I’m taking care of everyone and everything else in my life, because ultimately YOU are important, your health is important, and you’re not doing anyone any favors if you run yourself ragged. Take time to recharge. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it.

    I hope these tips help. Shifting to working from home is a challenge at the best of times, and all of the horrible, horrbile current events are making it all the more stressful and frightening and lonely. You aren’t going to be as productive as you are in an office, and that’s OK. Focus on setting boundaries with yourself and with your employer, and be kind to yourself, and you will make it through this. I promise.

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      I was just coming to say so many of these things that L has put so well. I’ve worked from home since 2012 and what has been critical is:
      1. There is work time and not work time. If there isn’t space to make the distinction, do it through ritual.
      2. Pomodoros. Seriously.
      3. Background noise — I like to have NPR on quietly in the background, but when I really need to concentrate, Pink Floyd tends to do the trick.
      4. Have someone to talk to — I’m an introvert and my “someone to talk to” is my cats, but I’d go nuts if I didn’t have them to interact with during the day!

  43. Applesauced*

    Did I write #1 while in a fugue state? Because YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

    I’m still struggling with the same thing, but I found a few things that help:
    a) cut yourself some slack – don’t forget, you’re not just “working form home” you’re “working from home DURING A PANDEMIC”
    b) structure – lists and schedules. Block off time on your calendar when you need to focus. Put your phone out of sight.
    b2) a former coworker told me she checks her email 3 times a day – 1st thing, mid day, and an hour or so before the end of the day. She’s still responsive, but not distracted by every incoming message.
    b3) be honest with yourself – can you focus for 4 straight hours, or can you do 30 min + a 5 minute break to pet the dog? work within your own limits
    c) background noise – I’ve been really into whimsical soundtracks (Amelie, Pushing Daises, Wes Anderson movies) and ethereal post rock (Explosions in the Sky, Montopolis)
    d) don’t beat yourself up if you fail at a few of these things, just try again tomorrow!

  44. Kiki*

    For me, three things really helped:
    1) Pomodoro technique. In the office, I was someone who had no issues focusing for several hours at a time without a break and could just find “flow.” At home, I really struggled. Everything was distracting, there was so much in my house I could do– put away dishes, make the bed, fuss over my plants, reply to some non-urgent texts. Having concrete 25 minute stretches where I just force myself to work and do nothing else has really helped.
    2) Rigid work-relaxation hours. It was very easy for me to delay doing non-urgent tasks until “later tonight” because what’s the difference between 2pm and 8pm in quarantine? And I’m a night person anyway, so I told myself it was fine… No, all that did was put me in this space where I was spending 16 hours a day kind of working or thinking about work or avoiding doing work instead of just spending 8 hours doing work. I set “working hours” from 8:15am-6pm with and stick with it 90% of the time (occasionally something comes up, but not often and it’s actually necessary and not the result of me having procrastinated). At 6pm, I proactively start doing something that brings me joy: taking a walk, making a delicious dinner, etc. Now, each morning I come back to work so refreshed and ready to go because I am actually taking the evenings for myself.
    3) I started seeing a therapist and doing a cognitive behavioral therapy workbook for anxiety. I was definitely anxious before the pandemic and really should have been seeing a therapist earlier, but I was scraping by so I figured it was fine. The pandemic and everything with the murder of George Floyd (I am a biracial Black person in Minneapolis) sent me over the edge from overall functional but struggling to really not functional at all. I highly recommend therapy if you have access to it! If you can’t but suspect you may have issues with anxiety, I really recommend the workbook I did called “The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety.” It’s a series with other versions that address other issues, like depression, so if you at all think there may be some major underlying issue to why you are struggling, I’d check this series out.

    Also, be kind to yourself. Sometimes you have bad days and don’t get anything done. That was true before and it’s definitely true now. The key is to not let those bad days turn into bad weeks or months. Each day is an opportunity to do your best work and find some joy, even if yesterday sucked.

  45. juliebulie*

    I’ve found that my biggest productivity challenge is getting started. I will do anything to avoid getting started on my work for the day. It is like jumping into a swimming pool when you know the water will be cold. So, just as I’d do at the pool, I pick the tiniest, most trivial, unchallenging, unintimidating thing that I can do for a first step. It’s like sticking my toe in. I consider this sad little step, such as merely locating the correct subfolder, to be an entire step. Woohoo! Mission accomplished!

    And then I build up from there: I open the file. Wheeeee! And so on. Before I know it, I’m in it up to my neck.

    1. Kiki*

      YES! So often, I would spend hours procrastinating on doing my work (coding) and then after the initial 10 minute hump of being like “what even is code???” I realize I actually really enjoy my work, why did I even put this off?

  46. FairfieldJen*

    I’ve been working from home for nearly seven years, and even my focus and productivity has taken a hit during the pandemic. Creating a routine has helped big time — and not just a routine around work. I start and end every day pretty much the same way, and that’s helped me feel less scattered. Lists help; scheduling tasks helps; and a pomodoro timer really helps on those days where I really can’t focus. But the thing that’s helped most of all has been giving myself some grace. I’m not working at my very best, and I’ve had to let some of those expectations go. It’s a pandemic. Nothing is normal right now — why should I expect that I’m going to be normal when nothing else is?

  47. Willow*

    1. Realistic goals. Things are not like they were a year ago, and you’re not going to be working at the same level as you did pre-pandemic. (I wish more workplaces recognized this. Mine does, at least.)
    2. Treat work days like work days. Get dressed. Adhere to a schedule. Shut it down in the evenings and weekends.
    3. Eat on the schedule that works for you, but make sure you eat, and mostly healthy. (It’s awful right now. Sometimes you just need chocolate.)
    4. Excercise regularly. (I’m still working on this one.)
    5. If you feel you need more help, talk to your doctor about finding a therapist. They can help you sort through all this and find a path forward.
    And don’t beat yourself up for not being your best right now. This is all so stressful, even if you’re healthy and your friends and family are OK.

  48. Katie from Scotland*

    I was mega unproductive when I worked in an office when my mental health sucked. For the last four years I’ve been working from home and I’m still pretty unproductive when my mental health sucks. So when I get a streak of crappy unproductive days I focus on prioritising sleep, food, sunlight, exercise and talking to other adult humans, and then my inbox and to-do list feel way more approachable. The joy of working at home is that I can do that in more flexible ways.
    In terms of getting the work done, I find it much easier when I really get the value of a project (either to me or to my client), and when I just focus on the very specific first/next step of the project. So “Write proposal” becomes “open Word and select template” and then “fill in customer address details” and then “copy across notes from call into proposal template” and then “turn into sentences” and then “write list of project items” and then finally “write the cost of each item”. The bit that I find hardest is writing the cost of each item (I’m the business owner so it’s my call), but there’s so much else I can do in the mean time, that I can get 95% of the project done whilst ignoring the hard thing I have to do at the end.
    Even the biggest, coolest, most ground breaking projects can be broken down into a series of small achievable tasks, and figuring out just the first one of those tasks is often enough to stop me from procrastinating for hours over something that doesn’t need to be a big scary thing.

  49. jbn*

    Mostly for the second question, but potentially helpful for the first…

    Do you have a coworker you’re comfortable enough with to be on video for a stretch of time? My productivity has been decent except with selective tasks (the ones I find tedious) so I’ve been doing video calls with a coworker where we mostly sit there in silence while we each knock out a couple things that we just don’t want to do. I find it’s helpful to be able to chime in with a comment here & there, or listen while they mumble to themselves as they do their own work.

    It definitely isn’t the same as having the white noise of an office or the accountability that other people bring, but it does give me a temporary boost of focus. I’d venture so far as to say it doesn’t even have to be a coworker — it could be a friend or family member as long (as there’s nothing confidential being shared).

  50. Escaped a Work Cult*

    Honestly forcing yourself to get up and walk around helps. My dad and I have a code phrase “to the water cooler” to enforce us getting up and moving like we’re in an office and making that small talk. I occasionally take a walk outside around the house but that depends on your living situation.

  51. Pretzelgirl*

    If you have the type of job, where you don’t have to be available during certain hours, try working in chunks of time. Sometimes I would work for a few hours and run an errand (pre-covid). Now you could exercise, walk, do a chore around the house like start laundry or do the dishes. Then I would come back to my work and finish it up.

    Having things to look forward to has helped a lot. Which I realize is very difficult right now. But we have scheduled fun outdoor (socially distant activities) with our kids. Like a hike or a picnic. One day we rented kayaks on the weekend. The other time we went a to beach (Not crowded and we don’t live in touristy area). It gave us something to look forward to which was good for our mental health and our kids’ mental health.

  52. knitcrazybooknut*

    I thoroughly get this. I started a new job DURING the pandemic, and I can’t express how depressing it can be to start a task, realize you don’t have all the information you need, send an email about that task to get an answer, then move on to something else. Then rinse and repeat for about ten different things. As someone who already deals with anxiety/depression on the daily, it’s been demoralizing, and my inner critic has been freaking out.

    However! Here’s what has helped me:

    Remember that if you were in an office setting, you would likely be interrupted all the time by people dropping by, calling with questions, food opportunities, interactions with other departments, etc. Just because those interactions / interruptions don’t always happen at home doesn’t mean that you should or can be laser focused for 8 solid hours a day. Nobody can sustain that for long. Cut yourself some slack.

    I’ve also tried to capitalize on my focus and drive when it happens. If that means I work during my breaks, and maybe work an extra chunk of time after my scheduled day, then that’s fine. Let it roll when it wants to. That dopamine hit of getting something done is worth it, and makes me more positive about the next day.

    I also try to keep my random breaks structured. If I find my mind wandering, I stand up, do something else for a minute, then come back and try again. If I need to wander away from the computer, I say, I’m going to play one level on this game (which takes about five minutes). When that level is over, I head back to the work computer and dig in again.

    Having a routine is not something that always works for me, so telling my inner critic that I’ll work when I can, and take breaks when I need to has really worked for me. Flexing around my own available energy and being kind to myself – that about sums it up.

  53. BRR*

    Make your workspace as good as you can. Desk, monitor, keyboard, mouse, chair especially since if it’s not comfortable you’re less likely to sit.

    As others have said, take time off. Stress can really wear you down.

  54. Amethystmoon*

    It helps to find something social you can do outside of work, but online. For example, I play old-school games (like D&D) online a couple of nights per week using Fantasy Grounds and Discord. It doesn’t have to be gaming though. Try Meetup, there may be something in your area like a book club, coffee group, etc. I also do Toastmasters in the evenings. Most clubs are meeting on Zoom now.

    1. Quill*

      I’m in four dungeons and dragons campaigns right now and running a fifth.

      This may be overboard but due to scheduling only one of them is actually conducted as an actual weekly meeting, others are just play by post, and I definitely need the biweekly routine of figuring out what to throw at my players.

  55. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    I may seem trite, but dressing for work is a big part of it for me. I’m not saying dressing the same as in the office, but I have specific work-from-home clothes and when I shower, put on some fragrance, and dress up it helps.

    I also try to take explicit breaks.

    1. kt*

      To add a little spice to my life, haha, I’ve started wearing bold lipstick some days “for work”. I was always too self-conscious to wear bold lipstick much before — there’s the fear that it’ll fade or smudge or look funny or whatever and as a nerd who did not learn beauty tricks in school I’ve had a block about this. But at home, when I have exactly two meetings at scheduled times, why not? That’s been fun.

  56. Michael*

    I’m missing my office because I would force myself to take breaks as I was more aware of how long I was sitting. It was downtown, so I could get up, take a quick walk around the block(s), and come back more focused or at least head cleared and ready to work. I could do that at home, too, but it doesn’t feel the same and it’s harder to get up and away from work for some reason since mentally I’m “at home” already and not in the office. What I’m finding helpful right now is making sure that I take a lunch break each day. Not that I’m necessarily stepping away from my computer while I’m eating but if I’m working and eating then I make sure at some other point when I don’t have meetings I physically distance myself from my laptop for at least 45 mintues (no checking work stuff on phone either), and days where I’m in meetings back to back all day I try to pick one I know can wait and reach out to the organizer and ask to move it so that I can keep the away-from-laptop time happening. Isn’t always possible but I’m really making the effort. I’m also finding that actively doing something else during that time – right now it’s Animal Crossing – helps me walk away because if I’m just watching tv or scrolling social media I find my mind wandering back to work but if I’m actively using it to do something else I can put work brain on pause for a bit.

  57. Orange You Glad*

    I have really struggles with the shift to working from home. Before covid, I was working from home 1-2 days per week, which was great. I got a break from the office and some quiet time to complete projects but I still had the social experience in the office a few days a week. Now I feel very cut off from everyone else at my company which is affecting my motivation and productivity.

    One thing I started doing was scheduled break times. I set alarms more myself – 10 mins here for coffee, 20 mins there for stretching, etc. I also started building longer lunch breaks into my day so I could leave the house for a walk or errands. These things have helped my break up the day and I fee more focused when I return to my desk.

    It really depends on your work schedule, but I think flexiblitity has helped my the most.

  58. SansaStark*

    Ugh, same LW1. One thing that helped me was realizing that part of why I liked working in the office was that I was often “interrupted” by coworkers with questions or chit-chat and my brain just doesn’t like to focus for hours at a time. Up-thread some people mentioned setting a timer, etc. and that has helped me so much, but it might be helpful to dig into why you’re having some trouble focusing. Also, I recently started doing a guided meditation for focus and maybe it’s just the placebo effect, but it seems like it might actually be helping. Good luck and grant yourself some grace – these are tough times.

  59. The one who wears too much black*

    #2, this is me – single analyst who never got the hang of self-motivating in isolation. In fact, as a single person with a job that keeps me in front of screens, most of my life before covid-19 involved going out, so being thrown into isolation was a different kind of rough than people who suddenly had to share every moment with their families. I have three pieces of advice, one is mental and the other are behaviors you could adapt.

    First, try thinking of WFH as an opportunity to learn about yourself as a worker in ways like never before. Have you always wanted to try the Pommodorro method but never liked the idea of bothering coworkers with constant alarms? Do it! Do you work better bouncing from task to task, or do you like to dig into projects? You get to decide because no one is watching you prioritize! This is a wonderful thing LW #2, and if it’s not working for you right now, then you have learned something about yourself. Keep going, and try something new.

    Now, two very specific things helped me: writing down a posted schedule and sticking to it, and writing down “to do today” and “to do this week” lists. For me, both of these things helped me get back the structure and accountability that felt natural in an office but didn’t feel that way at home. My guess is that if you were a work rockstar before WFH, and feel unmotivated now, you might be like me and missing that external feedback system of an office, so that’s what you need to get back to, and to do it you will need to create a system of work safeguards and celebrations to benchmark your work.

    For you, that could mean setting a few rules for yourself (like always answer emails, then make breakfast) or writing down a schedule (to protect your work time and personal time from one another) or breaking your work into definable hour long sections (so the days don’t feel endlessly long), or making three list (to do – home, to do – work, to worry about later, etc). Just get the stuff out that is currently in, and start feeling the satisfaction of accomplishment again for even putting a system in place to try. Make every effort, try again.

    This is an opportunity for you to experiment in how you work best for yourself. I have learned so much about myself during this time, and I started out hating WFH.

  60. ElizabethJane*

    I use timers. I’ve told myself I can focus on anything for 30 minutes so I set a timer and that’s what I do. Then I get a 5 minute break to refill coffee/get a snack/swap laundry/whatever.

    Then I decide if I’m going back to the first task or working on something different and set another 30 minute timer.

    The added bonus is this stops me from sitting for too long and spacing out.

    I also make sure that when I eat lunch it’s in a different spot than where I’m working. I don’t have a home office so I work on the couch or at the dining room table frequently. I make sure to eat somewhere different to give myself a mental break.

  61. Alara*

    I’m so glad to read these letters and the responses from the comments — this is something that I’ve struggled with as well and I’m looking forward to getting more ideas on how to combat this. As far as what’s worked for me:

    1. Listen to video game soundtracks. Personally, I like Nintendo games, like Yoshi’s Woolly World. The music in those games is designed to keep you engrossed in playing and I find that it helps for work as well.

    2. Leverage my poor attention span by switching between house and work tasks frequently. Someone above talked about different kinds of useful, which I think is an excellent mantra. I feel better about my day if I’ve avoided doom-scrolling through news or social media, so replacing the time that I would be doing that with housework at least lets me feel like I’m getting something done. It also frees up my evenings, which occasionally gives me a window to do one or two work tasks.

  62. bunniferous*

    We can only focus a certain amount of time before our brains need a break. I try to work in 45 minute stretches but at the very least you need a break after an hour and a half. Since my job is task oriented not time clock oriented that is simpler on my end but even if you step away for a “water cooler ” break it will help you mentally.

  63. LB*

    I’ve started using FocusMate and scheduling coworking sessions to start my day, which jump starts my productivity by forcing me to sit down at a specific time. I’ve also started scheduling zoom coworking sessions with friends and coworkers, which goes a long way to making me feel like I’m back in an office with occasional chat breaks/check ins/ someone to bounce ideas off of. It has been a struggle for me to maintain a schedule, which everyone says is the key to feeling normal, so having some outside accountability makes a big difference and has been great for both my productivity and my mental health.

  64. Quill*

    I’m staring down the idea of having to take some days (unpaid, because contractor) but honestly I just. Don’t. Have. Oomph.

    I was holding out for Labor day (and before that, the 4th of july) but I don’t think I’m gonna make it, or make it through the fall, with all my wits intact…

  65. Just a PM*

    I’ve learned that sometimes when you hit a wall, it’s better to stay down and just go with it than to try to motivate yourself to continue working. My boss has been super flexible about when these moments happen since they’re infrequent enough. Usually when I hit the wall, I keep my laptop awake and respond to emails/IMs, and keep myself occupied in other productive ways that isn’t work-work, the same way I would have stayed busy in the office on a slow day. Is this something you could consider too?

  66. sas*

    For the first letter:
    I have adhd and need structure or I spiral. I don’t just structure my workday, but my ENTIRE day; I schedule my wake up time, exercise, lunch, dinner, and bed time (not to the minute, but in the general hour frame) which has helped a lot with my overall focus and organization. You don’t have to write it up or anything, but just taking time to think about the flow of your full day from the start, rather than just projects and work, has made me feel a lot less frazzled and like I’m constantly trying to keep up with non-work responsibilities. Listing out what you need to accomplish is a great start, but also take a minute to consider what that process will look like/how much time it will take/if anyone else is involved or waiting on that piece/etc. That helps me prioritize and make a realistic rather than idealized schedule, so I’m not setting myself up for disappointment (for example if I have five things on my list but can only realistically do three in 8-9 hours, and also only two are truly high priority).

    I use a white board for my lists, split up by “Today” and “Tomorrow” so I can write up what I need to prioritize at the start, but am able to add to it and give myself an idea of what my next day will be like (my company has also remained profitable and we’ve had even more work than usual) which also helps so it doesn’t feel like I’m just starting over each day, but picking up where I left off in a directed way. Having it my line of sight makes it easier to stay on track.
    It’s also important to be giving yourself breaks every few hours, especially if you did that back int he Office Days. I know it’s hard to justify taking a quick break when you’re working from home, but even just a brisk walk around your place/10 minute stretch sesh/dance break/sending a couple social texts/etc. every hour or so can be a huge boost to productivity. I know this sounds like a lot of “non-working” time investment, but it adds up to maybe 30 minutes total as an investment for productivity, so I actually get more done without constantly hitting energy walls.

    From a mental perspective, it’s also been helpful to meet myself where I am right now. I’m just not operating the same way that I used to, and when I tried to force myself into my old habits it was frustrating and deflating. Now my days play out pretty differently than they used to, but I’ve maintained if not increased my productivity since I started giving myself a little room to figure out what will work for me now/going forward rather than hold myself to what used to work.

  67. BugSwallowersAnonymous*

    One thing that really helps me is to make sure that when I take breaks, that I do something during those breaks that doesn’t have to do with screens. I find that scrolling social media or reading the news doesn’t make me feel refreshed, or like I’ve had a true break – but talking on the phone with a friend for 10 minutes, or doing a load of laundry, or making my bed does. Anything that gets my blood moving a little bit and reminds me that I’m a human and have a body.

  68. SummerBee*

    I can recommend two things that have helped me:

    – A Pomodoro or “tomato timer”, with alerts that tell you when to alternate between focussed work and breaks. The main benefit I found was that it let me know that breaks are okay, and actually improve productivity (also I learned you can read a whole “Five Answers to Five Questions – Let’s go!” within one tomato break).

    – This online puzzle site: https://www.jigsawexplorer.com/ Since I’m at home, no one can see what I’m doing during big conference calls, and these puzzles have been like a miracle for my ability to listen and concentrate. It’s like a light turns on in my brain, and I can follow and retain every word of the meeting, even though it might look from the outside like I’m not paying attention. I also have a large knitting project I work on during calls as well. This is going to be very hard to give up if we ever go back to working face to face.

  69. Sadie*

    I am so much like this. Weirdly my most productive space is….the middle seat on an airplane. When surrounded by others, I get so much done, ha. I read about focusmate somewhere – I have not tried it but if I were going to write a book or something I would probably try it out. It’s an app that pairs you with someone else trying to accomplish something and at the beginning you tell each other what you want to get done, and then 55 min later you check in and say goodbye. Maybe something like that would help?

  70. Dee*

    Someone above mentioned equipment and making your physical space as conducive to work as you (reasonably) can. I can’t second that point enough.

    Ideally, your employer is in a position to provide you with a mouse, monitor or whatever other equipment you might need. But if that’s not the case, then I still suggest doing it to whatever extent you can – given your space and finances. The amount of work I’ve tackled during the pandemic would have been impossible if I didn’t have a table and monitor. It’s draining (and unhealthy!) to hunch over a laptop for 8+ hours a day, for months on end.

    Also, other little things – like a pillow behind your chair, a cup of tea in the mornings, and any semblance of a routine (including exercise) has personally made a huge difference. AND while I do live with a partner, I’ve found that connecting with online professional groups / attending zoom meetups has been a nice way to socially disconnect from my day job!

  71. Mycodos*

    I have several strategies that are really helping me right now:
    – Block out chunks of time and decide ahead of time what you’ll work on when. Put it in your calendar as if it were a meeting.
    – If you have a task you’re really struggling to focus on, find an accountability buddy – either someone else working on the same project or a peer that you feel comfortable with. I “invite” them to my time block “meeting” and check in at the beginning and end of the time on what you accomplished. Mutually beneficial if you’re both working on something that needs to get done!
    – I put my partner’s kylo ren funko pop on top of my phone. Kylo only lets me check my phone ever 2 hours.

  72. JSPA*

    What works for me:

    Exercise outside very early. Bike ride is ideal.
    Write down a goal on a piece of paper or white board before sitting at the computer at all.
    Don’t sit at the computer until your head is clear, and you’re ready to tackle a task on the list.
    Check them off on the paper (or wipe them off the whiteboard) as you do them.
    Personal email, comics, and websites like this only during scheduled breaks.
    If you’re groggy, take a nap. Whether or not it’s a scheduled break. But no browsing, just sleep.
    If you’re feeling low energy, send a mental apology to the downstairs neighbor, blast something really up-tempo like the Ramones, and dance like mad for two songs’ worth.
    See sunlight again (or at least, clouds) by taking a walk before or around sunset.

  73. Bibliovore*

    Thank you for this advice thread today. Right where I am.
    I was thinking that I was alone in this miasma feeling.
    Things that seem to be helping me stay on track-
    Scheduled breaks to get up and walk around even if it is to just make a cup of tea (that I seem to never drink)
    Scheduled off -line time- at 3:30 to 4:00 I block my schedule so that no one can put a sudden zoom meeting in. If it is truly important (scheduled by higher ups- they put it on the schedule and I go to it)
    Not going to so many ‘check in’ zooms. Once a week is enough for me.
    Taking a real lunch and reading AAM then.

  74. Lynn*

    It took me a while to get into the groove of working outside a traditional office (first as someone who spent all of my days in client offices and later, when my company finally decided that travel expenses were stupidly high, as a WFH person starting about 5 years ago). Here are some things that helped me.

    1) I get up at least once an hour for a stretch and a water/tea/bathroom break-and it comes up as a reminder on my phone so that I don’t just skip it. Otherwise, it is easy for me to fall into just putting my head down and working until I am exhausted-and that lets entire days get away from me.

    2) Make sure, insofar as it is possible, that you have a proper workspace set up where you “go to work.” I know for many this isn’t really possible due to space/childcare/etc. But for me, being able to sit down at my work desk signals that it is time to work. If you can, make sure your workspace is really yours. My husband, a teacher, has been on remote learning and having him working behind me is quite annoying-so we are figuring out a way to get him set up in a different space. I’ll be much happier when I have “my” office to myself again.

    3) Insofar as it is possible (again, I know this doesn’t and can’t work for everyone), walk away at the end of the day and don’t keep working in little bits here and there. It was very easy, when I was traveling, to sit down at my computer to “just check a couple of emails” and then realize that I had skipped dinner and done 4 hours of work before I even knew it. And it wasn’t much better with WFH.

    4) Have someone you can call and talk about work things with, if possible. It helps a lot to not feel isolated if you aren’t cut off from all of the work discussions that go on.

    5) Do some things in your workspace that you always wanted to do at work, but couldn’t. They are silly little self-rewards for working at home, but they helped me settle in and stay happier working from home. Here are just a few of mine (there are probably others I am not thinking of):

    *I have a cat bed on my desk and am often accompanied by junior furry (unpaid) interns.
    *I painted my desk hutch a very corporate unapproved electric blue color. With sparkles.
    *I have several work inappropriate cartoons/calendars/etc sitting (out of sight of my webcam) around.
    *I play my music much louder than would be office acceptable (and I play a variety that would give many people whiplash).
    *I have weird and non-standard office supplies (not expensive ones as my company wouldn’t pay for them). Oddball stuff that wasn’t bought in bulk to be adequate for everyone, but stuff I actually like that was bought to fit my tastes and workstyle.
    *I have my own personal artwork hanging all over the place around my desk. I would have been able to have a piece or maybe two in my last in person office, but I have at least a dozen in sight right now around my desk.
    *My phone ringer is set to make a motorcycle revving noise, rather loudly.

    None of these do anything directly to improve my productivity (you could argue that the furry interns actually distract me from work), but every one of them makes me a little happier to be sitting at my desk on a day-to-day basis. And being happier to be at my desk does help keep me at work and making progress on things, even on days when I miss having someone next to me to tell a joke to.

  75. No clever username*

    I’m a remote worker and have been for more than a decade. Honestly, it took me a good couple of months to really get into a routine and not have my attention wander off. I can only imagine if you’re just starting off building the “work from home and don’t watch Netflix all day” muscle in a pandemic, it just takes time.
    A few things that did work for me, some that others have already said:
    -The pomodoro technique, for sure–making sure that every 20 or 25 minutes you are absolutely going to stop looking at your screen, even if it’s just to refill your coffee mug and walk a lap around your living room, is really helpful.
    -Reframe your work as something you “get” to do, and everything not-work as something you “have” to do. This sounds super pollyannaish, I know, but it really did help me to start thinking this way: “Okay, today I have X, Y and Z to accomplish, and I only have eight hours in which I get to work on these things, and after that, I have to stop and do something else.” Really lights a fire under your butt to do those three things.
    -I’ve since transitioned to a digital to-do list but used to really like these printable charts that help you get your day organized: https://davidseah.com/node/the-emergent-task-planner/ There are of course dozens if not hundreds of free printable day-planner type things nowadays so pick your favorite if you’re the kind of person who likes physically crossing stuff off.
    Good luck, this is super hard!

  76. Southern Academic*

    I am also unpartnered and it’s basically feeling like Groundhog Day over here: wake up, run, work, take a break, work some more, go to bed. What helps has been finding safe ways to get out of the house. I have taken to going on drives (anything from half an hour to multiple hours, depending on how frustrated I am)–seeing new scenery often recharges me.

  77. Chinook*

    I learned something from a local priest who mentioned that the hardest part of his job is that he lives alone and does his job alone. Sure, he interacts with people, but they all want/need something. He said that he was taught at seminary that the best way to fight this isolation was routine and discipline. Discipline meant eating regular meals at a table, being properly dressed at all times, making your bed and keeping a tidy house and workplace. Routine meant having internal deadlines for tasks and habits. They were also taught that they have to care for themselves and set time apart for quiet and meditation/prayer, which sounds counterintuitive when you are not interacting with others, but there is power in that being your choice instead of mere circumstance.

    The benfit of this routine and discipline is that it is a) a choice and b) there is a sense of joy when you choose to break it for a set period.

    In the Catholic communiy, contemplative religious people during the pandemic have been sharing how they deal with isolation because that is the requirement of the life they chose. It has been interesting to hear how things like the Benedictine Rules have worked for hundreds of years to help keep people sane and focused while in isolation. When you take away the spiritual requirements, they still emphasize routine, discipline and enjoyng the little things in life.

  78. Ilima*

    Freelancer here who has successfully worked from home, alone, for the past seven years. One thing that helps me with both focus and isolation is having a text buddy. There’s another freelancer I’m friends with and we chat via text throughout the day, mostly about work stuff but also personal stuff. When one of us is having trouble focusing (which is pretty much daily lol) we set mini goals, have accountability check-ins, and do “power hours” together where we both work without stopping for an hour straight. Having a virtual work buddy like this has significantly improved my work life, helped with motivation, and made me feel more connected and less alone. While I have a main work friend there are a couple of other writers I chat with like this and it’s also strengthened my network.

    All that said, keep an eye on yourself for signs of actual depression and talk to a counselor if you think that might be what’s going on. Life hacks are great if you’re just having trouble focusing or feeling blah but if the problem is depression, medication and therapy make a difference!

  79. Recruiter at Home*

    For me, my particular challenge isn’t motivation, its prioritization. When I get overwhelmed with options and 6 different really important projects/initiatives, my brain shorts out. I work for a company that is going through normal growing pains, changes to staff, addition of new roles etc. Couple that with the pandemic and its been hard to stay focused. My role, in its current format, is new to the company, so I am working with the VP of my department to both engage with other departments not used to my services, and create and launch new processes. It was challenging before Covid, and it’s now coupled with working at home and feeling isolated. I’ve learned that when my brain is dunzo, its best to walk away and come back to the item another day. I have a pretty good beat on what I can get away with in regards to timeline and I use that to shelve the projects I just cant deal with at that moment. It does cause some anxiety but strangely enough, that pushes me to be more productive and focused the next day. Ultimately, advice is be kind to yourself, everyone is feeling it. If you need a day, take a day. If you think you wont be able to meet a deadline or need help, communicate it to your supervisor/team etc. I am learning to ask for assistance when I get stuck.

  80. Deliliah*

    I bought myself a desk and chair and that has increased my productivity by a ton (I’d previously been working for my bed or couch). I also try to get outside at least 4 days a week to take a walk, even if it’s just to the grocery store. What I discovered about myself is that while I don’t necessarily need to interact with other humans, I do need to be in the presence of them, so going outside and just seeing other humans has helped me tremendously.

  81. Laura*

    Are teleconferences or virtual meetings with peers possible? I’ve been feeling isolated and ungrounded during COVID social distancing and working from home to a degree I’ve never experienced before. I find that setting reoccurring meetings, even just 15 minute check-ins, with set agendas really helps me set a routine and schedule. I feel more connected to my company and my peers, and we have project status discussions, even if no one else in the meeting isn’t involved in the project. It has really helped me keep on track.

    On a side note we’ve also gotten into the habit of sharing pictures of pets or gardens or home projects unrelated to work and its really helped me feel connected to people.

  82. Dust Bunny*

    Routine.
    I get up at the same time I did before, get coffee, go for a walk to wake up, take a quick shower, and then settle in for work. I have to clock in, anyway, but if you don’t maybe pretending you do would help keep you on schedule?

  83. nnn*

    Take a good, critical look at where your sticking points are, and then re-arrange your routine to eliminate those sticking points, even if the resulting routine is weird.

    Real-life application:

    I designed myself a simple, sensible routine: wake up, check my email, do yoga, shower, get down to work.

    But I kept getting stuck in two places: when I checked my email, I’d just sit there staring at the internet rather than transitioning to yoga, and when I got out of the shower I’d just sit there drinking coffee without getting down to work.

    Not checking my email first thing was a non-starter (I need to be responsive to urgent requests that have come in overnight) and waking up for yoga and shower doesn’t work for me (I keep hitting the snooze button going “I don’t really have to wake up.”)

    So I adjusted it: wake up, make coffee, check email, drink my coffee at the computer with my work in front of me, then do yoga and shower. Since I’m at the computer anyway and my work is in front of me anyway, I end up chipping away at my work, turning procrastination time into productive time.

    Now I sit at the computer in my pyjamas with my coffee, working away until I start glazing over and staring into space, at which point I move to yoga and shower. It’s less logical (doing my morning routine in the middle of the day), it’s not how you “should” do things, and it meets my actual, real-life needs.

    Bonus self-psychology: when I get in the zone, I can knock off a day’s worth of work in a few hours. (Of course, getting in the zone is the hard part!) If I can do this in the morning in my pyjamas, I’m done my day’s work at noon – which basically makes it feel like a weekend where I’ve just woken up at noon!

    I stay connected to my phone and email for the rest of my scheduled workday, but I treat it like a free bonus weekend day. And the feeling that I’m “getting away with” having a bonus weekend day often incentivizes me to buckle down and get in the zone on workday mornings.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Good points. I don’t think it’s how you arrange your schedule that matters, but only that you stick to one, whatever that is. I know I feel crappy if I don’t shower before starting work.

      But of course, I have had ‘those days’ where everything gets thrown off track and blown to hell. But then you just get back to your routine the next day.

  84. Em from CT*

    I don’t always get outside as often as I’d like—but one thing I’ve found to be surprisingly helpful is using a headset on phone calls, and getting up and walking around during them. Even if I just pace back and forth from the kitchen to the living room and back, over and over, or pace in circles in the backyard, it helps.

  85. OP Reader #1*

    Hey all, OP reader #1 here!

    Thanks for all the comments and recommendations, I feel validated and reassured with my COVID stress struggles. I actually sent this in almost 2 months ago, and it’s gotten ~slightly~ better. Like with reader #2, I live alone (with a dog) and it’s been hard. I have a 1-bedroom apartment where my office space is my kitchen table, so I am able to keep my “work” separate from my personal time.

    Since I wrote the letter, every Monday I started sending my boss and team lead weekly priority emails (in this case it was to get on the same page with my team lead because our jobs overlap) and started a manual data input process just for myself (I work a data-oriented role) every morning. This has helped me get more familiar with the numbers so I don’t feel as useless. With the weekly priority emails, I stopped trying to take a ton of different projects on and am focusing more on 1-2 big projects a week, or working on those projects for a few weeks. I’ve gotten more used to the pace at my company. For me slowing down and doing something manual have helped a little with the “focus”. I still feel more reactive then I would like to be, but I feel more on top of my responsibilities. I’m having to take less lunchtimes naps than I was a few months ago. Now I’ll probably take a nap about once a week, but don’t feel as guilty.

    Outside of work, once it cools down I plan on taking lunch-time walks more. I started going back to phone calls with friends instead of video calls. For work I’m on a ton of video calls during the week which is draining. This is going to sound vapid, but online window shopping and buying new home decor products has helped. I miss going to random stores on a whim! I’ve been cooking new food which is a pleasant experience. I’m currently taking a break from Facebook and Instagram because I was getting stressed and angry at people posting pictures of their current social lives (like going to bars and vacationing).

    Regarding my “expectation” statement, it’s coming internally. My boss and other coworkers have given me really good feedback and are happy with my quality of work. I’ve met every deadline and have still been reliable with completing my work (I still sometimes feel a little scattered on some days). I started in March and wanted to make sure I was doing a good job off the bat. I think I was having anxiety around this area due to my last company (which wasn’t a great experience for several reasons) so I’m still getting used to working in a positive and supportive environment. 2 months later, I also have a better understanding of where my role fits in, work styles of my team as well as the company overall. My grand-boss is a big advocate for mental health, so we’ve all been able to take PTO.

    Overall the past 6 months have been overwhelming with what’s been going on in the world. I currently live in a hotspot, both with COVID and other social issues, so it’s hard not to think about what’s happening. I still am having a hard time with not socializing with people in real life and seeing the struggles and hardships of people in other situations. I’m extremely fortunate right now and trying to give gratitude to what I have.

  86. MissDisplaced*

    First of all, you’re NOT ALONE in feeling this way! Even for those of us who love WFH and have adapted fairly well to it, there can and have been up and down weeks and productivity hits. Because this IS a pandemic.

    These are just some suggestions I try for, but I know not everything works in everyone’s situation.
    >Keep normal 8-5 hours.
    Get up, shower, dressed, etc. Take a lunch break. End at 5 or 6 pm.
    >Separate your “work space” if at all possible.
    Have a desk, chair and separate space, even if that is a closet or nook.
    >Get outside! Go out, walk, exercise
    Whatever you do to get some air and sun. Things have been a little more relaxed now,
    so hopefully, you can begin meeting friends outdoors for coffee and the like, shopping, etc.
    >Keep a task list and create (artificial) deadlines if you have to enforce it with yourself.
    >Talk to your manager about where you’re struggling and what you’re trying to do to mitigate it.
    Chances are they’re also struggling with things, we all are.
    >Try to avoid the news. I started getting so much anxiety watching it, and now I limit my news and
    social media use until later in the evening.

  87. PromotionalKittenBasket*

    Co-signing what everyone else is saying, with a strong endorsement to talk to you doctor and/or therapist if you have one. (If not, now is an excellent time to find one. One of my friends swears by BetterHelp.) .

    If you’re having a consistently hard time, it’s a sign that you need more Team You, not that you are whatever you feel bad about it. Start with the care professional you trust the most and see what your options are. One of things I’ve found out from all the alone time is that I have ADHD. Now when I have a hard time focusing, I don’t feel guilty (which is helpful in and of itself) and I have a mild Ritalin prescription for days when I need an extra assist. Otherwise I plan to work on tasks in short bursts with lots of breaks. As a result, I waste way less time and do more work.

    Good luck. I know you’re doing the best you can, and try to remember that this won’t last forever. We’re on your side.

  88. somebody blonde*

    The one thing that I’ve found really works for me is to tell someone else what I’m planning on accomplishing today. I usually tell one of my coworkers. It’s much better than just making a list for myself because I just feel motivated to do it since I told someone I would. In the office, I basically relied on the environment to keep me productive- I’d feel weird about goofing off at work, so that motivated me to work on stuff with no specific deadline. Without that, I’m basically using a workout buddy strategy to force a sense of obligation.

  89. Anon4This*

    I asked a very similar question in the open thread last week. I almost feel like I could’ve written Letter One with some small details changed.

    I think one of my big problems is that I have put a lot of pressure on myself to get back to “normal” levels of productivity. Like I keep expecting a switch to flip and for me to feel good and productive again (I actually flourished during the first two months of WFH but the social unrest this summer and some challenges in my personal life have left me stuck at the bottom of a spiral).

    So I am going to try to celebrate even small improvements to my productivity. Like, hey, I got these two things done today. Even if at “normal” levels I would have gotten 10 things done, 2 is still better than zero.

    I’ve tried a lot of the suggestions in this thread (time off, exercise, etc.) but none really have shaken me from my “funk.” So maybe I just need to accept the “funk” ain’t going nowhere and just do my best and celebrate the small accomplishments and hope over time I can build to improved levels of productivity, even if they aren’t my usual standard.

  90. Bazinga*

    It is hard to focus sometimes.
    First, be sure to walk away at the end of your shift. Don’t peek at email all night.
    And try the Pomodoro technique for getting tasks done. That may help you knowing a break is coming up.

  91. Betty*

    Beyond the “how to fix your work process/work space” angle, I do think that some of finding it hard to concentrate etc. right now is a stress and mental health issue for a lot of us. I’ve personally found learning about mindfulness meditation really helpful, as well as a most-days morning yoga practice.

  92. theletter*

    – changing my outfit can help me feel more comfortable and ready for work. Years ago, it was more about feeling confident in what I looked, but now I’m all about clean, comfortable athleisure.

    – Depending on the job, being able to take a break to sing, dance, do pushups, play with the cat, throw in a load of laundry, or clean out the fridge can be the perfect mental break/pick-me-up.

    – I like having a semi-regular call with the financial advisor/career councilor AKA Dad, somewhere in the middle of the day.

    – I attend a weekly choir practice, which of course became a zoom support group as we can’t sing together. Last week we decide to try reading Shakespeare’s plays together, and it felt just like old times, in a way. It’s something to look forward to.

    – Independent gyms with zoom classes can feel very social.

  93. Ali*

    I’m using this for personal goals right now, not professional ones, but I’ve used it in the past to get my dissertation written.

    I recommend accountability buddies. Right now I have a friend, and we meet on Mondays for a 20-min. check-in and Thursdays for a work hour. We set goals for the week, and then attach an amount of money to each goal. If we DON’T meet the goal, then we have to give an irritating but non-evil charity a donation. (I.e. a charity that doesn’t actively do evil in the world but you might consider kind of borderline. I won’t give examples for fear of a flame war!)

    It is SO ANNOYING to have to get XYZ done right before our check-in, but I am getting stuff done I never would have otherwise.

    Also, I agree w/ everyone saying get outside.

  94. Wendy City*

    As a person who *always* worked from the couch in pre-COVID WFH days… Having a dedicated work station with an external monitor was a game-changer. I haaaate working from a tiny laptop screen all the time, and having a physical space that lets me be “at work” is great for my mental status (and makes relaxing easier because my living room/couch/bed aren’t ‘tainted’).

    I also keep a kettlebell at my desk and use it for 5-10 minutes at a time when I’m feeling unfocused or unproductive. Just doing some basic movements with it and focusing on my breath helps me recenter and no longer feel like I’m falling through space.

    Comfy clothes are a must. I know some people need the boost of being in “real clothes” to work, but frankly I hate wearing a bra/pants with a waistband, so I don’t. I do change into clean clothes/clothes I didn’t sleep in the night before, as that does make a difference as far as shifting into “at work mode.”

    Make a to-do list at the beginning of the day, and include time-specific deadlines. Any list I make that just has “clean teapots, dry teapots, put away teapots” on it will be unfinished at the end of the day. “Clean teapots by 10am” is way more manageable for me.

  95. Brooke*

    There are a lot of good suggestions in the comments already! Here are my few tips:

    1. Have a “starting work” ritual and an “ending work” ritual. Even if that is just changing clothes or setting up your supplies and then putting them away, this can make a big difference, especially if your living space is too small to have a dedicated space for only work.

    2. Lots of folks are recommending following a routine, which I agree with. But I also wanted to point out that *building* routines require work. Habit building requires conscious energy for the first month or so of practicing it, but once you’ve built them, it makes life way way easier. I found this article below very helpful for explaining how the work required for habit building is a big part of why the switch to pandemic-life was so energy draining.

    https://medium.com/invisible-illness/why-does-everything-feel-so-hard-right-now-if-nothing-is-wrong-e16230a99a80

    3. The good news is that there are tools to help with routine and habit building! I use an app/website called habitica which uses class role playing games as the inspiration for the structure. You can also draw your own habit tracker in a bullet journal, or there are other apps as well.

    4. Think about what typically motivates you or stimulates you. How can you incorporate those things into your day? Does it help to schedule facetime or zoom calls with friends after work, to look forward to? Does music get you moving? Don’t try to replicate your work environment. Try to create a new one that clicks with *your* needs and *your* strengths.

    Good luck!

  96. Library Land*

    Two things that have really helped me – both have seriously surprised me in their effectiveness and my enjoyment of them.

    1. Audio books – I started listening to audio versions of books I’d already read, thinking it would be tough to listen to a new book. In reality there are parts of my job so repetitive that listening to an old or new audio book has me sailing through it, where if it is quiet I get next to nothing done. I have access to OverDrive from my public library, so I don’t pay any money for them.

    2. If I’m doing any other part of my job where I can’t listen to an audio book, I put on a spotify playlist. I’ve made all sorts of lists, easy listening for days when my head hurts a little, heavy metal for days I need to power through things, favorite songs for most days, and fun steam punk for when I’m feeling none of the above.

    Seriously, I can’t believe how much they help!

  97. Quill*

    Okay I just had a one hour meeting that was actually… helpful? We opened the same request template and addressed questions for the region as it came up and clarified the priorities and screamed a LOT about Arizona?

    I guess sometimes the answer is a meeting, and not endless IM’s of “what about the Document?””which document?””Who’s on first?””That’s what I said!”

  98. Kittea*

    This isn’t much, but I am very scattered now a days. I start working on one project only to find my self over in left field in a matter of minutes. What seems to help is that I write all the tasks for the day on individual small sticky notes. Even ‘clean up email box’. I then take the one I’m supposed to be working on and stick it right in front of my keyboard. All I have to do is look down to remind myself what I should be doing. Plus it is easy to rearrange and move tasks to the next day a.k.a the right side of my desk.

    I’ve also put together some play lists based on music types and have assigned them to certain areas of my work. For example, when I should be working on purchasing teapots, I’m listening to some classic rock. Time to work on invoicing for teapots; Movie Scores. It’s a subtle reminder of the general area that I should be working in.

    The above isn’t much but for me it has definitely helped keep me doing what I should be doing.

  99. DogMom*

    I live alone and work from home, even before the pandemic. I make sure to keep a daily routine of getting dressed, doing hair/makeup. I find it makes me feel better about myself. I exercise at lunch to break up the day. Since I live alone, when prepping food etc. I listen to podcasts to make it feel less lonely.

  100. Erin*

    I also live by myself. I hit a wall in late July, and I couldn’t concentrate at home anymore. I started going into the office 2-3 days a week, which has helped immensely. It helps me separate work from home and removes the distractions of my apartment. Granted, we’re in an unusual circumstance – my office suite only has 2 people in it, so we can trade off using the space, and my colleague generally avoids the office, unless she absolutely must come in.

  101. jonquil*

    I’m surely repeating the recommendations of many others here, but:
    1. Pomodoro timer
    2. Rewards system. You get one strawberry, or M&M, or kitty scrutch or stretch break at the end of each completed task
    3. Find the best physical work environment for you. A closed door, ear buds, or something else may turn out to be a useful “I’m working now” signal to yourself.
    4. Similar to the accomplishments list, a table with Goals in one column and Achieved in another. Once you achieve a goal, drag it over to the second column. Give yourself a head start by typing some goals you’ve already completed into the Goals column and then dragging them over. You’ll see how much better you’re doing than you’re feeling. Return to this document regularly.
    5. Set up systems to track to-dos, notice when you begin to resist those systems, and then switch to something new. Don’t beat yourself up for “failing” at a productivity system; the purpose of the system is to serve you, not for you to serve it.
    6. Find you daily rhythms. I find that in the morning I’m best at quick action, check-the-box stuff, while afternoons are better for me for meetings, writing/intense work, generative thinking & conversation etc. This may change day to day; be aware, give yourself grace and adjust as needed.
    7. Take real breaks away from your work station. Do something for pleasure for 15 minutes that has nothing to do with work.
    8. Do everything you can to get your best possible sleep each night.
    Each of these is a work in progress for me but they’ve all helped me at some point as a high-achieving person who also experiences some depression, anxiety and focus issues.

  102. Anon Anony*

    I’m not sure what types of jobs you have, but if you’re used to logging off at a certain time, then be sure to keep that up during WFH. I think that if you’re not explicitly logging off and you’re letting your work drift into the evening (because there’s no commute, you’re already home, so why not just keep working?) than it’s less easy to stay motivated to do all your work during your “work day”. But if you set your boundaries like I will work from 8-5 then it’s easier to stay motivated to get your work during during that set time period.
    Do you have colleagues you can chat with? How about messaging them and shooting the breeze for a bit like you would during the normal work day, then get back to work after that. I find those little chats can motivate me to get back to work, the same way they would in the office. I feel like I wasted time chatting with my coworker in the break room, so now it’s time to buckle down to work again.

  103. Veryanon*

    I’ve been struggling with this as well. I have tried to stick to a routine as much as possible. I get up at the same time every morning, shower and dress as if I’m going into work (although I have made some concessions to comfier clothes) and I’ve built in little breaks throughout the day to walk my dogs or what have you. I log off at a “normal” quitting time whenever possible, and shut down my computer completely. But…and of course there’s a but…I struggle with focus and being distracted. I have a small house that I share with two older children and two dogs who bark at everything that passes by. I don’t have a room I can use for dedicated workspace, so I’ve set up in the living room, which is really the only place I can use. It’s been challenging, and with no end in sight to this, I’ve gone back into therapy (virtual). I also try to go on long drives once or twice a week, just to recreate the feeling of being somewhere else.
    Best of luck to you!

  104. Tacocat*

    Focusmate has been super helpful to me. I really struggle being productive working from home and focus and motivation are my biggest issues. I didn’t realize just how much I needed a physical space outside my house with other people working despite my work being being solitary. I joked around that I needed someone to literally watch me if I was going to be able to get anything done since I couldn’t seem to get in the right headspace on my own. One day when I was just staring at my computer getting increasingly frustrated with myself, I went through a Google black hole researching strategies for working at home with ADHD and discovered Focusmate. You basically pair up with another user for a 50 minute session via video chat – each states a goal for the session, works independently on their task(s), and at the end checks in to see how it went. It seemed like it would be super awkward, but it’s honestly been pretty cool since everyone’s in the same position. It’s given me structure to get started at a certain time, to more concretely think through what I need to do, and to commit to 50 minutes at a time of solid focused work. It’s not a miracle cure or anything (hence my commenting about how helpful it is on AAM instead of scheduling a session to force myself to actually get work done!), but it’s been the most helpful tool I’ve found.

  105. SadtoBeBack*

    I came here to say I’m struggling more being back in the office than WFH. I found I was managing my stress better with the comforts of home: the ability to be comfy, to start my day slowly and outside, to take a break to pet my dog or walk outside – even just around my tiny yard while on a phone call. It all made a big difference. (And I 100% recommend shutting it all down when you’re done for the day – some days you may work more or be more motivated than others, if you can make your own hour schedule while getting stuff done, do it and don’t feel guilty.)

    I’m now struggling to be productive back in the office because honestly, I just don’t want to be here. I get distracted and overwhelmed more easily and miss the smaller breaks and destressors of being home. I found a park yesterday I can walk to and that helps some but it isn’t the same. Reading these comments has been so helpful! I intend to try the pomodoro technique – I came across it a few years ago but never really implemented it.

  106. anon attorney*

    WFH since March and no end in sight. I am grateful for a job that allows me to stay employed and safe, but even for a hardcore introvert like me, the isolation has been hell.

    Things that have worked for me:-

    – Putting on some minimal makeup, earrings, and nice clothes in the morning – not super polished but not sweats.
    – having a once-a-week treat day (Friday usually) where I order in coffee and a sandwich.
    – asking permission to go into the office very occasionally (I have been in twice – we have to have the big boss give permission but it is not unreasonably withheld).
    – being honest with coworkers about how I’m feeling. Not in the sense of having an unsolicited emotional meltdown but when someone asks how I am saying ‘yeah, OK generally but this is not turning out a good week’ or ‘actually I feel quite isolated’. Invariably the coworker opens up about their own struggle, which may be different from mine (e.g. childcare issues) and it feels like an authentic conversation.
    – going for a walk every day. If I do not do this my mood goes through the floor. Even if I don’t feel like it I have to do it. It doesn’t have to be a long walk but I have to get outside my own front door or I know I will suffer for it psychologically.
    – going easy on the alcohol and junk food. That is a battle in itself. Not saying I deny myself any pleasure at all, but I know in the longer term I will regret it if I overindulge.

    Things I have thought of doing and might try soon:-

    – having a few work buddies who I check in with, just for five minutes to say hi and how’s it hanging, nothing heavy and no work chat but just a hello how was your weekend. I need to find the confidence to ask a couple people if they will do this with me. I suspect I am not the only person who misses the kind of random encounters in the elevator and at the water cooler – that kind of thing. We can’t completely reproduce that remotely, but we can do something similar.

    Things I struggle with:-

    – not beating myself up for my failure to do a quadrillion billable hours and develop my book of business while writing for the law review, giving seminars, revamping all our precedents, and making banana bread every day. Right now, it is OK to just get the basic tasks of the job done – for me that means taking care of my clients – and accept that a lot of mental energy is being expended on psychological survival.

    I have to say, I know in theory what I need to do to manage stress and depression, but there are days when just getting out of bed feels like a battle. On those days I have to remind myself I’m doing OK. I still have a job. I have done good work. I have gotten good results for my clients. I can keep doing this. It isn’t always easy but it’s doable.

  107. OwnWorstCritic*

    One thing that’s helped me a little (I definitely seem less productive than in the office) is reminding myself that when I’m in the office I’m not at the computer working 100% of my work day. Outside of lunch break and 15s (that I rarely take) I usually spend time chatting with some co-workers, walking back and forth from whatever, asking my coworker work related things where they need to show me something, etc and I’m not doing these things now. So reminding myself it’s okay to not be filling the entire 8 hours being productive and working non-stop

  108. ForkMath*

    Routine, routine, routine! Every part of my day is spoken for by something personal or professional, even stuff like “7-8 pm, 1 hour of non digital relaxation. 8-9 pm Netflix” This helps me not get distracted by personal things because I know I’ll have time for them later AND helps me take care of myself

    I also wear work clothes for the work day (my friend makes her kids change into their school uniforms every day for school) as well as a dedicated office space that faces a corner/window so I can’t see the rest of the house.

    Good luck! The struggle is real.

  109. Another Mom working at Home*

    I started my new job in March, and all of us had been working remotely, including my trainer. Although I’m used to working independently, I’ve also struggled with productivity. My suggestions:

    1. Pomodoro for intense work.
    2. Schedule your days. i.e., emails at 10:00 to 12 and 4:00 to 5:00.
    3. Block time out on your calendar for work you need to concentrate on.
    4. Use your calendar and task programs. Even if you set your own due dates, it helps me to be able to check things as completed, and to track what’s left. If you have office 365 and you can get Planner, it works great for me as a whiteboard. (Instead of post-it notes on my whiteboard progressing through my process steps, I set up columns in Planner). No Planner? If you get an email you cannot answer immediately you set up a task, (drag to the task icon in Outlook) with steps to complete, due date, reminders, categories and maybe a calendar appointment to block time for yourself to work on it. Open the task to update status as you go along. I added a field to track if I’m waiting for a response, and from whom. (Planner has check boxes and lists in its tasks, so it’s visually easier for me). Update as you go along, or before you quit for the evening.
    5. Set aside 1/2 hour a week to learn something related to your job; either industry news, or how to better use Outlook or Excel. Lots of great info on line.
    6. Learn more about your company -study their website
    7. Speed a little time on LinkedIn. It’s where I get or share industry news.

  110. Cake Sniffer*

    Ugh, I struggled with this a lot when I was freelancing and I think it was one of the main reasons why freelancing didn’t work out for me. I’m employeed now and much happier, and working from home is more productive (albeit less productive than being in the office):

    1) Most people don’t need as many hours in the day to accomplish at home what they could accomplish at work. If you were working 8 hours per day in the office, you can probably do the same amount in 4-6 hours at home depending on your job. Check to see if the slacking your feeling has to do with hours putting in or actual work. That said, many people (myself incl) are expected to be working/available from 8-5 or whatever, so just be sure you’re still online and responding to emails during your regular hours even if you’ve completed everything. Me, I spread everything out throughout the day with bursts of productivity and lulls of browsing online and doing stuff around the house. It can feel to myself like I’m slacking during the lulls, but all my work is still getting done.

    2) I think some people have already mentioned this, but excercise and a routine go far to keeping oneself motivated. Allow yourself unscheduled time on your days off. Eat well too.

    3) Momentum begets momentum. If your dragging at work, step away and spend 30 minutes doing something productive that you enjoy: gardening, cleaning, scrapbooking, cooking, whatever… As soon as your done with that, start your work project (no resting in between!) Ride that productivty wave.

    4) Make up dealines if you aren’t given one, and make those promises to other people. It’s easier to accomplish something if you have a set timeframe when someone is expecting something from you. So if you aren’t given one, create one, and tell them! “Hey Mary, I’ll have that document to you before lunch”.

    1. allathian*

      Your first point is so important. In before times I’d WFH when I had a task that required really intense focus. Then, I was usually home by myself. WFH with my husband and son at home has been a bit harder, especially when I was largely responsible for keeping track of his remote learning (we’re a bilingual family and my son’s school language is my first language). I’d be happy to continue WFH, but we’ll see if the kids are going back to school next week or not. We’re seeing the start of the second wave now after travel restrictions were partly lifted in early July (nearly everyone who has tested positive in the last few weeks got while traveling).

  111. Uldi*

    For LW#1, you might want to designate a place that is “The Office” in your home (if you can). I know a lot of people that have had a hard time shifting into work-mode when at home. Creating a space that you mentally treat as The Office might help you get that little extra push you need to make the shift. If you have the space, try to make The Office truly separate from the rest of your home by creating physical dividers. The idea is to trick yourself into seeing that space as not-home.

  112. RB*

    I have struggled so much with these types of problems but I found what worked for me was letting my body and my mind find the schedule that worked best for them. So now I sleep in, and first thing in the morning I log in for a couple hours to deal with anything urgent and with things that are quick and easy. Then I take multiple long-ish breaks and do stuff around the house or yard, or even run errands if I’m having a slow day. Then when my really productive time of the day rolls around, which has turned out to be late afternoon and most of the evening, I crank out my projects. I’m actually embarrassed by how late I work some nights, but it comes from years of having worked swing shift so I find I’m reverting back to that routine. Of course, standard disclaimer, this wouldn’t work for everyone or for every job.

  113. Jeff*

    So, others have mentioned ADHD, but I’ll add my two cents on it here too [TL;DR at the bottom; apologies for my wordiness]:

    For context, I had to step back from work at all last year because an ongoing struggle with chronic migraines worsened and I found myself unable to work consistently as they became more and more disruptive – And certainly not up to the standard I would want myself to be held to if I was turning in work. I was starting a PhD in a specialized ecology field, and while the broad-strokes ecology papers and work, I could handle, more-or-less, the really jargon-heavy and technically genetics and microbiology papers, which would be a slog even at full mental and physical capacity were utterly impossible (Every person I’ve described this to, from supervisors to medical doctors, has given me the nod of “Yep, that tracks.”).

    But, in my time off from work, trying to get the migraines treated/managed, it’s left me with more time for self-assessment/reflection. In the May after I withdrew, I learned about Visual Snow Syndrome and that I have it. More that, the fact that not everyone sees static in dark rooms or brightly-lit walls, and flashes of light against their closed eyelids. More relevant here is that I was clued in to the possibility that I might have ADHD by two online friends linking articles/snippets at roughly the same time. The first was a piece from The Nature of Things about mental health in university students, and while discussing depression and anxiety, it mentioned that undiagnosed ADHD might be a common thread to many mental health issues [And that’s not to say that they are mutually exclusive or anything, in fact they quite frequently compound each other].

    The thing the second friend linked? Honestly, as silly as it sounds, it was that a resistance to caffeine buzz might indicate serotonin [I think? One of the neurotransmitters, anyway] receptors that are malfunctioning, and that is a possible sign/symptom of ADHD. And I can honestly say that the only time I’ve felt any sort of buzz from caffeine was drinking nearly an entire pot of coffee at ~4am to power through finishing up a paper that I had procrastinated until the very last night before it was due.

    And that started me down a rabbit hole of researching ADHD online. And the more I learned about it, the more it fit. The more certain things from my life started to fall into place.

    Hypersensitivity to criticism; tendency to hyperfocus on random things, but then move on to something else completely without explanation; the procrastination-perfectionism cycle; inability to force myself to work if not entirely ready to, but if the inspiration hits me, a very real possibility that I lose track of time while working on it; being an extreme night owl; having some times where my emotions just utterly overwhelmed me and I fell into a depressive spiral [usually as the result of what I later learned was called Rejection-Sensitive Dysphoria – The description of which was the thing that clinched the self-diagnosis for me, because I had so viscerally felt it]; zoning out for long periods of time and just sort of being lost in thought; preferring to work with music/headphones on, specifically because one source of noise drowns out all other potential noise distractions… The list just kept going on and on.

    Once I eventually became completely convinced I was on the right track, I brought my concerns to my doctor, and took the assessment they had there. My suspicions were correct, I most likely have Inattentive-type ADHD. The plan was to confirm this with the proper professional as soon as possible, but I had taken the assessment in early March, then COVID hit, and since I’m not working anyway, it’s not like it’s dramatically interfering with my ability to function right now, so I’ve been putting off that whole “get a formal referral to get the confirmation and follow-up therapy, etc.” step for now, as meeting with new people, outside my immediate bubble hasn’t been a top priority, y’know?

    Things are more-or-less settling down, so, since my regular doctor and specialist appointments seem to be resuming, I probably will get back on that, though, and start getting my ADHD formally addressed, beyond just trying to be more mindful of it and consciously trying to counteract it.

    To tie this back to the migraines that KO’d me from grad school: Basically, the ADHD had always been making me work in terribly unhealthy ways, and it was inevitably going to crash at some point. The procrastination-perfectionism loop is like that. I’d always been able to put in the Herculean efforts to pull off those last-minute papers and presentations – Until I wasn’t. The increasingly-frequent migraines (and side-effects of the medicines I’m on to try to treat them) left me fatigued and in a brainfog. This meant that any reserves of mental energy I’d always counted on drawing from just weren’t there anymore [Also: Physical energy. I’ve never been terribly physically fit, and writing papers and presentations isn’t hard work, but pushing yourself to work on only a few hours of sleep is certainly draining]. At first, I just chalked it up to regular old burnout, because I hadn’t really taken a proper vacation/break from school in years and it was a new challenge. But, I was basically running with a battery that wouldn’t take a charge. I tried going on medical leave for the summer and coming back in the fall, but it became evident that the migraines simply had become entirely too disruptive for me to handle any workload at that level and I withdrew entirely at the end of that semester.

    If/when I go back to school – If/when I get the migraines under control enough to work a schedule with regular hours, getting the ADHD managed will be a major help, in that it will help me to harness my focus and counteract those days where the spark just won’t ignite. That’s my hope anyway – Something that will ultimately make me better at the work I want to do – Not just the career-type stuff, any sort of writing/creative projects I do for leisure as well.

    And at the end of my rambling, that is my ultimate point [aka: TL;DR]: Take some time to look up the signs/symptoms of ADHD in adults if you are seriously having trouble sitting down and focusing, especially in your home work environment. See if the descriptions that are listed there line up with your experiences in life. It might be worth your while to get assessed. It’s much more common in the population than most people realize, and is quite under-diagnosed. And if you’re strongly medication-averse, there are ways to manage it that don’t necessarily require medication – Even being aware of the condition and making efforts to consciously recognize when you’re falling into negative patterns can help counteract it.

  114. Dirstel*

    I’m currently in my second lockdown and working from home stint, and I’m a school teacher. The first time round went… OK? But this time going in has been grim. I shall share some things re: work productivity that are working for me.
    – I wear real-ish clothes. I’m a person who wears a bra when I leave the house, so for productive days I have to put on a bra. A real one with underwire. I’ve got comfier ones for after work – now, it seems I equate bras and lift with work. But not jeans! Maybe never again jeans. Comfy, and sometimes fancy. Sometimes I’ll put on stockings and a dress, if I feel like it. I get more done on those days.
    – move every day. I don’t always nail this one, and it’s the hardest one for me. It’s also the most important, I think, for my mental health. I hate that it makes a difference but it really does, especially in These Times. Your moving might look different to my moving and that’s ok.
    – I’m writing a list every night of what I want to start working on in the morning. A new to me thing and working well. I *love* crossing things off my list.
    – a change of something between morning not-working and working. That might mean moving from the couch to my desk; or from my bed to the couch; whatever. The place that I was at to eat breakfast cannot be the place I work at in the morning.
    -have options for where to sit/work. I have a few places in my house I can go to to work.
    -be kind to yourself. There is a global pandemic happening. Sometimes for me that means doing the absolute bear minimum to get through the day, often from bed, and trying again tomorrow; sometimes that’s extending grace and kindness to my students; sometimes that’s accepting that some not perfect food is better than no food. Some days will be harder and some will be easier, and that’s ok.
    -stay connected to colleagues. Not every day? Because sometimes timetables don’t allow it, but as many as possible. After last lockdown ended I had one of the best times I’ve ever had doing moderation, which… Is not a fun thing to do, but I was that desperate to professionally connect. I’ve got a few different chats going now, and I’m reaching out to folks a bit more.
    – kick my cat off me/put her to bed. I love her but she’s very needy sometimes. I bought her an electric blanket a few weeks ago and suddenly I’ve got my arms back. I get a lot more done when I’m not nursing a cold needy anxious cat.
    -have treats – for me that’s tea. I love tea. I’ve usually got something a bit fancy on the go and I love it. I can’t really do that at work, so I’m going to take advantage of that.
    – stop working at the end of work. I know it’s tempting to be all ‘well since I didn’t get as much done today I’ll just work for an extra half hour…’ no. No, frand. Put down that computer. It will be there for you tomorrow. The work won’t magically disappear if you don’t do it now. It will wait for you. It’s very patient.
    -to the op who is living alone, heck, I’m sorry. That’s awful. I’d be/have been looking in to ways to get connection with others (friends, work etc) ; as well as to try and do things to simulate touch. There’s a few good listicles out there, but also – the electric blanket I’ve got for the cat is amazing for that too. Look in to things you can do for that.

    If you’re finding you’re trying and working and also reaching out and getting help, but you’re not achieving success when you have in the past because there is a global pandemic on, but you’re still in trouble at work? Then you have a boss problem and not a productivity problem, and you maybe need to look at different solutions to fix or manage that.

    Be safe and well, friend.

  115. Ole Golly*

    Something that really works for me — I do “random number generated” tasks for those non-urgent things you know you need to do today, but not in any particular order. What this means is that I give items on my To Do List numbers, and then I use a simple random number generator online to choose which task I’m going to do next. If it’s a particularly big, hairy task, I break it down into parts. It helps me focus on doing only one thing at a time, prevents the decision fatigue of choosing what I have to do next, and prevents me from continuously pushing the same items back because they’re the ones I least want to do.

  116. Checkert*

    I always recommend fitness communities! Peloton has a very strong community on social platforms (reddit in particular, facebook has a ton of groups, too, but you can also find a strong positive community with 1st Phorm (fitness and supplement company that has board certified nutritionists, physio experts, and coaches available to all, let alone great supplements), and the facebook group ‘Virtual Run Group’ for being enormously encouraging. No equipment is necessary (although it will help as you progress) for any of them, but the people are what really make up the driving force. Exercise, yoga, meditation, all release feel good hormones and added bonus if it makes you look and feel better about your body or circumstances. These communities are people of all types, to include those who are trying to come out of this whole, let alone better.

  117. KayDay*

    Oooooh, this is me as well. It’s so frustrating to hear most people complain about being too focused on work while working from home, and meanwhile I’ve spent the morning eating four breakfast, cleaning, and getting sucked into the tik-tok hole.

    A few things that work for me–that might not be possible for everyone, depending on the type of job you have:

    – instead of the pomodoro technique or similar, this is what I do: set a stop watch going forward. Pause it if you start slacking. this just seems to work better for me…not sure why.
    – try to focus on what tasks you want to get done that day, rather than the hours you work.
    – find a schedule that works for you! Maybe this means working early in the day so that more of your afternoon is free; but maybe this means breaking up your work day in to chunks and taking longer breaks during the day (e.g. working 7-11am and 3-7pm). Obviously, your employer needs to be flexible about your hours in this case.
    – if you work in a “meeting-lite” job, schedule some meetings. I find having a meeting or two (when the meetings are about the work I’m doing, not some useless coordination meeting) helps to keep me focused and also give me some much needed human contact (I’m an introvert, but not a hermit!).
    – embrace the things that make working from home nice–this is totally dependent on the person. In my case, I embrace dressing comfortably (I do think it’s important to change out of the PJs you slept in, but I don’t think you need to change into office clothes). Although I have set up a desk and make-shift office, I take my work out onto the porch sometimes so I can enjoy the summer. If I have a lot of reading or editing to do, I’ll sit on my couch.

  118. Lilian*

    OP2 – fellow data analyst with motivation issues here. I was really struggling for the first couple of months, but now I found my rhythm. For when I’m doing some really menial tasks that don’t require concentration, I take my laptop in bed and Netflix some good shows while copy&pasting, formatting etc., giving myself some mental downtime, and then when it’s time to crunch the data I move to the work and table and do a concentrated sprint. My productivity is through the roof, better than it was in the office although I’m giving myself much more relaxing tea times.
    Of course this is probably not going to be the same recipe for you, but try to cut yourself some slack and find your rhythm, even if it doesn’t sound like the ideal image of what work from home “should be”. The most important thing are your results, and we now have a lot of control of how we get there.

  119. Catabouda*

    Try to follow a pomodoro timer system. If you Google, you’ll find some ready to go.

    The basic idea is a timer runs for 25 minutes and you work on a task without taking calls or reading emails or whatever.

    Then take a 5 minute break, then back to the task for 25 minutes, and so on.

    Then for every other hour you take a longer break.

    It helps me to just focus for a bit of time to accomplish one thing. It’s a way to break down bigger tasks.

  120. Raccoon*

    A remote-worker friend of mine has a personal rule that when the candle on his desk is lit, he needs to be working.

    I haven’t asked him to elaborate, but I’d guess that the candle using itself up is a visual metaphor for time burning away.

    Maybe there’s also an animist element to it: like, the candle is a being that is sacrificing itself for him, so he has to honour that by being productive.

  121. 789a*

    This advice is more for ADHD and burnout, but I think it applies here too: Just pick one thing to do each day. (or if your job is a lot of small things, pick 3 things to do that day.) Take ALL other pressure off yourself – obviously easier said than done, but for me it helps to tell myself I’m taking a vacation from being my business self and I will put the pressure back on myself when the ‘vacation’ is over. (In this case, the ‘vacation’ would be uncontrolled pandemic)

  122. lilsheba*

    I am finally going to start working from home on this coming Monday and I can’t wait!!!! I’ve been wanting to work from home for years. I’ve done it here and there for a day or two, and loved it. This is a new job, and this is a first starting a new job working from home. I get to have my nice quiet, darkish, preferred environment. I get to burn candles or play music if I want to, wear what I want (no I’m not going to “get dressed” for work it does nothing for me). I can cook lunch in my own kitchen if I want to. No commuting brings back so much time to me. I ONLY have to devote 9 hours a day to work and lunch, nothing more. I’m an introvert and this has been my dream for so long. I’ve been loving quarantine so far, it’s been great. I am beyond happy.

  123. Depressed Chicken*

    A lot of this advice is like tips and tricks to stay on task, But I’m having trouble with actually achieving 8 hours a day. Between all the breaks and distractions I average 6-7 hours a day of actual work. At 5 or 6 it’s so miserable to keep working past “quitting time.” I’m hourly and we have to fill detailed time sheets. So as much as I’d like to pat myself on the back and say I’m “doing the best I can,” at the end of the week I’m still staring down a 3-8 hour deficit. I keep working late or on weekends to make up the difference but that’s leading me to feel even more burned out and like I am never done with my day or my week of work. I live in a small apartment. I hate everything right now.

  124. Hazem A Albassam*

    To begin with, don’t let your emotions to hijack your behavior, and in turn control your performance , Also I am glad that you wrote this letter as I believe that keeping it bottled up and denying it only makes it worse. It also helps us connect and share with others who are feeling the same way just like you did. This normalizes what we are feeling and helps us feel connected and supported. While COVID-19 is beyond our control, there is a great deal that we can do to relieve unnecessary risk. We can take back some level of control by staying dedicated on the areas that we are able to manage in our own lives. Talk to those close to you to see what you can do to help. Simple ideas such as taking turns grocery shopping reduces the number of people that could be exposed. An additional advantage is that by doing the shopping you will strengthen your relations.You may also want to take advantage of the extra time you have because of the isolation To learn a new thing , maybe learn how to play an instrument or read that book that you bought six months ago or better yet come join us at Northwestern University for a class online.

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