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Tips for Staying Productive During COVID-19 Shelter in Place

The COVID-19 crisis is forcing us all to stay in and shelter in place. But staying productive and on task while studying at home can be really challenging. Here are six strategies from Harvard to help keep you disciplined, focused, and positive through these difficult times.

The stay-at-home mandates required by the COVID-19 crisis make it feel as if the whole world has come to a stand still. The rhythms and routines of everyday life have been suddenly and completely upended, with no definite end in sight.

For students whose classes have suddenly gone online and workers who are sent into a home office, the COVID-19 crisis presents the additional challenge of completing work when you’re out of your normal routine surrounded by distractions. 

Yet achieving success in this chaotic time is possible. You just need a little self-discipline, a healthy lifestyle, and most of all, a positive attitude. 

Here are six strategies from life coach Deb Levy that can help you focus and succeed while staying safe at home.

1. Establish Healthy Self-Care Habits

Taking care of yourself—both physically and mentally—will not only help you stay healthy. It will also make it easier to maintain a positive attitude and stick to a regular routine. 

When working or studying from home on a regular basis, a key first step to staying productive is to act as if you were still heading out for a typical day. 

That means resisting the temptation to lounge in your PJs all day. Instead, get up at the usual time, take a shower, and dress in everyday clothes for the duration of your work day.

Practicing good self-care also means:

  • Eating regular, healthy meals

  • Staying hydrated with lots of water 

  • Exercising regularly

  • Going outside for a little bit every day (while practicing appropriate social distancing)

  • Taking time to relax and unwind

  • Getting lots and lots (and lots) of sleep

Self-care means taking care of your mental health as well. Social distancing and self-quarantine can be isolating and lonely. 

While you might not be able to visit with friends and family in person, be sure to make time every day to check in (virtually) with loved ones and friends. Start a text chat, for example, or suggest a virtual happy hour over Zoom or Google Hangouts. 

2. Plan Your Day

Right now, it can be difficult to differentiate between work, school, and personal time. You may find yourself waiting a little too long to start that assignment. Or you may continue to work on a project long past the point where you should have taken a break or eaten a meal. 

The solution? Every morning (after you have showered and gotten dressed), outline your goals and priorities for the day. 

An organized to-do list will keep you focused on the specific tasks you need to complete. And there’s an added bonus: checking items off the list always provides a great sense of accomplishment.

Once you’ve written down your goals, make a schedule for the day that will enable you to achieve those goals. Your schedule should include blocks of time dedicated to certain tasks.

Don’t forget to include meal times and work breaks as well. And once you have created your schedule, be sure to stick to it as much as possible. 

3. Start the Day with a House or Family Meeting

Sharing a space with family members? Coordinate schedules to ensure that you have access to the things you need to get your work done and avoid potential conflicts. A daily meeting over the breakfast table is a great time to share plans for the day and manage everyone’s expectations. 

For instance, maybe both you and a spouse, partner, or roommate are working from home. You can identify times when each of you can use WiFi, a quiet home office, or the TV in a common room. 

If you have children at home, incorporate their schedule into the family meeting as well. This will help ensure you have the quiet time you need while providing structure for your kids. 

They’ll understand when they should be reading or doing schoolwork, handling household chores (as appropriate), enjoying screen time, or playing XBox with friends. They’ll also know when you will be available to entertain them or help them with their schoolwork. 

Don’t forget to dedicate a few minutes to sharing feelings. A moment of reflection will help everyone feel more connected and start the day out on a positive note.

4. Build a Dedicated Workspace

If you can, establish a home office where you can “go to work,” just as if you were heading to the office, library, or coffee shop. 

In addition to being quiet and distraction free, a dedicated space helps establish structure and rhythm that can be crucial for staying productive.

Of course, it’s not always possible to dedicate an entire room as an office. But it’s important to avoid the temptation to do all your work from the couch or bed.

A small desk or table in a corner, for instance, can still serve as a dedicated workspace. Make sure it is well-lit and has everything you need to achieve your daily goals: a charging area for your laptop, WiFi access, books, notebooks and paper, pens, and any other tools you are likely to need throughout the day. 

If you can stick to your dedicated workspace and avoid leaving it unnecessarily, you will find you are less distracted and more productive.

5. Eliminate Distractions

The home offers ample opportunity for distraction. And each distraction is an opportunity for procrastination that could undermine your productivity. 

Some distractions are, unfortunately, unavoidable. Children are bound to interrupt with questions and requests. Roommates may be noisy or disruptive. Establishing a home office or a dedicated workspace can help. But setting ground-rules or agreeing on a code of conduct can help ensure that everyone is respectful of each other’s needs.

Other distractions require self-disciple to avoid. As you create your at-home work or study routine, think about the distractions and temptations around you. Do your best to remove them from your workspace. 

Turn your phone off, for instance, or keep it in another room if you can. If you can’t, it’s a good idea to turn off notifications from social media, messaging apps, and news outlets during your dedicated work times.

6. Focus on the Positive

Perhaps the single biggest thing you can do to stay focused and productive at home is to maintain a positive outlook. Unfortunately, when every headline seems to highlight the worst case scenario, that can also be the biggest challenge. 

So what can you do to stay happy and cheerful through the stress of the COVID-19 crisis? 

  • Shut out the bad news. If tracking the daily headlines is making you anxious or upset, it’s OK to disconnect. This will go a long way toward helping you be mindful about staying positive. 

  • Recognize and acknowledge your feelings, even as they change from day to day and hour to hour. As the world around us changes at lightning speed, it’s natural to grieve for the things we are missing.

  • Give yourself and those around you permission to be human. As you adjust to the changing realities of today’s world, it’s alright to make mistakes. This is not the time to pursue or expect perfection. And realize that everyone else is making mistakes as well.

  • Find the silver lining every day. When you first wake up, spend a few minutes before getting out of bed brainstorming the positive things you have in your life. Before you go to bed each evening, make a list of the good things that happened to you that day.

  • Engage in activities you enjoy (as time permits). Take advantage of this time to slow down, spend time with family, and rediscover enjoyable hobbies and activities. 

Quarantines and social distancing can make you feel alone, and staying focused can be difficult. 

But succeeding throughout this time is possible! Stay in touch (virtually) with family and friends. Be mindful of the benefits and unique opportunities that this challenging time presents. And creating healthy physical and mental habits can help you get through any rough patch. 


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