TARG’s top tips for wellbeing and productivity

Working from home can present huge challenges both to our work productivity and overall wellbeing. These challenges will vary in type and intensity from one person to another, and may also wax and wane at different times of the year.

Things we in TARG have been struggling with include:

  • No separate workspace versus home space; blurring of boundaries between home and work
  • Lack of motivation due to general stress or anxiety about the state of the world
  • Material problems e.g. caring responsibilities, things in life disrupted by the pandemic
  • The social aspect of not seeing people
  • Difficulties in communicating and getting things done when we can’t be together in person

Although it is important to note that “it’s ok not to be ok”, there are things we can do that may help us feel better and/or be more productive in our work during these times.

With this in mind, and wanting to support each other as best we can, our group got together to share tips for coping with working from home.

Here is the TARG list of top tips for wellbeing and productivity:

Working Environment

  • Set a designated working area and go to a separate space for breaks.
  • Or, rotate your working area around different spaces for a change of scene.
  • Keep your working environment tidy.
  • It helps if you keep your home tidy too – it doesn’t have to be spotless though! Just things like making the bed and opening the curtains each morning helps.
  • Have one day every week or fortnight when you tidy up your files and emails.
  • If it helps you concentrate, listen to music or nature sounds or have the radio on. You could turn it off when you’re on a break, then restart it when you want to continue working. Spotify has lots of focus music playlists, or try YouTube.
  • Try using earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones if you want a quieter environment.
  • If you have to work from a laptop, try attaching a computer monitor and separate keyboard and mouse. The extra monitor extends your screen space making working easier, and also gives the feeling of using a separate ‘work computer’ helping to differentiate your personal laptop use from work time.
  • Download a second web browser and use it only for work tasks. Keep only work bookmarks on your work web browser.

Emails

  • Only check your emails two to three times a day at specific times.
  • Add a message to your email signature such as “I check my email at 10am and 3pm every day so you will only hear from me at these times”. We don’t have to be constantly available.
  • Don’t leave your email inbox open. Turn off notification sounds and popups.
  • Work for an hour in the morning before checking emails.
  • Glance at an email to see if it’s important but then ignore it until later.
  • Flag emails and then answer them all in a block of time later.

Phone

  • Only check your phone two to three times a day at specific times.
  • Leave your phone out of sight e.g. in a drawer that’s out of reach.
  • Turn off notification sounds.
  • Remove work email apps from your phone.

Daily Routine

  • Tailor your work schedule to your personal preferences – there’s no need to stick to 9 to 5.
  • Whatever your preferred working schedule is, do have one, and stick to it.
  • Schedule tea breaks at certain times of the day.
  • Get ready and dress in the morning as if you were going to work.
  • Go for a quick walk before you start work to simulate a commute.
  • Have a proper lunch break, away from your working area if you can.

Task Scheduling

  • ‘Eat the frog’: do the most difficult task of the day first.
  • Block out a particular day for particular tasks.
  • Schedule tasks that require more concentration to quieter times of the day.
  • Set your tasks for the day each morning. Make them specific goals. Prioritise the tasks you need to do; don’t try to do everything.
  • Or, schedule tasks per week rather than per day. Whatever works for you.
  • If you’re struggling to start try to do just one task. Often once you start it’s easier to continue.
  • Break up big tasks into smaller chunks and schedule them through the week.
  • Make your day task-based rather than hours-based. E.g., “I will complete three tasks today” rather than “I will work seven hours today.” If you finish early, have the rest of the day off!

To Do and Done Lists

  • Keep a ‘Done’ list to remind yourself of what you’ve achieved each day.
  • If you start a task but haven’t finished it, have a symbol you can mark next to it so you can still see your progress.
  • Have a symbol/colour to mark tasks that you’re waiting to hear back from others on before you can proceed.
  • Colour code your to do list depending on task urgency.
  • Break down tasks into micro-steps.
  • Make your to do list visually appealing.
  • Use Trello to make a to do list.

Motivation/Rewards

  • Schedule time for activities you enjoy.
  • Write a list of things you enjoy and use it as motivation.
  • Gamify work: time spent working unlocks points that you can spend on fun/relaxing activities or treats. You could make a motivation board with stickers to record your points.

Meetings

  • During meetings which are mostly just listening, do household chores that don’t take mental capacity (so you can still concentrate on listening) to have extra free time later.
  • Attend a meeting from outside by using your phone. Sit in the garden, or go for a walk.

Maintain Clarity and Perspective

  • Avoid foods at lunchtime that spike your blood sugar leading to lethargy in the afternoon.
  • If things pop into your head (e.g. things to do, worries) note them down and set them aside for later.
  • If you’re struggling to focus, take a break. E.g. go for a walk, have a nap or relax with a book. Set a timer for going back to work.
  • Take a break every 10 minutes or use the Pomodoro Technique.
  • Set a time limit for tasks and then move on (unless it’s urgent that you finish it).
  • If you’re struggling to get anything done, sometimes it’s much better to just do the minimum amount and then stop, or allow yourself the day off and try again tomorrow. That’s ok!
  • If you have a non-productive day, don’t be hard on yourself. Try speaking to yourself as you would a dear friend.
  • We are all trying to just be as reasonably productive and motivated as we can in these circumstances – don’t expect as much from yourself as you would in normal times, and know that you are most definitely not alone in struggling.

Take Care of your Wellbeing

  • Looking after your wellbeing is important in and of itself but also benefits productivity.
  • There are lots of things we can do to improve our wellbeing, but we don’t want to turn those things into yet more ‘tasks to get done’. Rather than setting wellbeing goals, you could try simply recording what you do each day for your wellbeing, without judgment or expectation. By just recording these things, you may find you automatically start doing them more.
  • Move: go for a walk, do some stretches, get up to make a cup of tea, walk around the garden.
  • Sleep: try to get plenty of sleep, instead of working late ask yourself “can this task be finished tomorrow?”
  • Rest: set aside a bit of time each day to rest and relax with whatever feels restful to you.
  • Play: find time to do things you enjoy, having fun is important for adults as well as children!
  • Gratitude: take a moment to think about something you are grateful for in your life.
  • Nature: notice the nature all around us, even in urban environments there is plenty to see and hear.
  • Pets: cuddling a pet releases endorphins!
  • Laugh: listen to a funny podcast or watch a comedy show.
  • Connect: share how you really feel with a trusted person. Resist the urge to pretend everything’s ok if it’s not. (But if you don’t feel like sharing, that’s ok too.)

Group Strategies

  • Daily morning check-ins that anyone can pop in to.
  • Socials (socially distanced outside when permitted by rules, otherwise online).
  • Online coffee breaks and lunch breaks on Slack/Zoom.
  • Continuing the schedule of regular meetings that we had before the pandemic, but online.
  • Sharing our successes AND failures, it’s especially good if we can laugh about it!
  • Using Slack for quick messages and to stay in touch socially with a dedicated social channel.
  • One-to-one catch ups.
  • Sharing goals for the day with each other and checking in at the end of the day/an hour later.
  • Online writing retreats.

Incorporating new things into your daily routine can feel odd or an uphill struggle at first, but we humans are very good at building habits, so stick with it for a few days and it might become second nature. You could try picking one or two things from the list that resonate with you, and see how you go.

Thanks to the whole group for their contributions and especially to Jackie Thompson for holding the group meeting and co-ordinating responses.

We will be posting these tips on Twitter; if you’d like to see these regular reminders in your Twitter feed follow @BristolTARG or head to the #TARGWellbeing hashtag.

Take care everyone!

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