As the COVID-19 pandemic and remote work continue into a second year, our team has been thinking more deeply about “productivity.”. What has changed about our work challenges, and what works to overcome them? How do we stay focused and energized after all this time at home? Our lab members share their thoughts in this post.
Laura (2nd-year clinical psychology Ph.D. student): I’ve found working remotely has been both challenging and rewarding. I definitely appreciate the opportunity to spend more time with family now, so remote work has definitely been rewarding in that sense. However, there is no longer a strict boundary (such as a commute) between work and home. I’ve found that this allows me to work much longer hours than I originally anticipate. Some tricks I use to manage this challenge are switching chairs or rooms when moving on to a new task (e.g., courses vs. lab work) and setting a strict stopping point at the end of the day.
Emily (1st-year school psychology Masters student): With working from home, I have come to realize how easily distracted I can be, even by the smallest things. To help improve my productivity I have found it best to try and eliminate my biggest distraction: my phone. Turning my phone on silent and keeping it out of sight so I don’t see notifications popping up has helped me to stay focused. Another trick I have found to be helpful is scheduling my most important tasks to be done while my daughter naps. Giving myself that time restriction, and creating a goal to finish it before she wakes up, has really helped me to stay motivated and be productive.
Kristen E (2nd-year undergraduate RA): On certain days, the pandemic has made me feel as though I have all the time in the world, and that I can push things off until tomorrow. Giving myself deadlines for projects, assignments, and homework has helped me keep more of a schedule to hold myself accountable for completing work. Sticking to a schedule of action for each day has really helped me not only to stay productive throughout the day, but also to assure myself that I am staying on track with all my work. I have found that assigning a day of the week for specific kinds of tasks has made it much easier to keep track of what is done and helps create a general sense of how much more work is required by the end of the week so I can plan accordingly.
Megan (1st-year clinical psychology Ph.D. student): I have realized while working from home that I have not been getting as much movement/activity in as I would if I were on campus, which has resulted in feeling fatigued after sitting at my table all day doing work. Lately I have been making it a point to set time during the evening to workout, and I added a setting on my Fitbit that reminds me to get up a move around during the day. I found that by getting in small bursts of movement throughout the day and setting time aside for exercise, I have felt more energized, which has helped me become more productive with research/coursework.
Heather (4th-year undergraduate RA): I love working from home, but I do find that I am sitting more and not breaking up my day with other activities as much as I used to. I have a timer on my Apple Watch that I work with now to remind myself to get up, stretch, and do breathing exercises. This helps keep my muscles from stiffening up, especially my hips. Plus it helps with correcting my posture. It has been nice to reset and refresh. When the weather permits I also make sure I have the windows open a bit for air circulation. However, it has been quite cold lately so I will change rooms in the house to sit in the sun while I work. Being in the sun has helped me with my mood, which helps me stay on track with my projects and classes. I would say the biggest challenge I have from working at home is that I feel like I have more time and have actually given myself more projects and work to do. It is definitely challenging my time management skills. Breaking my day up with sun, fresh air, and physical activity keeps positive and constructive.
Bernard (4th-year undergraduate RA): Working from home is great, but there are a lot of downsides to it. The biggest roadblock in my productivity are all the little distractions that occur, such as people checking in on me during work or any notifications I get through my phone/computer. Before all this, it was easy to focus on work and stay productive because there was a transition from home to work, but now not so much. So what I’ve been doing to help this is bring that transition back. Before I go focus on work I make sure to move my laptop from my room to my workstation, dress nice, and silence my phone as well as put it in an inconvenient spot to get to; for example, in another room. This helps me to minimize distractions as well as focus on work.
Kristen P (3rd-year clinical psychology Ph.D. student): One of the most significant barriers for my productivity thus far during the pandemic restrictions has been maintaining structure for the various work responsibilities and those in my personal life. Before COVID-19, I trained myself to associate certain environmental cues with the tasks I should be doing. For example, the majority of research was done in the lab, all treatment notes and planning were done in the clinic. Tasks were compartmentalized, and above all I required social stimuli to keep myself accountable. Since the beginning of working from home, I have to put much more effort into maintaining structure and social accountability. This initially looked like trial and error, but have found a few core things to work: using my calendar more intentionally (adding activities including exercise, cooking, sending emails), setting certain places of my home as work areas, and planning Zoom work sessions to keep socially accountable.
Samuel (4th-year undergraduate RA): Working from home has been an exciting new experience! While working from home I don’t have to worry about the commute to work and I get to work in the comfort of my own home. This has many benefits, but it has its drawbacks. I find it very easy to lose focus and once I lose my focus, I find it very hard to get it back. To help myself stay focused I came up with a few methods and one of these methods is setting hourly goals. This helps me stay on task and gives me something to work towards to keep me moving in the right direction. Another method I came up with is after I finish my hourly goals, I reward myself with a walk around my house just to stretch my legs. Having a goal and rewarding myself when I complete it helps me stay focused and motivates me to complete my next hourly goal.
Cole (postdoctoral fellow/lab manager): Distractions are hard to avoid while working at home around my young daughter. Communication with my spouse has really helped with productivity. Things like putting meetings on the calendar on our fridge keeps us both in the loop about my work schedule, which also helps with planning brief breaks to stretch my legs, change a diaper, check my phone, etc. I also have a dedicated space for work (no non-work allowed) and avoid working elsewhere in my home. Associating that space with work helps me shift my focus to work-related items more easily when starting the day or returning from a break.
Dr. Dani (lab director): I always avoided working from home, for the reasons that others have outlined here – too many distractions, like wanting to play with my cats instead of focus. But I’m lucky to have a home office, and working from home has given me justification to upgrade to ergonomically supportive furniture and computing tools. More importantly, as the faculty mentor and director for the CHASE lab, I think a lot about setting appropriate and reasonable expectations. How do we define “productivity” under these ongoing circumstances, and what should our expectations be for progress on our work? How can we gently push everyone to accomplish their goals while not adding undue pressure? I certainly haven’t figured it out yet, but the team has done an amazing job over the past year, and I’m so impressed with their commitment and creativity. Keeping my fingers crossed that it will be safe to have an in-person gathering to celebrate the end of an unusual and exciting academic year.