How to keep your s*** together and be productive during a pandemic

As an editor who can ostensibly do my job wherever I can plug in my laptop, I’ve always appreciated the opportunity to work from home once in a while. More than two months into sheltering in place, I pine for the Before Times, when working from home was a privilege rather than a prison.

For me, the primary challenge is balancing a full-time job that I love—and that’s busier than ever—with being a parent to a really cute but really needy one-year-old. My husband and I have choreographed a careful dance of trading off primary childcare responsibility throughout the day as we both try to hammer out a day’s work. It works about 10 percent of the time. Sometimes the baby accidentally locks herself in the playpen and wails like the body snatchers are coming, as she did while I was writing this post. Excuse me while I go save her from what sounds like certain death.

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Whether it feels like it or not, we’ve all learned a lot through the adjustment, and many of the lessons will help us continue to navigate remote work as we settle into whatever working life looks like going forward. For advice on how to manage, I turned to my well-adjusted colleagues—and they delivered, from practical tips for the home office to reminders of the importance of self-care.

Katie Edwards, design associate

With so many projects going on at once, I have a virtual sticky note permanently on my computer screen with current, upcoming, and background projects in order of priority. Also, because I live with my boyfriend and we have to move locations throughout the day for various calls, I have a tray of necessities (lotion, hair clips, scissors, pen, etc.) that I bring around with me when I am working so I don’t have to get up and spend 10 minutes looking for my damn ChapStick.

Mimi Li, editor

The infuriatingly gauzy advice to “take breaks!” could use some specificity. So, I’ve incorporated the Pomodoro Technique into my work life. I use the Tomato Timer, which has you work in 25-minute sprints followed by a five-minute break. And I intend to start making a list of nonwork things (not necessarily chores) that I could do in five minutes or less so I can do something to break up my day.

Alia Samhat, director of accounts and strategy

I like to replicate some aspects of the office environment that I feel contribute to my productivity, such as playing music regularly, hooking up to a double monitor, and making sure to converse with colleagues the way we would if we crossed in the kitchen.

Justin Durkin, design associate

I approach each day as its own, since so many projects are coming in and start to pile on top of one another. I make a ton of lists. I usually play music in the background or listen to a podcast to keep working in a consistent flow. Sometimes it’s hard to step away when you are super focused on a project, but I try to break my day up by taking time to cook, walking the dog, or just getting a breath of fresh air. And at the end of the day I like to throw on a movie or show I’ve never seen and try to take in something new!

Emma Heth, account manager

Having a consistent work space (that is, my kitchen table that acts as a desk) has been key to me feeling productive and like I’m in a working environment and need to focus, not just in my house able to do whatever I want. Recently with the nice weather, getting outside each day has really helped me stay sane too.

Scott Leff, founder

It’s important to remember that projects might be urgent, but they aren’t often critical. In other words, lives aren’t at stake, so put the importance of tasks in the right place along that continuum. And a good night’s sleep can dramatically improve your outlook and ability to cope.

Annie Mullowney, editor

My husband and I are home with our two-year-old daughter, so, as with Brittany, it’s extremely challenging and taxing to be productive. My husband and I have found that the best way to get work done is to split the day—one of us on “June duty” morning until nap and the other post-nap until bedtime. The days are long. To help stay sane, I take June outside every day, either for a run or an amble around the neighborhood—often with a stop at the beach. During work time, I keep a list of the day’s priorities to help me focus. Some high-quality headphones also help drown out the sounds of Moana or giggling (or screaming) from the other room. And no matter how busy we are, every night we all have dinner together.

Brittany Williams

Brittany is the editorial director at Leff. She is passionate about helping clients tell their stories through incisive, fact-based narratives. Every once in awhile, she takes a break to muse on rhetorical devices, grammar, and content strategy on the Leff Communications blog. Follow Brittany on Twitter @britpetersen.

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