Even as offices reopen, especially as COVID-19 cases continue to fluctuate across the country, many companies have adopted more flexible work from home policies, allowing employees to work outside the office more frequently and sometimes even on a regular schedule.
Working from home comes with distractions like children, spouses, pets and access to TV and food, plus it presents challenges like slow Wi-Fi, distracting noises or software issues. This environment, coupled with negative headlines, social isolation and fear of catching the virus, can cause an increase in stress levels for an already demanding profession.
Whether more regularly or just every once in a while, here are some tips to help make working from your remote office better:
Set up a schedule and stick to it
It is very easy for our brains to switch to “home” mode because we are at home. As lawyers, hours translate into dollars, so you must make use of your time wisely. Also, if you do not structure your work hours, you may end up working after hours, which will disrupt your work-life balance and further elevate your stress. To avoid this, set up a routine and stick to it, including taking regular breaks and exercising if and when you can.
Try to have a morning routine that signals to the brain to prepare for work (e.g., making your bed, exercising, showering). We are creatures of habit, and many of our routines help our brain identify what time of day it is. For example, starting your workday in PJs may signal to your brain that you are in relax mood. This is not a one size fits all, working in PJs may work for some, but not all. Do what works best for you (but just remember to change before you have a Zoom meeting). Creating a routine also helps those around you recognize and respect that you are working.
Take regular breaks
Breaks improve productivity and help your brain relax and recoup. Schedule your breaks and take them religiously. One of the advantages of working from home is the ability to do anything during your break. Make the most of this: take a walk, catch up with a friend, spend time with your spouse, watch TV or simply read a book. But whatever you do, take a break! Avoid getting into the habit of overworking yourself simply because you have more time. As a lawyer, taking regular breaks can improve your attention to detail and help prevent avoidable errors.
Social distancing NOT emotional distancing
Personally, I prefer the term “physical distancing” to “social distancing,” simply because it indicates we are separating physically but not socially. Humans are social beings and thanks to technology, we can still interact with our loved ones even when we are not together physically. Our mental state can be adversely affected if we emotionally isolate ourselves from others. One way to help increase social interaction while distancing is to be intentional about it. Schedule calls or video chats with friends, family as well as co-workers. Continue to participate in extracurricular activities if they offer platforms to do so.
Use planners, to-do lists and visions boards
Working from home has many opportunities to get more done for home and work, but if you are not careful, you can end up doing more for one or the other as opposed to balancing the two. For example, while working from home, it is easy to see something that needs cleaning and then before you know it, you could be cleaning the entire kitchen as opposed to working. Setting up a to-do list can help break out tasks for home and for work. Also, allocating time for activities, like cleaning the kitchen during your lunch hour, can help to keep home and work separate.
For lawyers, this is most importance since the legal profession is filled with deadlines and client demands. Failure to meet deadlines can be detrimental. So, break your work into manageable short-term goals with deadlines (SMART goals), this will help manage stress and accomplish tasks within the required time frame. In addition, prioritize your tasks. This will help you manage your time as well as tackle the tasks that need immediate attention. Furthermore, if you are working on a project with others, do not make assumptions. Clearly communicate, delegate and coordinate project tasks and deadlines. You do not want to be the bottleneck that delays the whole project because you assumed someone else would do the job or simply because you could not manage your time.
Manage your mental health
To be able to help others, we must ensure that we ourselves are in good health mentally. The COVID-19 pandemic presents an environment where we can be prone to mental health issues, depression and anxiety. This list of tips is not exhaustive of the many practices that lawyers can use to increase productivity and maintain good mental health. For more strategies and additional information, you can see the Oklahoma Bar Journal article “Strategies for Attorneys Managing the Additional Stress of COVID-19.”