With the number of local COVID-19 infections increasing in Singapore, the Government has announced a new set of “circuit breaker” measures to help stop the spread. As a result, many people are now faced with the challenge of working from home. While there are a lot of benefits to telecommuting, it’s very easy to be lured in by procrastination and distractions that you might not have at the office. It takes dedication and smart strategies to pull it off successfully. With that in mind, we asked six local entrepreneurs and health professionals to share their top tips for staying productive when working from home. From setting a daily routine to taking care of yourself, here’s what they had to say.
Stick to your morning routine
Working from home in your pyjamas may sound like a dream come true, but in reality, it can actually have a negative impact on your productivity, sleep patterns and even your mental health. The key to ensuring a good level of productivity in the home is to create a routine and structure that you force yourself to stick to. “Keeping a strict morning routine is critical not only for my productivity but also my mental health. I like to be out of bed and showered with my makeup on and an espresso in hand by 9 am. Although I’m only working from my kitchen table, I like to feel on schedule and most importantly put together in something comfortable yet practical” explained Brandy Dallas, Founder and Creative Director of Sans Faff, a Singapore-based minimalist womenswear label that focuses on producing limited pieces at limited quantities in order to preserve resources and avoid waste.
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When your living space suddenly becomes your workspace, achieving a healthy work-life balance seems almost impossible, but there are steps you can take to help. According to Karyen Chai, Communications Chair at the Singapore Psychological Society, the key is setting boundaries. “Before working from home became the new normal, our offices and homes were physically separated, allowing for a mental separation between the two. However, this line has been blurred with the new regulations around working from home. To reinstate this separation, it’s important to create a space at home that is dedicated to work. This is your office space. When you are in this space, you should be working as if you were at the office. Setting this space boundary helps you to create a mental separation between work and home, allowing for productivity and limiting overworking”. Time wise, there should be a start and an end to your workday, just like there would be in a real office. “Set a schedule that clearly indicates when you’re going to start work, when you’re going to take breaks, and when you’re going to finish for the day.” It’s important to stick with those hours as much as possible, and communicate them to anyone else living in your home.
Eat a well-balanced diet
As an accredited women’s health dietitian and the founder of Foodbaby, Amara Lindenmayer knows how important it is to maintain a healthy diet while you’re working from home during the coronavirus outbreak. “Balancing your blood sugars is really important for maintaining energy and focus throughout the day. Make sure your lunch includes a decent serve of protein and go for whole grains rather than refined carbs. The Healthy Plate model, which recommends 1/2 a plate of low starch veggies and 1/4 each of protein and whole-grain carbs, is a good guide to try to follow. A large serving of carbs at lunch, particularly refined carbs like white rice or bread, will see you crashing by 3 pm. You’ll either need an afternoon nap or you’ll be tempted to reach for a sugary drink. While a sugary drink will give your blood sugars a quick spike, they’ll soon come crashing down and leave you feeling more tired and less productive than ever. If you do need an afternoon pick-me-up, try a balanced snack like a piece of fruit with some nuts or Greek yoghurt.”
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Manage expectations (particularly if you’ve got children)
Working from home when you’ve got kids around is hard. They demand around-the-clock attention—and parenting while juggling video calls, an overflowing inbox and tight deadlines can be extremely stressful. As a busy mum working from home, Celine Tan, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Caviar Colony and Chief Operating Officer at The Ate Group, likes to plan her schedule the day before. “It’s all about managing expectations. Everything gets put into a calendar even a simple catch up phone call. But of course, when kids are involved this requires solid support from home. When I need to take calls or virtual meetings, I lock myself in the bedroom while my husband and helper keep an eye on Niko who’s 17 months old. I’m also very transparent about my personal schedule so my team knows when I’m engaged and how I can work around things. Given the current COVID-19 crisis, weekly work-in-progress (WIPs) updates have become daily WIPs so management can better advise on priorities.”
Create to-do lists
One easy way to improve your productivity is to create daily to-do lists. In fact, numerous studies have shown that people perform better when they have written down what they need to do. Simply work out what needs to be done and in what order, write down the tasks, do them, and then, one-by-one, cross them out. Founder and CEO of Allies of Skin and the newly launched PSA Skin Nicolas Travis believes his struggle to stay organised and on task is solved by his to-do lists. “What I find most helpful is keeping a daily list of to-dos and milestones. This helps me stay focused on the tasks at hand. The entire team shares their list on our cloud system so everyone has visibility on the various projects, as there are many moving parts, especially now that we have two brands.”
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According to Clinical Psychologist Dr Annabelle Chow, the lack of a structured workday can make it easy for people to get lost in their work and neglect scheduled breaks and social interactions, which are essential to our mental health. “Prolonged deprivation of social contact can severely impact our mental wellbeing and lead to a myriad of health problems. Learning to remain positive means that we must learn to accept those portions of the situation that we cannot change. For example, we cannot change the fact that drastic steps must be taken to physically distance the population from one another to slow the spread of COVID-19. But we are still required to make many decisions of our own: how we respond to events as they unfold, what we choose to do about the things we can change, and how we treat ourselves and the people around us during this crisis. Remaining positive also means that the decisions we make must align with our values, such as accountability, graciousness, patience, compassion, or doing the best we can in any given situation.