The Unexpected Challenges of Working from Home:
How to Build Strong Workflow Habits During the Covid-19 Quarantine and Beyond
Guest Blog By Amber Harper
“The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” – Stephen Covey
I’ll be one of the first to admit that as much as I love what I do, doing what I love has now had some added, shall we say, unexpected daily challenges. They come in the form of two school-age daughters and a now working-from-home husband – who happens to be an elementary school principal.
As a classroom teacher, when I started working as a Google Trainer and Teacher Burnout Coach, I dreamed of taking my business of supporting teachers and schools to full-time status – working from home, virtually supporting my teachers and traveling to schools that needed Google or teacher burnout support.
But when that dream came true, I was hit with the harsh reality that comes from working from home. The occasional Personal Day I would take to work from home while teaching full time was a dream come true and I couldn’t wait to do it every day.
Then, it happened. And I found myself learning the hard way that the act of working from home full-time is a lot harder and less sexy than it sounds.
Among other things, working from home can be:
- (with kids at home) Chaotic
I quickly had to learn not just how to do work that moved the needle forward toward my most important goals, but how to work from home in the first place. Through research, practice, and combining multiple methods to find the flow that works best for me, I’d like to share with you what has been my secret sauce for keeping me focused on the right things at the right time and how to make sure that working from home doesn’t turn into working 24 hours a day.
On Monday, March 9th when we started getting emails from our daughters’ superintendent stating closure possibilities, my heart went straight to teachers and the challenges that they would face, not simply with planning and executing distant learning, but knowing and understanding how to create a healthy workflow for successfully working from home.
The following steps to creating a healthy workflow are from my portion of a free webinar that I put together with my friends Gretchen Bridgers from Always a Lesson Podcast and Danna Thomas from Happy Teacher Revolution called:
Crisis to Calm: A Success Plan for Balance, Workflow, and Connection During the Covid-19 Safety Precautions. You can watch the webinar for free at www.burnedinteacher.com/crisistocalm or listen to the audio of the webinar on The Burned-In Teacher Podcast.
Here are steps I encourage you to consider as you develop a workflow that works for you and helps you focus on the right things at the right time:
Pay attention to your self talk.
“Your beliefs will become your thoughts, your thoughts will become your actions, your actions will become your habits, your habits will become your reality.” -Buddha
Your self-talk and beliefs will make or break you during the pandemic. You must,first and foremost, control your mind and what you say to yourself, if you’re going to attempt to make the best of this situation.
If you tell yourself things like (for example) “This is horrible!” or “I can’t do this!” then that will be the truth. It WILL be horrible and you WON’T do anything well.
This is because your brain is wired to look for proof that what you’re thinking is the truth. It’s called the Reticular Activating System and it can work wonders for your mindset or wreak havoc on it.
Think of it this way, when you’re in the market for something, say a specific new vehicle, do you or do you not see it everywhere? That’s what happened to my husband and I when we decided we wanted a Subaru Outback – we had never noticed them before, until the day we came to the conclusion that that was what we wanted our next family vehicle to be. Everyone seemed to have one!
The good news is that only you can control it your mind and your Reticular Activating System. Know that as I share the next stats with you, the most important one is that you are 100% in control of your life and the way you react to challenges.
According to the National Science Foundation humans have about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day; 80% of them are negative and 95% of them are the same thoughts you thought yesterday.
If you don’t change the way you talk about your reality, you can’t change your words or actions in it.
Now, if you need some help with new ways to talk to yourself, don’t worry, I’ve got you.
Get familiar with the Agents of Change
“We are what we think. With our thoughts, we make the world.” – Buddha
Last summer I created what I call the Agents of Same and the Agents of Change. The Agents of Same are things that I sometimes find myself or other teachers saying that keep them stuck or “the same.” The Agents of Change, however, are the more empowering thoughts and statements that will combat the Agents of Change.
For example, when you say to yourself, “There is so much to do, I don’t know where to start!” (That’s the Agent of Same called Overwhelm Olivia.) Her combatting Agent of Change is Step-by-Step Sabrina and she fires back to Olivia, “I will focus on what will have the biggest impact on my VISION.”
If you want a free PDF download of the Agents of Same you may be saying and the Agents of Change you can use to combat them, plus posters you can hang in your home office, go to www.burnedinteacher.com/agentsofchange. Many teachers have hung them in their teacher’s lounges and use them with their students who struggle with negative self-talk.
So with that, let’s move to creating that vision that Step-by-Step Sabrina was talking about for your time working as a stay-at-home-teacher or administrator.
Start with your VISION in mind
“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” -Alan Lakein
There are actually two sub-steps to this step. (Typically I work with teachers on quarterly planning, but for obvious reasons, we’re working week by week.) And I work with them through this process:
Create a VISION (What do you want?)
Make a PLAN (What is your plan?)
Show DISCIPLINE (When will you work toward your vision?)
Set INTENTION (What are you focusing on and when?)
Plan your vision for your week
- Spend time each Sunday night (or if you’re just starting out – right now) mapping out how you’d like your week ahead to look.
- Decide how many hours you’re going to be “on” for work. This includes checking emails, planning, leading live video lessons or recording ahead of time, calling families or students to check in, researching how to do this whole distance learning thing. What’s your number? 40? 50? Hopefully no more than 55. (Don’t scoff. It can be done.)
- Get out a calculator, your calendar, a piece of paper, and a pencil. Write across the top of your paper:
Then, write the blocks of time you can visualize yourself working on school each of those days. Then, add up the hours.
*This is clearly just an example and will vary for you depending on your marital and parental status, your school’s schedule, and your grade level or subject taught.
The purpose is to have a plan of action. Keep in mind that things will not go your way, but with your plan in mind, you can make adjustments and plans for personal activities that keep you healthy and connected during this time.
Plan your vision for your day the night before
When planning your day, start with what you WANT your day to look like. Having discipline will help you be intentional about your day turning out the way you want.
Each night, look at the following day. Make a list of to-dos, priorities, and obligations and decide if they are work tasks or personal tasks. This is important. Work tasks should be done during your “work hours” and personal tasks should be done another time.
Practice Batching and Blocking
“Batching” refers to grouping like tasks together. Batching tasks is important because it aids in your productivity and helps your brain stay in a “flow”. You start to waste time when your brain has to transition between tasks.
- list everything you have to do on paper.
- Use highlighters to “group” similar tasks together
- Those are your “batches” (think grading and entering grades going together, for example)
“Blocking” refers to scheduling the time, visually, to work on the batches. You will need either a paper or digital calendar for this.
Using your calendar, your school schedule and your batches, create color-coded blocks to plan your days and weeks. For example a green block may mean grading and entering grades and a red block may mean planning lessons and recording videos to post on certain days. (I show an example of this on the webinar)
Use Pomodoro to keep you disciplined
Pomodoro helps you to stay focused on one task at a time and to stop multitasking. When you multitask, you tend to not do anything to the best of your abilities.
How to Pomodoro:
- Determine what you are going to work on for 25 minutes. (Your intention.)
- Set your timer (and turn off distractions) and work on that ONE task for that 25 minutes. Once the timer goes off, take a break and reassess what you got done.
- A typical Pomodoro cycle lasts four pomodoros with a 5 min break for a drink, walk around the house and a bathroom break between each one. After the fourth pomodoro, take a 20-30 min break.
Avoid time sucks during work hours
Turn off notifications for social media, texts, and even (gasp!) email.
These are all time-sucks and will cause you to become less productive. You can and should create boundaries and guidelines for yourself to protect your work time as much as possible.
- Set an autoresponder on your email that states your email hours such as,
“Thanks for emailing me! I’ll be checking my email each day from 7-7:15, 12-12:30 and 3:30-3:45 each day. Thanks for your patience and I’ll be in touch soon!”
- Create a voicemail with the same sort of message if parents and/or students have your phone number (which wouldn’t recommend)
- Divert all questions asked on Social Media to your email. Having 12 places to check each day for questions is a choice. Your choice. Set communication boundaries and stick with them.
Stay Virtually Connected
Use the following free apps to stay connected to work and personal friends during your “off hours”.
Voxer (app and website)- digital walkie-talkie
Marco Polo (app only)- video walkie-talkie
Zoom (app and website) – video conferencing tool
Staying connected is essential to your well-being. Schedule time for this in your calendar too.
By setting a clear vision, creating a plan on how to get there, and leading each week, day and hour with discipline, you can set your intention for everything you’re doing and will see progress each day.
Amber Harper is a former classroom teacher, Google Certified Trainer, and Teacher Burnout Coach whose mission is to Activate Educator Self-Empowerment. She’s the founder of www.burnedinteacher.com and creator of Burned-In Teacher Coaching and EdTech Consulting where she has joined her two loves: edtech and innovation in the classroom and her obsession with helping educators go from burned-out to BURNED-IN. She hosts a weekly podcast dedicated to action, inspiration, and support for teachers dealing with teacher burnout called The Burned-In Teacher Podcast.
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