By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder
Working from home tips for teachers may be just what you need to preserve your sanity in the COVID-19 teaching reality. If you’re like most teachers, you love the daily interaction with students and colleagues and thrive in a busy work environment.
Work from home life is probably not what you had in mind when you became a teacher.
Teachers are used to regimented schedules. You are told when to change classes, when to eat, and even when you get to use the restroom. So, adjusting to online remote teaching could be a challenge for most of you.
While the idea of setting your own schedule sounds like a dream, it doesn’t always turn out that way, especially if you are not naturally disciplined. The freedom can suddenly go from bliss to unstructured chaos.
Overeating, prolonged hours in bed, staying up too late, binge watching TV may be great for a couple of days, but can quickly turn into destructive results. If you are feeling any of that in your life, here are a few things I’ve learned working from home the past eight months.
Get out of your pajamas
While spending the day lounging in your pajamas may seem like a good idea, and a day or two won’t hurt anything, long term, it can actually lead to decreased motivation and even depression. People are wired to need a purpose and without that, restlessness and unease sets in.
Maintaining a familiar routine is vital to productivity and mental wellbeing. Just by getting up, taking a shower, and getting dressed, you are more ready to face the day. Getting dressed is a signal to your brain that it is time to get down to business. It helps separate your leisure time from your work time.
Of course, you don’t need to dress up to join the virtual world, but wearing something clean, comfortable, and colorful can be a great mood booster.
Designate a specific work area
Being able to separate your work time from the rest of the day is easier if you designate a specific work area. Find a place to work in your home that is non-distracting, quiet, and conducive to work.
When I am home alone, I work fine on my laptop in the living room. I have lots of light, and it is quiet. Now that everyone is home, if the TV is on and other people are around, I retreat to my home office. My husband works upstairs in his own office away from everyone. And my son works on his college classes at a desk in his room.
Having our separate work areas allows us to each concentrate on our own jobs. We come together for lunch and dinner, and might pop in a couple of times just for a break. This works for us because we have the space and are all adults.
If you have children, you may have to be creative in designing a work area. However, having a place for each person to work, even if it’s a card table or coffee table will increase the “get down to business” aspect of working from home. This is true for the teacher working on school work, and for the student doing online learning.
A separate work area also allows you to “leave” work behind at the end of the day. It is important to be able to separate yourself so that you have work time and home time. If nothing else, put your computer in another room when your day is over.
Have a plan
Making a list of things you need to do and want to accomplish will help keep you focused. Without any structure you can fall down a rabbit hole really quickly, and when you crawl back out you might be surprised that three hours have passed (think social media detours, a Netflix show, a good book).
I like to put my daily list in order of what I need to do and to write in times for anything that has a specific time.
For example, my Have To Do list today was to make my every two week grocery trip, stop at the post office, write a blog post, attend a 1 p.m. and a 2 p.m. webinar, and fix dinner. In between those activities, I have the flexibility to do whatever I want to do, like complete my Bible study, check email, look at Facebook, read the news, work in the flower beds, throw in a load of laundry, and take a walk.
This type of planning ensures I accomplish the things I need to do, but it also gives me the flexibility to also enjoy my free time. This To Do list also helps me separate the work day from home time. Now, granted, I am not having to do the teaching from home gig that you are doing, but the same principles apply.
Plan your “school” day
Block out the time you set aside for school into manageable work moments. Figure out your work schedule. Different schools have different expectations right now, so adjust the time schedule to what works for your required hours.
Prioritize your duties such as answering emails, planning lessons, live lessons, and grading. Actually scheduling these out will help you stay on task versus planning it as you go. The time you spend thinking about what to do next often leads to procrastination. Having a list to check off increases your ability to stay focused on the tasks.
If you have your own school aged kids at home, balancing your school work with theirs is another challenge. If at all possible, depending on the age of your child, make a schedule that corresponds with yours. If everyone has a set time to work on school, it can make it a bit easier. Kids who see Mom or Dad working on school work may be more willing to use that time for theirs, especially if they know that when they finish, that means you will be close to finished too.
Let your kids plan their schedule
It’s not too early to teach your own children how to plan out their day and have them write down what they need to do. Younger children especially are used to their school schedule and may respond better to following it.
This life skill will need parent approval until they get good at creating a workable plan. However, it allows them to learn responsibility and how to prioritize. It also keeps them from asking you every 10 seconds if they can quit because it is their schedule they are following. Giving them some control may also help their motivation.
Case in point, I have one son who works best getting up early and immediately doing work and another son who prefers to do his work late at night. They both accomplish their goals, so I learned years ago to let them do it on their terms, not mine. It eliminated a lot of stress on all of our parts.
Watch your food intake
Working from home often means temptations to overeat and make unhealthy food choices. During the school day, you feel lucky when you grab lunch. The on-the-go schedule leaves little time to think about food. However, that is not the case when you are at home 24/7.
Boredom and stress eating are real things. The fridge is calling your name, and the urge to bake is real.
Two things can help deal with this problem.
First, set up your work area away from your kitchen if at all possible. You will be less likely to reach for a snack if it takes more effort to get to it.
Second, solve the food option problem when you grocery shop. Buy items around the outside of the grocery store and avoid the inside aisles. This means you will be stocking up on fruits, vegetables, yogurt, and healthier snacks. Avoid grab and go food items because if you have to work harder to eat a snack you will be less likely to eat it unless you are really hungry.
When you reach for a snack ask yourself, am I hungry, or am I bored? Also, a lot of times when you think you are hungry, you are actually thirsty. Before you eat anything, drink a glass of water. This will help curb your appetite. So, keep a large glass of water nearby while you are working.
Stick to some normal routines
Routines make us feel more comfortable. Author Brianna Wiest says children feel safer with routines, while adults feel more purposeful. It gives us a feeling that we know what to expect because we have been there or done that before.
According to Northwestern Medicine, lack of routine can cause stress, poor eating and sleeping habits, poor physical condition, and ineffective use of time. On the other hand, routines can help us cope with change because it takes some of the guesswork out of our lives and makes us feel more stability.
Establishing a routine for your children will also help decrease their stress. They like the comfort and predictability of knowing what to expect. Even when they are fighting you on the routine, it provides a structure they need.
No doubt, life is stressful right now, but sticking to routines may help decrease some of that stress. Ways to maintain some routine include: setting regular bedtime and waking up hours and eating at the same times each day.
You can also create a routine that works for your work from home life. That means maybe you stay up a little later and get up a little later. Your lunch time has probably changed to a more normal hour. Your evenings may be more open because you don’t have sports activities or dance class.
Working from home tips help create new normal
Creating a routine that includes separating home and work time and taking care of yourself, helps provide some continuity in uncertain times.
Figure out your new normal and then create a routine that works for you. Try to stick with that schedule throughout the week and save variations for the weekend, like you did when you were working outside of the home. This will help you keep your days separated, keep you more focused, and also be soothing to your daily life.
Hopefully, these working from home tips may help you navigate these unstructured times.