I don't think it's a stretch to say 2020 has been challenging for most people.
As a designer, I entered a post-911 economy, stayed employed during the housing crisis, and am working through whatever 2020 is shaping up to be. It's fair to say I have seen ridden out some choppy economic waters. For the next several weeks, I'm going to be writing a bit about tips and tactics for working, networking, career path, and driving concepts into production through the lens of unforeseen circumstances.
Let's begin with a topic that is affecting the majority of office employees right now: Work from home. Remote work looks like it won't be going away any time soon, so how can you make it work for you in the long term?
Working From Home (WFH) used to mean you weren't exactly working but weren't entirely taking a day off, either. It was generally tolerated as opposed to encouraged. In the early 2000s, WFH was a way to occasionally spare people from shitty commutes, or a way to guilt someone into working half-days if they had an appointment to see a healthcare provider.
We are not 'WFH' at the moment. We are living in a time where the very nature of work itself has shifted significantly, out of necessity. If you are reading Core77, it's a fair assumption that you and most of your co-workers live that special variety of 2020 WFH life today.
As someone who is addicted to multitasking, it's easy to take a break and lose track of time. Laundry, Dishwasher, Rendering….these are all somewhat automated functions that can run in the background. In terms of our attention span and focus, our Foreground and Background can blur. Before you know it, the sun is setting, and it will be a long night.
With a bit of rigor, you can achieve a balance. I'm not saying getting started on it is easy, but since our time in quarantine is undetermined, it's worth a shot. I don't have an equation for success, but rather the ingredients for a better recipe to being productive: it's about Time and Space Management.
Mind your gaps
If you work from home (as many of us now do), you need to separate work and home. If you had a commute before Covidtimes™, that was your time. Even if you spent it with hundreds of other people on public transportation or in a car or on a bicycle, etc. Reclaim that time instead of scurrying from bed to computer.
Try to take back the time it took to get from Home to Work. You deserve that time, and you became accustomed to it. Your brain needs a break. Starting your day out right is ideal, as it sets up your schedule.
Maintaining a schedule is critical. Research suggests that we, as humans, are highly effective in 90-minute bursts. Set a timer and give it a try. Even better, try to block your schedule out into 30-minute increments with a 15 minute <insert activity here> break. This is when you can grab a coffee, wash a few dishes, whatever…but do not get lost on Dribble or IG. Don't trade down to a smaller screen, get on your feet (and remember, no one said you had to wear shoes).
TRY:Reclaiming your commute.
Taking small breaks.
Working for 90-minute bursts.
We all have our own versions of a 'To-Do' List. This list typically includes things ranging from tasks requiring a few minutes to several hours. Do not treat all tasks as equal, as this can lead to unnecessary anxiety.
Break down your more significant tasks into smaller items. This way, you can chip away at things over time. This approach will better reflect progress towards a larger goal. Besides, your 'To-Do' List feels (and looks) better when you can check off items on the daily.
Sometimes I don't know how long it will take to complete something. An approach I take is thinking about the day as a pie chart. I can work proportionally to focus on the right things. Then I use my calendar to keep myself on track.
It can be difficult to remember how much your time is worth during a pandemic. If you find yourself losing track of time (completely normal BTW), you could be losing money even if you aren't charging by the hour. Don't be afraid to move a deadline as long as you aren't bound by a contract. Let your level of quality be your guide.
That old 'this project will never end' feeling' hits all of us from time to time. If you feel like something is taking too long or you are losing perspective set up meetings with former colleagues. You haven't talked in a while anyway. And you want feedback on your best efforts, don't you?
TRY:Breaking down large tasks.
Thinking about your time as a pie chart.
Googling 'Opportunity Cost' .
Move deadlines if necessary.
Fight the whitespace
Being intimidated by a Blank Page is the worst. Every person who claims to be creative is faced with this. Sometimes I can push through and keep sketching or working at a problem by switching lenses. Other times I'm just fucking stuck.
In the past, I occasionally addressed this issue by grabbing a coffee or a snack from someplace up the street with a coworker. Those options aren't as easy today. But making the time is still as easy as a calendar invite. In 2020 the invitation is now...also the location.
If you need a break take one. But since your home can provide endless distraction set a timer. I don't think I am alone in thinking that time and/or inspiration works differently in Quarantine.
Given my experience, inspiration rarely works from 9-5. If you work better on off-hours to develop ideas, you likely had the same approach to ideation pre-2020. Discuss what works best for you with your peers and leadership.
If the 'night shift' approach to delivery isn't feasible, that's ok too. There are some great tools out there that enable real-time collaboration, so don't be afraid to try them. Remember that tools are only enablers, so don't over-rely on them either.
Booking a virtual coffee break with a co-worker or friend.
Setting alarms for your short breaks.
Communicating your preferred working style to peers.
Using collaborative tools.
Work with the machine
For some, working from home results in a lack of serendipity. "Slack doesn't enable hallway conversations," they may say, but in fact, it can. It just depends on how you use your communication and collaboration tools.
There are many ways to strike up a conversation, but mind the channels your organization utilizes. Pay attention to how the organization uses its applications and to what ends.
And know when to use what. You wouldn't use a Calendar App for Email any more than using a Messaging App for scheduling. Long-form communication is likely best over Video unless you like writing a lot. Short-form content is ideal for messaging apps and email. Oh, and don't be too informal over Email, as it's an official record.
Adapting to the status quo re: communications is anything but easy, especially when there are better ways of working/available tools. You can use any communication fumbles as an opportunity to lead the way. Remember to give 'what works for everyone else' a chance first. Then you can get others on board for iteration by using examples in the name of 'improving our way of working.'
There are many people out there feeling like they are working in a silo. They could solve this by using software differently--like setting up less formal (or more regular) interactions with peers. And by scheduling meetings to share progress earlier in a process. This is an opportunity to learn from others as well as to be a force for change.
Identifying what tools are best for what communication needs.
Becoming an expert at remote collaboration.
Driving iteration of meeting formats and tool usage.
Advocating for collaborative work.
I would recommend trying to put a few guidelines from each section into effect! And remember, don't try to act on everything at the same time—being overly disruptive isn't going to have the desired result.
What questions do you have as a working professional in the times of COVID? This ongoing series is designed to focus on designers' real questions in the face of rapid change. Let us know what other advice you'd like to hear from industry experts in the comments below.