From a Brown Girl WFH: 10 Ways to Masterfully get the job Done During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Lifestyle blogger Maryam Ishtiaq WFH with her dog Marble, the Pitador | Photo courtesy of Pooja Dhar

The new year hasn’t exactly been the year of “clear vision” that many of us had been anticipating – mainly because no one foresaw our current crisis: the unprecedented global pandemic known as COVID-19.

What began as the longest January ever bled into an insultingly brief February (even accounting for the Leap Year) and now, the panic-state of March. Oh, we’re marching alright – straight into a state of chaos and of uncertainty, with the spread of misinformation running rampant and communities becoming overcome with fear over what to do to prepare and prevent the spread of the illness.

The one thing most of the world appears to be on the same page about? Self-quarantine.

Corporations, businesses and other industries that are able to function without face-to-face contact are encouraging employees to work from home indefinitely. Unfortunately, this does not apply to a number of people and workers, families, children, students, elderly, marginalized groups. We’re sending all of our thoughts to the good Samaritans who make up our blue-collar workforce, to the healthcare employees risking their lives every day and to the large communities of people—families, children, students, elderly, marginalized groups—who are suffering the most from this pandemic.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to have the option to WFH? Not so fast.

Remote work isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, especially among global companies or the tech industry. However, in order to maximize your productivity, we’ve compiled a list of tips to help drive your work prowess so that you’re not simply adhering to grind culture but working efficiently from home in a way that no cubicle or open-office plan can do for you.

1. Stick to your normal routine.

This is an absolutely essential life skill.

Whether you’re working from home or looking to build good habits, the key to maintaining efficiency, productivity and positive output can often be tied to our daily habits and routines. So, if you usually wake up at 7 a.m. to prepare for the workday, keep it up!

A disruption to your daily routine can trickle its way down to your workflow. Instead of using the time you might have saved on a commute to catch up on sleep, repurpose it to improve your mental state before starting the day: Yoga, meditation, journaling, or reading are all good places to start.

2. Set up a separate workspace at a desk or table (read: NOT YOUR BED).

Do NOT, and I repeat, do not, cave into rolling over in your bed as soon as you hear your alarm go off and flipping on your laptop – all the while in your pajamas. Seriously.

This is one of the number one killers of productivity. Though being comfortable while working is a priority, it’s important to keep your bed — a space for sleeping — as a separate environment from where you work. Not only can staying in bed stagnate the output and quality of your work, but the lines between work and comfort also become blurred and can inadvertently encourage apathy.

If you have a separate computer desk or any kind of table — even a kitchen table or a coffee table — make it a space you know you can work from every day.

It doesn’t have to be boring: my current set up has got scented candles, a window, and my favorite lo-fi hip hop YouTube video playing in the background.

3. Work using the Pomodoro technique.

One of the worst parts about working from home? Distractions everywhere.

Whether you’re skilled at staying laser-focused on a task or prone to becoming mesmerized by pigeons passing by your window, the Pomodoro technique is a simple way to remain on-task that enables periods of concentration followed by a short break.

What is the Pomodoro technique, you ask? See below for a step-by-step guide.

A. Set a timer for X amount of time where you will yourself to focus on whatever you’re working on. I recommend 25 minutes, but you can adjust that to 15 or 30 minutes, or whatever you feel comfortable with.
B. GRIND! Do not allow yourself to get distracted by social media, texts or the TV. I don’t care if your dog is giving you puppy eyes or if your cat decides that now is a good time to chill on your keyboard. Who cares if your kid is crying in the back? (just jokes – please check on your child)
C. When the alarm goes off, your time to grind is up! Take a 10-minute breather, walk around, grab some coffee, take a few minutes to call a friend.
D. After your short break is over, be sure to reset your alarm for the next stretch of time to focus.
E. Rinse and repeat.

4. Professional attire: at your discretion.

Admittedly, I’ve been spoiled by my professional experiences thus far. From working at an advertising agency where a full-sleeve of tattoos and being fashion-forward was the norm to working in tech, where I can confirm at least one sighting of someone wearing bedroom slippers in the office cafeteria, it’s safe to say I’ve taken casual dress for granted.

For those who are typically expected to don an uncomfortable pair of heels or even better, the ever-popular midtown uniform for work, suddenly gaining the ability to wear whatever your heart desires — be it your ratty PJs, sweatpants, hair tied chillin’ with no makeup on, or nothing at all — the lack of dress code can be quite freeing.

However, some abide by the old mantra of dressing for the job you want, not the one you have, and that can apply here. If you feel more comfortable taking on your work environment dressed the part, by all means, you should do so!

But if you’d prefer to take advantage of not having office mates around, then no pants may be the best policy.

5. Attend conference calls with your camera on.

Many of our daily meetings, stand-ups, webinars, scrums or similar are now taking place virtually.

Naturally, a lot of managers are probably wondering if their direct reports have hopped on a plane straight to Mexico after being instructed to work from home and are likely nervous about potential disruption to team efforts.

Now, if you’re doing your work, you don’t necessarily need to prove it.

However, it’s a good rule of thumb to keep your boss happy by reassuring that you are, in fact, dedicated to your job. Whether your day-to-day now includes mandatory Zoom/Slack/WebEx/Google Hangouts/BlueJeans conferences, I strongly advise turning that camera on (at least for part of the meeting).


Seriously. Just chug a glass of water every hour. If you’re feeling under the weather, chug two.

7. Take a walk for lunch (unless you’re exhibiting flu-like symptoms)

Again, while we are in fact being advised to avoid much contact with the outside world, you don’t want to succumb to cabin fever.

If, and only IF, you are not showing any signs of the coronavirus (anything resembling the flu or the common cold), then consider taking a brisk solo walk to enjoy the weather and re-energize yourself.

Contact with nature can help realign your sense of focus. Whether you want to plug into music or stroll along in silence, avoid the usual desk-lunch and step outside.

8. Invest the time you might have spent commuting into a passion project.

Maybe you’re so busy at your job that it’s difficult to find time to dedicate to your personal growth outside of work.

Perhaps there’s a side project that you’ve been meaning to work on but kept putting off.

Well, there’s no better time to start than now! A huge upside to working from home is that you may have spare time to work on your goals. If so, then what’s stopping you?

Pro-tip: instead of arbitrarily putting 10-20 minutes into a project, create a new habit. Similar to tip #1, continue to wake up at your usual time and use your commute time or others to focus on self-development. Remember that when you adopt a learner’s mentality, you can succeed in all walks of life.

9. Need socialization? Use “Study with Me” YouTube videos.

For some, one of the worst parts about working from home is that it can be isolating, especially if your livelihood depends on social activity or engaging with your peers.

There are many ways to avoid this – from choosing to work virtually with a friend or family member or playing Bollywood tunes that keep you motivated. If these are not options, a popular form of studying found online is ‘Study With Me’ videos: You can sit alongside well-known vloggers like The Strive to Fit for companionship.

By Tania Rahman

Bangladeshi born but bred in the Bronx (whoa alliteration), Tania is just another (particularly tasty) lentil in the melting pot … Read more ›

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