Working Smarter from Home During Shelter in Place

Jon Fesmire | Apr 18, 2020 @ 09:00 AM

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how all of us conduct even the most basic aspects of our lives. For many, this has caused turmoil. For others, it has flipped life on its head, but things are manageable.

About a third of the U.S. workforce is now working at home, and most of those people weren’t doing so before. This is a big change, and it comes with advantages and disadvantages. As a writer who has been teleworking for the last five years, I’d like to help you set up your workspace so you can feel more focused and work more efficiently.

The Problem

If you’re used to working in an office, then time at home has been meant for relaxation, family time, and other aspects of life. Maybe you have a laptop you use in various parts of the house. This worked great before, but when you’re using it for work, you feel scattered. You go from the kitchen counter to the dining room table, then sit on the couch and put it on your lap or the coffee table, and you’ll even sit in bed, where you’re supposed to sleep and work there.

While there’s certainly room for flexibility, our brains use our environment as clues to what we should be doing. So, if you’re working extensively in your bed, it becomes difficult to fall asleep there. If you’re working at the coffee table, you may be tempted to turn on the television or read a book. And, not having a dedicated workspace can make you feel scattered when you are working, and make your work activities less efficient.

The Shift

I’ve been a writer for decades, so it’s always felt natural for me to have a computer desk. At one time, it was under the staircase, and that made for a nice little office setup. Now, it’s in my living room.

This is not the best time to get a desk. Normally, I’d recommend going to a thrift store like The Habitat for Humanity Restore or The Salvation Army. Last year I got two excellent, sturdy desks, a bookcase, and a nightstand at Habitat for Humanity for $100, total. When such stores open again, you can try them. Meanwhile, you could order a desk online, but that will be expensive. If you can afford it, though, it’s a good investment.

An alternative is to get a folding table. I used one for a while in between desks and it worked well. Plus, they’re cheap, and you can usually find them at Cosco. Since Costco sells food, it’s open during the quarantine period. Just follow social distancing rules and wear a mask when you go. Perhaps you have a desk or folding table in your self storage unit. If so, it’s time to bring it home.

Choose a spot where you don’t do much else, whether you use a new table, desk, or an existing space in your home. For example, you may want to sit at the counter between your kitchen and dining room. If you have a table on your back porch, you can choose a spot there to work.

Setting Work Hours

Some teleworking jobs have set hours. If you worked from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm in the office, they’ll expect you to work the same hours at home. That way, you can use Zoom or Skype to communicate with your fellow employees, answer phones, and so on. However, many teleworking jobs require that you work a certain amount of hours, but you get to schedule them in a way that is convenient for you.

We recommend working the same hours every day, a good habit that will also help your productivity. Dedicated work hours inform your mind that it’s time to be productive, just as a dedicated workspace does.


If you really want to boost your productivity, we have a great technique called Pomodoro. Created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, this productivity technique will surprise you. It works incredibly well.

It works like this. Set a timer for 25 minutes. During that time, work with absolute focus. When the timer goes off, stop working, set it for 5 minutes, and take a break, preferably away from your work area. When the 5 minutes is up, repeat. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll get done during those 25 minute periods, knowing that a short break is coming. After a few hours of these, take your lunch break.

Finally, when you’re done working for the day, you can enjoy doing what you do in the rest of your house without thinking about your job. Watch TV, make dinner, and have a good night’s sleep. You’ll be pleased with your work and leisure time. This era of COVID-19 is tough for all of us, but separating work and play at home can help ease the stress.