There is no question that suddenly working remotely from Yale represents a huge disruption for many people, in addition to causing significant stress or sadness. At a time when so much seems so uncertain, it is doubly important to identify concrete routines and coping strategies that can improve your focus and stress level. Before you buckle down to work remotely, consider the following:
Set clear goals
Even though you’re in a new environment, keep your eye on what you need to finish your work in the next six and a half weeks. Don’t get spooked by deadlines. Instead, for each class, take major assignments and break them into manageable pieces you can address step by step. At the beginning of each week, set clear, measurable goals for what you need to get done each day. Each day, take a look at your daily list and recalibrate as needed.
- Paper option: In addition to a planner that lists deadlines, you can also try folding a piece of paper lengthwise into three columns that you label “Must Do,” “Should Do” and “Could Do” to better prioritize your work tasks.
- Digital options: For digital to-do lists, as well as research papers or larger project work, Trello is a cloud-based project organizer that can work well. The Librarian Parlor explains sample ways to use Trello for research.
Create a new work schedule
It will take some time to fully understand the demands of remote learning and the new constraints of your home work space. In addition to your digital or paper planner, a schedule can help you shape your open time and make it most effective for you.
- Overall, aim to break up work periods so you can be most efficient. Try 60-minute or 30-minute blocks of time.
- Build in breaks. Try to vary work periods on-line with work periods when you are off and make a point to schedule exercise time as well as social time. If you aren’t used to spending as much time inside, try a core workout time with friends on-line, use a yoga app (they’re free right now!) or go for a long run or walk to get some fresh air. Schedule time to reconnect with friends on-line or on the phone.
Talk with your family/roommate about expectations and needs
Most students are working from home, an off-campus apartment, or temporary housing situation that is shared with others. Some students may also be responsible for younger siblings home from school, be engaged in paid work to support their families, or need to be especially respectful of others’ routines or resources. If possible, talk about your potential schedule with those around you, and work together to make compromises and trade-offs as needed. If you have a particularly challenging situation, talk with your professors and residential college deans about other adjustments that would allow you to participate in class and complete the work.
Identify a good work space
Identify a spot in your home where you can work with the fewest number of distractions (the dining table, for example). Working in the same place will help cue your brain to focus. You may need to schedule access to that space with your family members or define periods when everyone will be working in order for this space to work best. If you can, avoid working on your bed or another place where you typically relax, especially if you’re having to spend a lot of time in the house. You may also need to identify a separate space for Zoom meetings that is private, quiet and relatively undistracting for others. Do the best you can for your situation; remember that faculty members will also be working from home and may have similar challenges (children to care for, etc.).
Use the “Pomodoro” technique
Using the Pomodoro technique, you work for 25 minutes, and then take a 5-minute break. You take a 20-minute break after 3 Pomodoros. It can be easier to focus when you know you only need to focus for a short period of time, and the short breaks can help you work more efficiently. The Good Life Center at Yale has a 5-minute meditation.
Identify someone to keep you accountable
Choose a person (friend, classmate, tutor, parent) with whom you can touch base during the course of a project, at a specified time. Set a goal for the day when you talk to this person and check in the following day about what you accomplished and what next steps might be. Academic Strategies peer mentors are holding online meetings for just this kind of purpose; online mentoring starts Monday, March 23.
Anxiety may have been a particular challenge for you before the Covid-19 epidemic, or it might just be a normal reaction to the uncertainty of our lives right now. Either way, the following strategies can help you keep undue anxiety in check:
- Breathe: Anxiety is an evolved response that served us well in ancient times (think: reacting to a saber-toothed tiger), but when it is triggered by events in our day-to-day modern lives, it can feel frustrating or even debilitating. Even in this period of uncertainty, try to work with any anxiety response. Slow breathing can reverse the impact of adrenaline from the “flight” response by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system and triggering a “rest and digest” response. WebMD offers an article that discusses variations on the principle that breathing relaxes our anxious response and makes you feel better.
- Try simple breathing:
- Breathe in 1-2-3-4-5-6.
- Hold 1-2-3-4-5-6.
- Release 1-2-3-4-5-6. (Repeat 10 times)
- Exercise: As mentioned earlier, schedule exercise so that you can help manage your anxiety and take care of your body at the same time! It will also help you sleep better.
- Balanced Media Consumption: Although the news is very important right now, so is your health and wellbeing. Try to strike a balance between following reports on the pandemic and staying focused on your school work, exercise and social time.
- Maintain Routines: You have just made a transition from a busy life on a social academic campus to relatively unstructured time in another place. Build in time to be social on-line with your friends. Build in time to exercise. Build in time to do your academic work. Build in small breaks that you would have had on campus (like meeting a friend for lunch, or walking from one class to another).
- Mantra Cards: This strategy works best when you land on a few expressions that have meaning for you personally and that will help you get through a difficult period. Write them on index cards–one per card–and keep them in a place that you will see, or try writing notes on your desktop as useful reminders about emotional self-care.
- Write it Down: Research has shown that the act of writing down what you’re feeling can actually help reduce anxiety and even help you perform better academically. Phone conversations are useful but not the same thing. So find a good writing space, turn off your phone and journal about what’s bothering you and what you want to do about it.
Do you have additional ideas to manage your work or stress? Please contact us.