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How Planners Can Fight Back Against WFH Distractions

5 time-management tactics to maximize productivity and minimize guilt.

Not everyone has the constitution to block out social-media updates, fantasy-football trades, and the refrigerator calling from the next room as they work. And not everyone’s home situation is amenable to work, especially for those with makeshift office environments or children and spouses also working from home.

The struggle is real, and time-management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders, founder and CEO of Real Life E, joined the Pharma Forum virtual conference this week to provide ideas and specific tactics to help pharmaceutical and life sciences meeting professionals improve their work-life balance.

“It's about figuring out what strategies work for you, building those routines, and then also building resilience for when you get off track,” said Saunders “Resilience is probably the biggest factor that we've had to level up because of everything that's happened in the past year. There are so many things outside of our control that we've had to adapt and adjust constantly.”

Before getting into specific time-management tactics, Saunders had a key piece of advice for meeting professionals: Admit that this year has been hard. Planners, she noted, are especially good at keeping cool in stressful situations—but that can work against them when the stress goes on for too long.

“If you're someone who’s been trying to put on a happy face, never admitting that things are hard, you need to start getting your emotions out so you can move forward from a place of peace.” She says this process could involve anything from journaling, to going on a run, to punching a pillow. But “if we don’t allow ourselves to feel negative emotions, we dull our ability to experience positive emotions.”

Of course, not every planner is staying upbeat through the pandemic. Saunders also coached planners who are steeped in the negative. “Maybe you've gone to the opposite extreme where all you can see is the bad stuff in the world. In that case, we want to focus on gratitude because then what we focus on expands.” Rather than zeroing in on what’s wrong, she encouraged people to broaden their view. “There are so many things in the world we have, whether it's food, water, Internet, or the ability to have a job—or to get unemployment if we don't have a job—or go on a walk. Any of these things are such a blessing.”

Saunders shared a number of productivity tips especially for people who work at home. What often happens, she explained, is that people get caught in a cycle where, because they aren’t being as productive, they can’t ever stop working without feeling guilty. Here are five ideas for changing that dynamic.

Set your hours: Saunders number-one time management tip is to simply decide on your working hours. There can be a lot of ambiguity when you’re given flexibility. “I find it's disastrous for work-life balance,” she said. Knowing your schedule gives you the ability to focus and understand that you can shut work off. “If you have a situation where you have kids at home, you may have a split schedule where you wrap up at three and then log in again from eight to 10—but you still want to decide your hours.”

The Pomodoro technique. Saunders has seen a lot of success with the Pomodoro time-management method, where a person breaks the workday into 25-minute chunks separated by five-minute breaks. These intervals are referred to as pomodoros. The 25-minute period is considered the right length for productivity, and after scheduled breaks, people tend feel ready get back into a focused state. Whether or not you want to adopt a strict Pomodoro workday, Saunders suggests that regular five- to 10-minute breaks throughout the day help a person’s energy and are essential to self-care.

Family planning. Managing family and work responsibilities has been the most extreme time-management challenge for many, and Saunders has three specific recommendations:
Have an all-family weekly planning conversation, sorting out the upcoming activities schedule, needed school materials, meals, and so on.
Create a routine where you go over the next day’s schedule each night, communicating when you’ll be available.
Keep your promises to family regarding your schedule. If you say you’re going to be available at 4:00, do everything you can to make it happen.

App blockers. For many, the phone is their primary distraction, and the addiction to apps and games can get out of hand. There are a number of tools, such as FocusMe, Offtime, and Freedom, that can help you manage the mindless clicking by allowing you to lock up certain apps during work hours, or whenever you set.

The buddy system. Saunders also noted a service called Focusmate that pairs people up with an online work buddy. Both you and your buddy, a stranger, keep a video window open through the co-working session, not to work together, but to have someone else present who’s also working. The idea is that people working “side by side” are more productive and less distracted.


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