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New to working from home because of coronavirus? Here are tips from some pros

Managing distractions is hard, and your house is certainly distracting. Here are some ways to stay productive, courtesy of people who have been doing this longer.
In this Tuesday, March 17, 2020 photo Kim Borton, left, works from home while her children Logan Borton, center, age 6 and Katie Borton, age 7, as they work on an art project in Beaverton, Ore. Borton works for Columbia Sportswear in supply chain account operations. Her children attend Hiteon Elementary school and have sent home some home work packets and emails with links for remote learning, but she has also added her own curriculum to their day to fill the voids so she can continue to work and keep the kids busy. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer) [CRAIG MITCHELLDYER | AP]

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Working from home sounds great. You can sit on the couch. There’s no need to get dressed or wash your hair. Just get cozy with your computer and get stuff done.

In practice, that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

The dog is barking. The kids want to play. The kitchen calls with snacks and tea. The washer buzzes, ready to be changed. Your house is distracting.

Related: Florida unemployment claims explode amid coronavirus layoffs

The at-home workforce has multiplied exponentially in the past few weeks as the spread of COVID-19 forces people to stay in their homes — WFH has become a recognized acronym. Those workers are figuring out how to manage.

The previously established WFHers have some advice for the newbies.

“The biggest difference is staying connected with the team,” said Lexie Townsend, who worked at home twice a week before this crisis. “It just creates a little more need for clarity, reaching out and being available on the phone, just being able to connect.”

Zoom is another term that has entered the common vernacular. Many people had no idea the video call platform existed a few weeks ago. Now, it seems everyone is on Zoom, whether for business or personal, possibly including your grandparents.

Most companies already had an internal chat service, Slack being the most popular, and are now leaning on it further. Conversations that might have happened across a few cubicles are now online. In some instances, that encourages input from people who wouldn’t have otherwise have chimed in, because they see the conversation on the screen in front of them.

Existing watercooler channels, meant for the non-shop talk that might happen at a physical bubbler, are filling up with pictures of pets and children. Cameos from the same children and pets have become fun interludes to video conference calls.

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There’s a fine line, however, between fun interlude and distraction.

Some parents newly working from home are also managing kids newly at home, perhaps even trying to homeschool them.

RaeAnne Joiner works from home full time for MCA-Russell Johns Advertising Agency out of Odessa and homeschools her two sons full time. She finds getting her sons’ school day started before her workday helps set her up for time to focus and participate in conference calls. Having a set schedule helps both her and her sons maintain focus.

Jim Kerr has worked from his home in Land O’Lakes for about 20 years, currently as a senior systems engineer for SHI Professional Services. He manages distractions by dedicating a workspace that his family knew was off-limits during his working hours.

That’s one area in which established WFH-ers may have an advantage over the newly home workers. As this wasn’t expected, they might not have a room with a door they can close.

Instead, the kitchen table becomes a desk in many homes. So that signal of “working hours” may not be a closed door. It might be a sign on the computer, maybe your headphones denote “not now.” It takes some cooperation, but a completely distraction-free work day was never on the table.

“They happen — whether it's the dishes in the sink, the UPS delivery or your dog,” said Townsend, who works for Out of the Box Media Consultants out of her Seffner home. “Just go with the flow, remember that you can get distracted in the office as well. Don't beat yourself up.”

She recommends the Pomodoro Technique to maintain focus. That means 25 minutes on, five minutes off. So, you can scroll through Instagram or watch Tik-Tok videos for five minutes, then you go back to work. Townsend uses www.marinaratimer.com, but there are many apps out there.

“Distractions are like the book ‘give a mouse a cookie and he wants a glass of milk,” Townsend said. “They pile up.”

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This might be a good time to peruse the productivity section of the App Store or Google Play. The Forest app plants a tree when you start focusing and if you pick up your phone, it kills your tree. You can connect with friends and compete for whose tree grows the biggest — or hold each other accountable, whichever way you look at it.

Even those who already worked from home are finding new distractions. Alex Tallitsch, a digital media consultant working in Plant City, had taught his dogs to respect the work day. When he was at his desk, they knew to chill. Now, his wife is also working from home and the dogs think it’s always the weekend.

Everyone is adjusting to the new normal.

One perk of working from home is no commute. Robert Nelson, who has worked from his home in Tarpon Springs for more than five years, recommends using that time to read a book or spend time with your kids.

Denise Rusaw-Polacek is a new WFHer in Clearwater, who spends her usual commute time walking around her block to get outside and also mark the start and end of her work day.

Everyone, newly working from home or otherwise, finds what works for them. As the pandemic spreads and stress mounts, productivity levels may decrease.

Townsend and Kerr both stressed goal setting. Make a manageable list of three things you want to accomplish in a day and then the rest is a bonus.

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