Alumni

Advice for Working in a Virtual Environment

C’Ara McCrea (M.S. in Accounting ’17), FSO Tax Senior at EY in New York, reflects on how she has successfully transitioned to a virtual work environment and gives advice on maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

C'Ara McCreaThis has been an interesting past 12 months. Getting serious about the CPA Exam last fall, coupled with the global pandemic of 2020, has really presented its challenges as it relates to productivity. If you are like me and have found that heightened expectations and lack of motivation have become a hindrance to your productivity, I hope you can use the tips below to help you transition in these unprecedented times.

Set and Honor Your Boundaries
The global pandemic has awakened an “always-on” culture like never before. Some individuals feel that, because we no longer have to commute into the office or can no longer participate in our extracurricular hobbies, we should be working longer hours. Constant activity does not equate to productivity. While this may seem like a great way to get ahead, it presents an opportunity for burnout.

Set boundaries for yourself and honor them. Understand the work-life balance culture of your institution, and do not feel guilty for enforcing your boundaries. Understanding the difference between working from home vs. working at home during this global pandemic helps to shift our mindset from trying to maximize productivity 24/7.

Action Items:
• Understand deliverables and deadlines.
• Prioritize said deliverables.
• Set and honor blackout hours.

Set Your Intentions for the Day
Having a clear roadmap of what needs to be accomplished for the day helps me move my day along efficiently. At the end of the night or before the start of a new day, I create a to-do list. This is usually separated into client-serving and personal items. Checking items off a list throughout the day can help curb thoughts of not doing enough.

Action Items:
• Create a to-do list.
• Utilize a monthly planner.
• Practice giving your tasks undivided attention, because multitasking can reduce quality and decrease productivity.

Take Breaks or Alternate Between Tasks
While I do believe multitasking reduces productivity, efficiency, and quality, I have been known to get bored very easily. It’s helpful to alternate between tasks after you’ve reached a good stopping point. If you are unable to alternate between tasks, then you might try taking short breaks throughout the day to run an errand, complete a household chore, or simply take a break and watch a 22-minute episode of “The Boondocks”!

Action Items:
• Create a reward system for checking off items on your to-do list.
• Reflect on what makes you happy, and do more of that during your free time.

Understand Your Maximum Productivity Hours
Everyone has a period during the day when they are most productive. I’ve learned that my peak productivity hours are during early mornings. I have a deep appreciation for life before sunrise, and that has afforded me many benefits. I am able to start my day before everyone else, which means uninterrupted hours. I have also created enough time in my schedule to exercise before work. Most importantly, starting my day early often means ending my day earlier than most, unless I have pressing deadlines.

Action Items:
• Spend a week conditioning your body to a schedule. It’s okay if you aren’t a morning person. Adjust your schedule to best serve your peak productivity hours.
• Shift the bulk of your workload to your peak productivity hours.

McCrea’s Favorite Productivity Quotes
“The secret to success is found in your everyday routine.”
“Give yourself permission to be great after a setback.”
“Stay in your own lane, which is based on your own needs and desires.”
“Be the person today that you were too lazy to be yesterday.”
“Give yourself grace.”
“Challenge your habits.”

Change Locations
I am known to move around a lot while working from home. My kitchen table is my home office, so I have found joy in being able to alternate between work environments in my space. I have a bed table for those days when I want to work from my bed. I also have a side table for the times when I want to work from my couch. I have also found that I enjoy working on the back porch or even at the entrance of the garage. The change in scenery helps me refocus.

Action Items:
• Find creative places you can work, either at home or in socially distanced in public spaces.
• Change up your scenery to reenergize.

Nourish your Body and Exercise
It’s easy to forget to eat and keep on top of workouts when working at home. It is important to pay attention to your body and ensure you are giving it nourishment throughout the day. I typically enjoy high-intensity interval training in the early mornings but have developed a new love of yoga during quarantine. While I have struggled to maintain my intentional diet, I try to remind myself every so often of the importance of eating healthy.

Action Items:
• Find a healthy regimen and commit to it.

Build Discipline
I have learned that you may not always be motivated, but you can always be disciplined. That said, it is important to challenge your bad habits and build mental capacity to stay the course. Remember to be patient with yourself. I used to always tell myself, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” This caused me to be entirely too hard on myself when I fell short of my own expectations, fearing that it meant failure in all other areas of my life. Building a healthy self-discipline has helped me become more of the person I intend to be.

Action Items:
• Find new ways to be the person today you were too lazy to be yesterday.
• Practice introspection, reflection, and mindfulness.
• Find an accountability partner.

Do More of What Makes You Happy
I’ve found that this is the key ingredient to staying balanced while in a work-at-home environment. Do not lose sight of all of the things that make you who you are. When life gets challenging, you have to make time for the things that you love.

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