Keep calm and remain productive

Following on from my previous post in which I shared some pre-morning rituals for setting-up a productive workday. I wanted to share some additional tips that you can call upon to remain productive. Feel connected with your team. And enable you to feel in control of your working day.

The coronavirus has really taken a toll on the world and it breaks my heart every time I turn on the news and hear the latest stats and figures. With social distancing the new must-do life-saving action and populations now avoiding crowded places. Software companies have had to temporarily abandon the office and encourage employees to work from home for their own health and safety.

As I mentioned, apps like Skype and Zoom allow for a level of visibility and communication. Which employees might be missing from their working lives. Other applications such as Jira, Google Docs and Slack allow an employee to collaborate with others, share ideas, and work together without additional disruption.

But being productive is not just about tools

Working from home can be susceptible to a mountain of distractions. No-matter the tools that you have at your disposal to make the process as seamless as possible. Depending on the way you approach your day. It can quickly spiral into you feeling disconnected, unproductive, and spent eating the contents of your fridge while watching cat videos on YouTube.

Which given the current circumstances. No-one can blame you.

But home working is a privilege and not a right for a traditional office worker. It’s totally new for employers to be forced into allowing their employees to do this en masse. So it is our duty to repay our employers and show them that home working can be just as productive for us, and we can still deliver results to them.

From the beginning of human history until the late 19th century, most work was done at home — or at least within walking distance from home. Of course, that was before the age of electronic communications, but the tradition of home-based work is well-established. Today’s epidemic of COVID-19 may have the unintended effect of reviving that tradition.


I personally struggled with keeping productive when I started working from home. The temptation to play with my pets. Or go for endless coffee breaks was too much. I needed to place some healthy boundaries on what I was doing with my day. And set some structure to the time that dedicated to each task.

With the Coronavirus outbreak, it might be tempting to some to constantly review the news. Refreshing social media to get the latest gossip and insights. Or discussing the outbreak with friends and those nearby.

This is only natural for us so don’t feel bad if all you want to do at the moment is sit in your jammies and watch the news. The global situation probably is going to mean that you might not be producing your best work for a while, and no-one can blame you for that.

But consuming all that bad news isn’t good for your long term mental health. And it isn’t going to help you in achieving the things that you need to get done today.

All News Is Bad News (For Your Focus)


Of course, there’s nothing wrong with listening to the radio or keeping up with daily occurrences. Just be mindful of when you are taking on too much. Do you really need the opinion of that guy which you’ve never heard of?

So what can I do to help?

It’s important to realise that working from home is just that. A normal working day, just with different surroundings. I wholeheartedly recommend establishing a morning routine if you don’t have one already. But routines needn’t be limited to just days when you are working from home.

Morning routines add structure to any day of the week, whether it’s a weekday or a weekend.

Instead, to be productive when working in a distracting environment. You need to employ some additional tools which help bring awareness, intention and allow you to make better decisions on how you spend your time during the day.

Start with a plan

I love having plans, Whether it’s through the use of a Trello board, post-it notes, or a trusty notebook and pen. I write a daily todo list, making sure I highlight from the list the number one task that I need to focus on the next working day.

Also, visualising everything that you need to do enables you to structure your daily time. Allowing you to dedicate the required resource to each individual task. And also make it visible where you might have spare capacity to perform additional tasks or lend your colleagues a helping hand.

I write mine the day before. Then make sure it’s the first thing I Iook at when I sit down to work. Providing me with a structured path that I can follow throughout my working day.

Be aware

Having a plan is all well and good. But sometimes we can inadvertently deviate from its path and need to be corrected. Try to keep notes on what you are dedicating your attention to throughout the course of your working day. Are you spending it on your most important task? Or something that doesn’t relate to it at all?

It’s perfectly normal to check on your social media now and then. Or take a break to go get a glass of water. But if you are finding yourself doing these little tasks too often. It could be a sign that you need to refocus.

Stay in contact

Humans are social creatures. We aren’t supposed to be on our own for long periods at a time. And with no-one to talk to or without seeing another human face. We can quickly become lonely.

So instead remember to check in with your work colleagues and keep connected on the latest goings-on with them. Of course, they are trying to keep productive as well. Facing their own challenges and own targets to meet. So try not to distract them too much.

Have rules

As I mentioned. It’s perfectly normal to check your phone once in a while or go grab a coffee. But you need to be careful that these one-off tasks don’t turn into bad habits.

If you find yourself checking Facebook every ten minutes without a reason to. Or getting up every five minutes. Maybe it’s a good idea to start enforcing some healthy boundaries.

These could be bound to certain times of the day for instance. Or after performing a certain amount of focused work.

This does take a certain amount of self-discipline to carry-out on your own. So if you are struggling with visiting certain social media sites for example. There are a number of browser plugins you can try to limit your access (here’s one for Google Chrome).

Take care of yourself

Above all the other advice I have listed here. The #1 thing you can do is to simply take care of yourself. These are tough times at the moment so don’t be too hard on yourself at the beginning. But the opportunity is yours to now start building some healthy habits and a productive workflow that works for you.

If you want some tips on self-care, not only for software testers but anyone. Please see this post.

Posted by Kevin Tuck

Kevin Tuck is an ISTQB qualified software tester with nearly a decade of professional experience. Well versed in creating versatile and effective testing strategies. He offers a variety of collaborative software testing services. From managing your testing strategy, creating valuable automation assets, or serving as an additional resource.

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