The novel coronavirus has truly changed the way we go about our everyday lives. Things we never thought about before, like going to the grocery store, going to the gym, and going to work are being changed and restricted at a rapid pace. Many of us are now telecommuting (or working from home) as many businesses, accounting firms included, try to curb the spread of the virus.
Working from home on such short notice is likely to throw you for a loop, even though most accounting jobs can easily be done from home. This is especially true if you’re also trying to study for the CPA Exam. All of a sudden you need to set up a home office, figure out your work hours, figure out your study hours, stay as productive as possible, and maintain some level of sanity. Luckily, there are a few simple ideas you can implement to ensure your work-life-study balance stays healthy. Whether you work full-time or part-time, there are a few changes you can make to your work from home (WFH) situation to ensure all of your work and study hours are as productive as possible.
How to Set Up Your Home Office
Have a Dedicated Space – It isn’t easy to create space when you’re not used to working from home, but having some sort of dedicated area where you work every day will make all the difference in your mindset. Working from home can be difficult simply because your brain associates home with non-work activities. By having a dedicated space to work at every day, you can help your brain make the shift so your new life as a remote employee isn’t so difficult.
A dedicated space doesn’t have to mean a closed off room. A table set up in your dining room, a desk in your bedroom, or a consistent seat at your kitchen island are all perfect spaces to work from home. The key is to show up to these spaces every day to work.
Ensure Some Separation – With the pervasive nature of the WFH lifestyle right now, you may be in a situation where your partner or roommates are working from home with you. This can definitely cause some difficulty in terms of space and potentially different WFH styles. Have a conversation with any others in your household who are working from home and ensure you each have a dedicated WFH space.
Again, this doesn’t mean each person needs to be relegated to a specific room; you and your partner may work well in the same room, but each of you will likely need your own desk or space to work. You may also consider having a common space be “off-limits” for working so others can decompress without disturbing anyone else. Having this conversation early will save a lot of headache down the road.
Stay Clutter Free – It is VERY easy to let your workspace get crowded with clutter. Empty coffee cups, plates with food on them, random receipts from the grocery store, yesterday’s mail, and a variety of other items can pile up your work space if left unchecked. Take some time every day to do a quick clean up of your workspace. Like we mentioned before, you’re trying to adjust your home mindset to a WFH mindset; by keeping your space clean, you’ll have more room in your space and in your mind to dedicate to work.
Make It Comfortable – Having talked about the three points above, you also have a unique opportunity to create a workspace you really thrive in. While your office may limit you in terms of what you can bring in, what you can wear, and what you can be doing while at your desk, at home you have some more free reign. So if you work better in your pajamas, enjoy having a movie on in the background, or like having music on out loud while you work, go for it. Who knows, you may even discover something you can take back to the office with you to boost productivity.
How to Work Effectively From Home
Set Up Work Hours – This is probably the most important WFH consideration, especially when you’re thrown into the WFH lifestyle with little warning. You may already have required work hours from your company, but if you’re relatively independent at work, it can be way too easy to work at odd hours of the day. And while some people may thrive on this uncertainty, most of us are going to need to schedule work hours so we get everything done while also taking time for ourselves. If there’s a lot of work to do, it’s easy to keep pressing on until 7 or 8pm, and then miss out on any personal time or time with family. At this point, most of us are interacting the most with the people we live with, so it’s important we take time each day to be with the ones we love and service our mental health. Creating dedicated work hours and sticking to your pre-WFH schedule as much as possible can definitely help.
Stay Connected to Your Team Members – You may have to implement new technologies to stay connected to your job. Remote workers can utilize a variety of tools, including video conferencing and messaging apps, to stay connected to their coworkers. Maintaining those connections will help you maintain productivity (you may not be able to walk into your boss’s office and ask her a question, but you can send her an instant message).
Alternate Duties – This is mostly for those of us with kids; if you live with your partner and have children, learning how to alternate duties is going to save your sanity. There are a variety of ways you can do this, by halving your days or creating a dedicated schedule where you alternate. For example, you would have your kids from 7am to 1pm while your partner worked, and then you would switch for the rest of the day. This allows each of you a dedicated, extended time to work with little interruption. The biggest aspect to keep in mind is, if it’s your turn with the kids, you need to dedicate your time to them. Don’t ask your partner to watch them while you “quickly” finish a project. This will simply create animosity and friction during a time where we need as much compassion as possible.
Rely on Help – Also for those of us with kids, try to get help in any way possible. If you have a parent who can come live with you for an extended period of time or a friend who is willing to help, take advantage. We know it takes a village to raise a child, but we especially need help when our schedules and lifestyle are thrown completely off balance. You should obviously be safe in this situation and ensure the help you receive is from trusted sources.
Take Time for Yourself – Despite having more time in the day (no commute), working from home can get overwhelming fast as you try to create boundaries around your work time and your personal time. That’s why we recommend setting up regularly scheduled work hours on a daily basis. By having a hard stop, you’re creating boundaries and giving yourself time to dedicate to yourself.
On top of that, we are living in very uncertain times where the guidance on what we should and shouldn’t be doing is changing on a daily basis. This can quickly break down our mental health as we struggle to fit all the new information into our lifestyles. It’s important now more than ever to take time during the day to take care of ourselves. Maybe grab that book you’ve been meaning to read for months or try out a new hobby like drawing, painting, or crocheting. Take some time to meditate or just sit in silence. These small acts can help us get through the uncertainty and see the silver lining in our situation.
Get Out of the House – This may fall into the category of “take time for yourself” but it’s important for all of us to get out of the house during the day if we can. When your home becomes your office, it can seem like less of a sanctuary and more like a prison. This isn’t great for our mental health and can make us resent working from home, leading to a drop in productivity. By getting outside in any way possible, you can help alleviate some of this stress. This may look different for everyone depending on where you are in the country. Maybe it means sitting out on your balcony, having dinner in your backyard, or taking a stroll around your neighborhood.
How to Fit Studying In While WFH
If you’re in the unique position of studying for the CPA Exam while working from home, you can use several of the steps above to make sure you’re maximizing your study effectiveness:
- Have a Dedicated Space
- Ensure Some Separation
- Stay Clutter Free
- Make It Comfortable
- Take Time for Yourself
Outside of that, there are a few other tips and tricks you can consider as you juggle studying for the CPA Exam and working from home.
Create a Study Schedule – Just like setting work hours, you should also set study hours in your dedicated work space, and try to stay true to those hours. When work hours stop and study hours start, you shouldn’t be sending any more work emails or checking your task list. By having dedicated time for each activity, you’ll maximize what you can do in each area on each day.
Keep Those Who Live With You Apprised – Just like before you started working from home, let your partner or roommates know you’re juggling studying with working and you need dedicated time for each. Maybe in the past you were able to get out of the house to study by going to a local coffee shop or library. As many of us get into the throes of self-quarantine, it’s important we let those we live with know what we’re doing and when to avoid any conflicts.
Stay Up to Date With Exam Proctoring Changes – You may have to reschedule your exam as proctoring centers close to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. As of March 18th, 2020, all Prometric test centers have been closed for a period of 30 days. If your exam was scheduled during this time, you’ll have to reschedule to a future date. If your exam is scheduled after this date, keep apprised of any changes in case the closure is extended.
If your exam date does get changed, make sure you update your CPA Exam Review course software to reflect the new date; this will update your study schedule and help you determine when and how much to study during your WFH time.
It isn’t easy to change our entire lives on such short notice, but with a few considerations your work from home and study from home lifestyles can actually be quite pleasant. One of the perks of having a remote job is you may be able to dedicate more time to CPA Exam study as you have more time during the day to add in some study hours. As we move forward, it’s important to know we’re all in this together, and staying connected to friends, family, and coworkers, even if remotely, can make a world of difference in staying as positive as possible.