How to cope with feeling stressed and overwhelmed while working at home, according to Google’s in-house productivity expert

If you’re feeling overwhelmed right now, you’re not alone – even Google’s in-house productivity expert is grappling with the work and life changes that have arrived along with the coronavirus outbreak.

Laura Mae Martin advises everyone from brand-new Google employees to executives at the company’s highest levels on how to be more productive. She’s been at Google for about a decade, beginning in sales before turning productivity into her full-time gig.

Now, as the pandemic has forced Google employees to shift to remote work, Martin is coming up with new ways to stay motivated and to help cope with stress – and it’s advice anyone can use, whether or not they work at Google.

“One thing that I think is the most – if I had to say the most – important tip as far as getting things done from home, it’s setting up a plan for yourself the day before,” Martin told. “If you do have those little three-hour spurts of, baby’s sleeping or whatever it is, then you’re able to get things done. A lot of times, the first few minutes, you spend figuring out, ‘Wait what do I need to do?’”

Martin said she made a worksheet for Google employees, but anyone can make one on their own – she described it as “an hour-by-hour contract with myself.” Her own worksheet, she said, lays out what time her child’s nap time starts and what things she needs to get done during that period. Writing down her list, she said, helps her stick to it.

What she doesn’t encourage, she said, is a rigid schedule – instead, people feeling stressed and overwhelmed should try a flexible routine, which means figuring out what time of day they’re most productive and trying to get their to-do list done during that time.

“Whether you have kids or you’re working by yourself and you’re by yourself all day, it’s still helpful to have that structure,” Martin said. “Just to say, ‘I’m going to take a break 1 to 2. I wrote it out.’ It helps you stay accountable.”

Despite Martin’s role as a productivity expert, however, she doesn’t encourage spending your time only focused on work right now.

“Finding time for yourself is equally as important as getting these things done,” Martin said. “If you have the ability to take a few minutes to meditate or to unplug from your tech devices or do something active with your kids, that’s also helping you be more mindful, more productive, and helps your mental well-being in the long run.”

As a whole, only about 29% of the American workforce can work from home, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s not clear how many employees currently are working remotely nationwide, but there’s undoubtedly been a dramatic uptick to the tune of hundreds of thousands, or even millions, in the last few weeks.

Since the coronavirus began spreading more rapidly in the US earlier this month, major US-based tech companies began instituting work-from-home policies. Twitter, for instance, made working from home mandatory for all employees globally. Facebook, Google, and Amazon have also instituted work from home policies for employees who are able to.

Now, experts are calling the current state of work in the US a “watershed moment” for American work culture, and an opportunity to prove that working remotely has greater benefit to employees and employers than commuting into an office.

And while Martin said that working from home does have its benefits – like not necessarily needing to adhere to a strict 9-to-5 schedule – she noted that it’s most important to go easy on yourself right now.

“Some people really thrive in it and a lot of people are really struggling,” Martin said. “But I think at the end of the day, it’s a weird time. Give yourself a little bit of forgiveness and understanding that if you have 10 things on your to-do list and you only get six of them done, it’s OK to not be at your maximum productivity right now.”