Written by Line Thamawat
You’re used to not going to work every day, and you’ve probably already set up a neat office space for yourself at home. So lock down and self-isolation is not necessarily breaking you just yet. You’re probably also used to having less physical interaction than your peers who works from a shared office, we know you’ve got it down, but I want to remind you the basics for optimizing your workday when you’re working from home.
Brains like routine and patterns because it eases uncertainty and gives you a sense of control. If you live with too much uncertainty it can trigger the fight-flight-freeze-appease part of your brain, which is counterproductive to clear thinking. So start you day the same way every day to make your brain feel relaxed and at ease, especially in these uncertain times with anxiety about the direct and indirect consequences of the Corona-virus. It doesn’t have to be an extensive routine, just try to make it a routine, it can be to journal your dreams, brewing your coffee or tea in a special way, go for a run, or do you sun salutation, so your brain knows that when you reach the end of your routine, it’s time to be productive. Also, if you do something you like every morning, you will probably be happier than if you go straight into problem solving mode.
You already know this, because you’re used to managing your own time. But a lot of your peers, who are not used to it, will get breaks because their co-workers go for a smoke, or because they go to the kitchen to fetch a coffee, water, or a snack. Suddenly they are out of their usual habitats, maybe without the constant interference that comes with working in an open office, become immersed in the work and without realising it suddenly find themselves after sitting still in front of the computer for hours. Not good for your back, eyes, or mind. So set reminders on your phone or your calendar to take breaks.
When you work from home it’s easy to forget to enforce the boundaries between work and private life. So if you don’t have a designated office space at home: set one up. It doesn’t matter if you have an entire room that you can dedicate to your office, or if it’s just clearing the clutter from the dining table and putting up some office stables, but make a space that your brain will associate with work – again, help your brain with patterns and routine for optimal brain power.
Unfortunately, some co-workers or managers still subscribe to the idea that if you are not working from the office, nothing will get done. Therefore, sometimes you might find yourself having to say no to the onslaught of tasks being thrown your way. I’m not saying that you should say no to everything, but it’s important to prioritise and create healthy expectations of what tasks you can work on and complete at what time. Be respectful, explain if you have to, but ultimately it’s a great idea to practise saying no. At the same time it is also totally ok to make blocks of your time unavailable for communication, so you can immerse yourself and concentrate at the tasks at hand. A simple: I am available for calls and e-mail communications, if something is urgent, please put URGENT in the email header, otherwise I will get back to you as soon as possible. As soon as possible means as soon as it is possible for you, not as soon as it is convenient for the other part, because that will result in you jumping between all the important tasks that come in, which might not really be all that important, and you will get very little done. Asking people to write URGENT in the email header will also start an internal thought process by the sender. If I just need to ask you what size header is normal for a FB page, then it might not feel as urgent, when I start writing it, as it did when I was thinking it before, you know, I might even be able to Google that myself.
To avoid the stigma of not getting anything done because you work from home (in your pajamas, the horror!), or because there are not the same distractions as in an open office, it can be hard to remember to take time to not work. It seems counterproductive, but because you don’t have natural barriers between your work and private life it is extra important to take time for yourself, where you are not working. And it is equally important to not feel guilty about not working in the time you spend away from your tasks. It doesn’t have to be big chunks of time, but take time to engage your mind with totally non work related things. Maybe go for a run, do yoga, or something else active, so your body doesn’t get stiff from sitting in front of the computer for long stretches of time. We know having a dog is not for everyone, but it is practical to have one; they need walks – you get walked, they will love you unconditionally, and you can hug them without getting the Corona-virus.
It is closely associated with the former point; it’s so easy to graze when you’re working from home because again the lines between private and professional life are blurred. You have all your food, drinks, and snacks available, so maybe you don’t even realise how many tea biscuits disappear during the course of a working day. Remember to eat varied food groups, stay away from too much sugar, to get fresh air, and maybe have a chat with a good friend or two. Or participate in some super cool online networking events like this one: Virtual Networking #BYOB