Getting into a home-office headspace isn’t easy at the best of times. Making the readjustment when COVID-19 is dictating how we live, socialise and work is a real challenge.
Before taking on a full-time role two years ago, I spent 15 years working on major projects, both from home and client offices. Distractions, I’ve had a few. Especially during school holidays, when our five blended (and stir-crazy) young children created full-on havoc.
Along the way, I’ve picked up a few useful tips that might help your transition and improve your home-work productivity. It’s worth a shot, right?
- Turn up at the desk, preferably not in your pyjamas. I once heard about a woman who’d get into her corporate wear and walk around the block with her briefcase as if she was going to a workplace. Okay, we’re in lockdown and a skirt and heels don’t count as exercise wear. You could also be mistaken for an end-of-the-world salvation salesperson, but you get the point. Getting dressed, making your coffee or tea, and turning up at the desk sends signals to your brain that it’s work as usual – and that means being outcomes-focused not just checking in.
- Switch off for a productivity hit– obsessively checking your emails and social media is just going consume your brain and your day.
Emails: schedule in times for checking and responding, and stick to it. Turn off your email notifications and consider setting up an auto-responder so people will know they’re not going to hear from you straight away – and to call you if it’s super urgent. You might be surprised that most people are okay without an instant response.
Social media: wrestle that FOMO beast to the ground and have designated social media blackout times. Since 95% of posts are COVID-related, you won’t be missing much – except the anxiety spikes.
- Make a plan – On Fridays, write your plan for the following week. This helps to keep you on track and motivated, and there’s something satisfying about ticking things off as you go. Disclaimer: be realistic. Don’t put 30 things on the list if you can only achieve five.
- Forget multi-tasking – it really doesn’t work and, in the home office, it’s a disaster. You’ll get to the end of the day and not have a clue what you’ve done. So check your weekly plan, pick a priority task and block off the time to do it, then dive in and work on that concentration muscle (which will only get stronger).
- Keep active and connected – don’t skip your lunchtime chat, walk, crossword or whatever it is you do to break up your usual day at work. And don’t give up those Friday afternoon wine-downs over Zoom, Skype, Facetime, Houseparty or whatever your favourite platform is. Taking care of your physical and emotional wellbeing is always important – and it’s absolutely vital in these challenging and isolating times!
If the idea of switching off or writing a weekly plan makes you break out in a cold sweat, start small and build up to it, just like you would if you were learning to run. It takes two weeks to form a habit apparently – which is good because we might be in the home office for a while yet. So #stayhome, stay well and be productive. We can do this!
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You’ve probably had days where you forget stuff, times when your brain seems to turn to sludge and you can’t remember your own name, let alone anyone else’s. Imagine every day being like that.
We take our mind power for granted, especially when we’re working and apparently exercising it. Crosswords and brain exercises are for oldies, right?
Think again. Trying to impress your boss or co-workers by starting early and finishing late just might backfire on you.
If you’re working more than 55 hours a week, your cognitive function – memory, attention, and reasoning – may be affected.
In January 2009, the American Journal of Epidemiology published the*Whitehall II Long Working Hours and Cognitive Function study. It found that middle-aged people working 55 hours a week didn’t perform as well as those working 40 hours a week.
In fact, when it comes to memory, attention and reasoning, the decline from overworking is on a similar scale to smoking, a known risk factor in dementia.
Even if you haven’t hit middle-age, you’ll be forming work habits that you’ll find hard to break later.
So whatever stage of life you’re at, aim for balance (and I’m not talking bank balance). Your mind-power may depend on it.
*Stephen Pincock talks about this and other intelligence research in his book Get Smart! 100 Lifestyle Choices That Affect Your Brain (published by Hardie Grant Books).
When my partner and I were trekking in Nepal recently, and we hit some tough spots, our sherpas would smile and say ‘bistaarai, bistaarai’ – go slowly and carefully.
That’s not bad advice as we charge headlong into 2009, armed with resolutions that usually involve losing x number of kgs, spending more time with people we love, and doing more meaningful stuff with our lives (aka working smarter not harder).
Bistaarai, bistaarai… go slowly, or you’ll be dumping resolutions as quickly as you made them.
Look at the losing weight scenario. It might have taken me ten years to gain those (undisclosed!) extra kilos, but I want ’em off in 10 weeks. Talk about setting myself up for being a loser – and not in a good way.
Long term weight loss takes time…and so does changing those stressed-out habits. It’s also pretty impossible to fit in time to hang out with the people you love, get more exercise, chill out, and get away more often… unless you make some space in your diary.
It’s a lot easier when you remember who controls your diary (um, you do).
Here’s some quick tips to help you slow down to an easy pace, work smarter – and have more time to keep those New Year’s Resolutions.
Exercise. The first thing you put in your diary every week is when you’ll exercise. That should be at least three half-hour spots, if not more. Because exercise gives you the energy and a sense of well-being that helps you deal with everything else…
Be realistic. Put six things (max!) a day on your to-do list. Get done what you can do, and the things you can’t get to either don’t matter enough, or go to the top of the next day’s list.
Start the day right…with a decent breakfast and at least 15 minutes ‘chill’ time. That might mean sitting doing nothing, reading, wandering through your garden – or someone else’s (slightly more tricky). The important thing is to allow yourself to do nothing – which is a tough one.
Back to the diary… schedule in blocks of ‘project work’ time, where you don’t answer phones or emails. And when someone says they want to meet with you, give them two or three options, not ‘whenever it suits you’ (aka valuing your time, and you!).
Say no to 24:7 availability. That means not always having your mobile/blackberry in your hip pocket, checking and answering emails as soon as they arrive, or having your office door/space ‘open’. People can and will wait. Really. Which leads to…
Stop driving the emergency response vehicle. Let others take some responsibility for their own stuff. If you’re always rushing to meet their needs or taking up the slack, you’re teaching them to be dependant and incapable. Remember this one? “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine…”
Handle stuff once… from paperwork to emails. Process, file, chuck/delete. That’s it. It will unclutter your desk, your inbox – and your mind.
Delegate. You don’t have to be the master of everything. If you’ve got the resources, use them. If you haven’t, get them.
Breathe. No, it’s not an optional extra and we do forget to do it. You can usually tell you’re not breathing properly when your shoulders are creeping up around your ears (blue lips are also a sign). When the stress gets to you, stop, drop your shoulders and take a deep, deep breath…then let it out slowly, slowly.
Whisper it, shout it, but say it over and over: Bistaarai, bistaarai. Slowly, slowly…