Take five for a work-from-home headspace

583C213F-EDB1-469A-8A10-099B52C8F9C8Getting 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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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 mediawrestle 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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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Email etiquette… lest we forget

iStock_000008146908MediumWhen email was a new thing, there were a lot of etiquette tips flying around as we all learnt (sometimes the hard way) about communicating sans body language. These days, we’ve all got it worked out, right?

If a recent email ‘conversation’ about a touchy family issue has taught me anything, it’s that some of us still don’t get it. And even if we do, it’s good to be reminded…

Keep it simple

Concise, clear, need-to-know – that’s the key to any communication. How many emails have you received where the vital information is buried in shovel loads of unnecessary stuff? So don’t hit send until you’ve read through and edited your email.

Stay cool

Email ‘yelling’ is a very uncool. You probably wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) do it to the person’s face. So LOSE THE CAPITALS,  inflammatory coloured fonts, and (a new one) long paragraphs in bold italics. 

Rapid response

Responding promptly to emails shows respect. Even a quick ‘I’m onto it’ or ‘got it, thanks’  let’s the sender know you’re following up or you received their email or attachment. The alternative is a ‘blank look’ and nobody likes to be ignored.

To CC or not to CC

Keeping people ‘in the loop’ is great if it’s really necessary. But you risk  desensitising them if you go crazy with the CC option – and they may overlook an important direct email from you later.

Nothing to hide

Consider why you’re blind copying someone into an email. There’s a difference between hiding something, and protecting someone’s privacy (such as sending to email lists). A good rule of thumb: if you can’t openly copy someone in on an email, don’t copy them in at all.

Last in, first out

Always respond to the last email in the conversation first, because the older stuff may have already been sorted. But do skim over the email trail before asking a question that may already be covered.

Talk to me

If we use it well, email is a convenient and fast way of communicating in our busy lives. But don’t give up on that quick call or a face-to-face chat, which will often get things sorted faster than a bunch of emails back and forth. It’s how we used to roll, back in the pre-email days…

Improve your mind power…leave work on time!

computer_and_personYou’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).

Increase your productivity – at work and in life

Dean Jackson’s 50-minute focus finder is priceless. Have you got 50-minutes to watch his presentation?

With a healthy level of skepticism, I sat down to do Dean’s focus finder exercise (one of several he talks about). It’s really a brain dump, which you do for 50 minutes – listing every single thing that comes into your head.

After about 10 minutes, you move from the reactive zone (phonecalls, meetings, people to see, things to fix, emails to respond to) to the proactive zone (new ideas and approaches, new markets to explore, etc).

To my surprise, it worked. And I’ve already put some changes in place… others are on the list. So I’m a convert. It’s a pretty worthwhile way to spend 50 minutes…