Working from home can be a blessing during these times. But just like any work arrangement, you have to employ strategies to maximize your time and manage challenges and limitations the situation may present.
Remember the stages of culture shock? You’ll revisit similar phases when you start working from home. At first, you’re excited about the arrangement. You’re pumped about working in your own familiar space, no need to drive to work, and getting dressed up is optional. But as the days pass, the novelty wears off – you may experience technical troubles, miss those watercooler chats with colleagues, or begin to realize that you’re not as disciplined as you thought you were. Others move into the frustration phase early on because of distractions in the home like chores or homeschooling children.
If you feel like these challenges are taking over your sanity and productivity, remember these five WFH don’ts to keep you back on track:
Don’t forget to infuse joy and energy into your work day
When you work from home, the temptation to get out of bed and go straight to your desk to work is strong. However, you’ll discover soon enough that not having a regular routine to get into a “work mode” in the mornings will make you feel sluggish and unmotivated throughout the day. Getting dressed and looking presentable is like signaling to your brain that relaxation time is over and it’s time to focus on work. But you don’t have to go as far as wearing a coat and tie or a pantsuit. I go by the simple principle of “if it looks presentable on Zoom/Skype, then it’s fine”.
Another important habit to start your day right is having a proper breakfast. By proper, I mean eating substantial and healthy food at the breakfast table, not on your work desk. You may also find it helpful to work out, take a walk, or meditate in the mornings. Some do some stretching exercises midday when their energy starts to lag. Experiment to find out what works for you. The main take away here is to establish a healthy routine to rev up your energy.
Don’t keep to yourself
Communication is key when working from home. It’s important to reach out and update your boss and co-workers regularly especially if you work in teams. It will give everyone peace of mind to know that work is being done and that everything’s on track. It will also ease the feeling of isolation and loneliness that may creep up on you.
If you’re tired of Zoom or Skype, you can choose chat apps that allow you to drop quick messages or questions (as if you’re chatting constantly with your peers). You can also opt for phone calls every now and then. Send an email for longer and more detailed reports. You can leave the periodic updates and direct feedback for video conferencing.
Don’t forget breaks
You can get engrossed in your work when you’re in your own bubble. While this seems productive, it will not be in the long run. People who sit down for long periods of time develop health problems like unhealthy weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, as well as the weakening of bones and muscles. It’s also not good for your mental health. A study showed that people who sit more are more prone to anxiety and depression (Reuters).
To prevent this, make it a part of your routine to stand up and stretch from time to time. Consider having an adjustable/standing desk so that you’re not sitting all day. Take longer breaks to take a walk outside. Remember to stay safe, keep distance from people and wear a mask. Rest your eyes. Schedule regular meals to avoid constantly snacking (it’s so easy to overeat when chips and soda are just within your reach!). Don’t forget to drink lots of water.
Don’t get distracted
Fight the urge to do the laundry or dishes when you see them piling up. Getting distracted will make it hard for you get back on track with work. Chores are never done. If you take care of the dishes, you might see that the kitchen needs tidying up, and since you’re already tidying up, it may extend it to your living room, bedroom, and so on. For others, it might not be chores but watching TV (or Netflix), Internet surfing or going through social media. These activities are addictive and time-consuming. In the end it will leave you feeling like you’ve wasted your day (and in a way, you have).
Working from home efficiently requires planning, goal-setting and discipline. You might need to set mechanisms to stay on track especially at the start. Plan your days (draft a schedule the night before). Always be clear about what you need to accomplish each day and be specific. Have a routine and make rules to keep yourself accountable. If you want to be strict about it, write down your deliverables every week or month and give your supervisor a copy. Motivate yourself by devising a reward system for accomplishing each goal (rewards can be as simple as a small snack or an extended break). As for me, the satisfaction of checking out items on my task list is one of the best feelings in the world. Just the thought of doing this is enough to keep me on track.
Don’t forget boundaries between work and personal life
Setting boundaries mean separating your work time from your personal time. Doing this may be harder for those who need to take care of others (such as young kids), which is understandable. This is why it’s important to work out an arrangement – with your boss and with your partner or another caregiver – for you to have time to focus solely on work and not feel overburdened.
Start with a dedicated work area (preferably with a door you can close) to prevent interruptions and distractions while working. If you need time during the day to take care of personal matters, build it into your regular schedule. For example, request for a two-hour lunch break if you need to feed your kids or attend to their other needs. Make up for the time at work later in the afternoon. But make sure to set reasonable work hours and stick to it. Don’t make it a habit to check work, write emails or receive calls during family time. Doing this will only lead to stress and eventual burnout.
“Communication is key when working from home. It’s important to reach out and update your boss and co-workers regularly especially if you work in teams. It will give everyone peace of mind to know that work is being done and that everything’s on track. It will also ease the feeling of isolation and loneliness that may creep up on you.”
Sources:What not to do when working from home for a prolonged period according to experts, Kevin Slane, Boston.com; Don’t make these 6 biggest mistakes if you’re working from home, says guy who’s done it for 10 years, Tom Popomaronis, Make it; and The dangers of sitting: why sitting is the new smoking, Better Health Channel. Accessed December 15, 2020.
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