Work well, feel well
Our kitchens and garden sheds have fast become the office spaces of 2020, so it’s easy to lose that work-life balance. Here’s how to work smarter, and be more productive, whilst keeping your physical and mental health in check.
Do you remember the days when working from home was a luxury? No more lengthy commutes and suddenly, extra hours added to your day. But how times have changed.
With many worldwide lockdowns still in place, and offices being closed for most of 2020 – the world of work arguably changed for good. According to the Office for National Statistics’ Business Impact of Coronavirus survey, 51% of unfurloughed employees are now working remotely. This is in stark contrast to the 6% recorded by the ONS pre-lockdown
However, working from home has not been as liberating as we hoped - most of us are now working for longer than we did before the pandemic. The daily commute has been replaced by endless emails and video-meetings, which means not only are we more static than ever, it’s also even harder to get that work-life balance.
Here are 5 tips to help you unlock maximal productivity and stay focused when working from home.
Treat work, like work
One challenge of working from home is to distinguish between being on and off. Working from home can easily blur the boundaries between domestic and professional life, and it’s all too easy to start checking emails outside normal office hours. But strive to keep some time sacred for yourself and for anyone you’re sharing your home with. Be strict with yourself and know that as soon as 6pm hits - it’s time to switch off and embark on that well-deserved run.
And don’t be tempted to log back on after hours - burning the midnight oil isn’t always productive. The blue light emitted by electronics has been shown to disrupt sleep and impact performance the next day - so keep electronics to a minimum before bed – and remember that taking time to recharge can actually help you be more productive.
Structure your day
Working from home requires self-control and discipline, so before you start working, plan your daily tasks and allocate time for them - it’s easy to think that when working from home, you can do more in less time, but research shows that trying to do multiple things at once can cost you as much as 40 percent of your productivity. Researchers at Stanford University also found that people who multitask can’t remember things as well as their more singularly focused peers.
Let’s face it - interruptions are stressful, but inevitable. Kids clogging up the WiFi and yet another Amazon delivery are now ‘the new normal’. But studies show that it takes us about 23 minutes to regain our focus after we’ve been interrupted – however slightly less when you get back to the same task after the interruption. So try and approach your to do list with focus and you’ll get more done.
Organise your space
As we get used to the work-from-home life, it's important to arrange your home work space in a way that will keep you focused on your daily tasks with all the essentials you need.
Long periods of working in awkward positions--propped up on a sofa or perched at the kitchen table can lead to pain or even long-term damage. In a survey of remote workers, 45 percent reported back and joint pain--with 71 percent saying the pain was new or had worsened, so it’s important that you are sitting comfortably with good posture, and taking regular breaks to help avoid sore muscles, strained eyes, poor circulation, and even weight gain.
Don’t forget to open some windows too. Research shows that opening windows can make airborne contaminants less potent (The Corona virus for example actually thrives in low-humidity, air-conditioned spaces) whilst there’s increasing evidence that exposure to light, during the day - particularly in the morning is beneficial to your mood, alertness and metabolism.
Work in sprints
Working in sprints is not just for developers. It’s a universal principle that appears everywhere from fitness (stimulus-recovery-adaption), to religion (on the 7th day, even God rested). The idea is to rest and recover after an effort, such as finishing a complex task.
The Pomodoro method is a popular productivity method designed to break your work into time blocks to help you get more done. The basic idea is that you break your work down into 25 minutes of continuous work with a 5-minute break – which can be anything from getting up for a stretch, grabbing a glass of water or even doing a few jumping jacks. It’s also particularly helpful when you’re having a tough time getting started on a project, have to do something you don’t really want to do, or are struggling to break a large project down into manageable pieces. Plus, according to research scientist, Andrew Smart, regular breaks from the grind are essential for replenishing the brain's stores of attention and motivation, whilst encouraging productivity and creativity.
Combat Zoom Fatigue
A recent study found that employees spent 120% longer on video calls on average during the pandemic - and it took roughly 46 minutes to prep for meetings, and a further 18 to get stuck into work afterwards – the equivalent to a 10k run for most people!
If you’re finding that you’re more exhausted at the end of your workday than you used to be, you’re not alone. Over the past few months, mentions of ‘Zoom fatigue’ have increased on social media, and Google searches for the same phrase have steadily increased since lockdown began. Video conferencing forces us to focus more intently on conversations in order to absorb information. On a video call the only way to show we’re paying attention is to look at the camera – and this “constant gaze” has shown to make us uncomfortable — and tired.
If this sounds familiar remember to take mini breaks during longer calls by minimizing the window, moving it to behind your open applications, or just looking away from your computer completely for a few seconds. A few other ways to take a break is to hide yourself from view, (who else finds themselves constantly staring at their own face!), encourage colleagues to use plain backgrounds, or agree as a group that anyone not talking should turn off their camera.
And don’t forget, if 4pm rolls around and you’re Zoomed-out but have an upcoming one-on-one, ask the person to switch to a phone call or suggest picking up the conversation later so you can both recharge.
Working from home can be empowering and even productive, providing you plan and prepare. As we’ve all found recently - it's not easier to work from home—it's just a different location.