In this Lockdown situation, we find it really hard to work from home because of the distractions and procrastination.
I have tried it on several occasions earlier also, but I am still not able to master it. There’s always some other work I am involved like eating snacks, listening to music, checking my phone, watching television or even rearranging my room while working from home. It’s easy to think ‘I could just do this later’, but, often, ’later’ gets pushed back further and further and deadlines reach. Eventually, this results in a breakdown of my work-life balance: I’m not productive when I should be working and I feel guilty relaxing at other times because I feel like I should be working.
With the outbreak of coronavirus, many are forced to work from home like IT officials such as myself, in these circumstances, a good work-life balance becomes even more important and even more difficult to maintain. I am fortunate that, at least in the short term, my work has not been affected by coronavirus lockdown. I work mainly with writing creative content, editing, proof-reading remotely. I am, nevertheless, struggling to focus. In these 2 months of lockdown, I learned several things to make myself more productive and I am sharing them here.
I aim to treat my working hours as if I am in the office and try to stick to them. This does not need to be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, because you do have slightly more flexibility, but I find it helps to have some structure. Be kind to yourself when setting your hours. It’s a pandemic, not a work retreat. If you have childcare or other commitments, just try to schedule in a small amount of work per day (1–2 hours, say), and see how you go. Setting up dedicated times for work will help you to relax in your downtime. Here are my eleven strategies to maintain a work-life balance while working from home –
1.) Don’t be too hard on yourself
It’s not easy to work from home and being forced to do so by a pandemic is not an ideal way to start. If you get any work done at all, you are doing really well. The most important thing is that you are happy and healthy and, if you are not, there is no shame in asking for help. Your family, friends, colleagues and health-care professionals are just a phone call away. You might be in isolation, but you are not alone.
2.) Remember to exercise and get fresh air
I go for a walk outside once a day, as currently permitted (with some restrictions) by UK government guidelines. If you are not able to go outside, just open your windows and try your best to do some light exercise at home. A pandemic is not a good time to start a strenuous new form of exercise — you don’t want to have to see a doctor — but it is important to do something appropriate to your current fitness level. There are a lot of free resources online. I also enjoy following yoga classes on YouTube.
3.) Schedule your working hours
I aim to treat my working hours as if I am in the laboratory or at the office, and try to stick to them. This does not need to be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, because you do have slightly more flexibility, but I find it really helps to have some structure. Be kind to yourself when setting your hours. It’s a pandemic, not a work retreat. If you have childcare or other commitments, just try to schedule in a small amount of work per day (1–2 hours, say), and see how you go. Setting up dedicated times for work will help you to relax in your downtime.
4.) Create a morning routine
Although it can be tempting to stay in my pyjamas all day, I find a morning routine helps to get me into a ‘working’ mindset and mentally prepares me for the day ahead. You could just follow your normal workday morning routine, or do something as simple as having a coffee at a similar time each day. My father likes to review the previous day’s work over breakfast to set himself up for the day.
5.) Establish a dedicated working space
In an ideal world, this would be a dedicated desk away from where you sleep or relax, but during a pandemic you just have to do your best. This could mean using the kitchen table or even just a chair. Do what you can to make this feel like your work space. I set up my space with my laptop, a mug of tea and my notebook and pens.
6.) Plan your day
Review your to-do list and make an outline for your day. This will help you to be more productive and focused in the time that you have. I find that setting SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely) goals helps me to make a realistic plan.
7.) Discuss your work schedule with others
It can be a good idea to talk your schedule over with others beyond your supervisor and colleagues. If you live with other people, for example, it’s important to discuss how you will work from home, and perhaps set some ground rules to allow you to maintain your work–life balance. I live on my own, but I still discuss my work and work schedule with others because it helps to create some accountability, which helps me to stick to it.
8.) Take regular breaks
Just like at the office or in the lab, remember to get up and move around. I try to limit the time I spend reading the news and on social media during my breaks, particularly at the moment, because reading the news on coronavirus makes me feel anxious. Keep yourself hydrated and try to eat healthily. I make sure I have a good lunch break away from my work. It’s very tempting to snack all day when you work from home, but it’s not healthy in the long run.
9.) Prioritize social interactions
At home, you won’t just bump into your colleagues in corridors, at the coffee machine or in the lab. Don’t underestimate the importance of these interactions, both for your own mental well-being and that of others, and for your work. Schedule times to catch up with your colleagues, friends and family. I try to schedule such catch-ups for the afternoon, because I find I am more productive in the morning.
10.) Mark the end of your working day
As at the start, it’s important to mark the end so that you can switch off from work, ‘go home’ and relax. I use the same computer for both my work and personal life, so I make sure I close my laptop, walk away and do something else before I pick it up again to contact friends or watch television. It really helps me to divide my work from my personal life so that I do relax.
11.) Listen soothing music after day end
Music can have a profound effect on both your mind and your body. Fast music can cause you to feel more alert and concentrate better. Upbeat music can cause you to feel more optimistic and positive about life. Slow music can quiet your mind, take it towards calmness and relax your brainwaves, making you feel soothed while releasing the strain of the day. Music is effective for relaxation and stress management. Research confirms these personal experiences with music. Current research outcomes from various researchers prove that music around 60 beats per minute can cause the brain to synchronize with the beat causing alpha brainwaves (frequencies from 8 – 14 hertz or cycles per second). This alpha brainwave is what is present when we are relaxed and conscious. To induce sleep (a delta brainwave of 5 hertz), an individual may have to devote a minimum of 45 minutes, during a relaxed position, taking note of calming music. Scientists from Stanford University have said that “listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication.” They noted that music is something that nearly anybody can listen and makes it a simple stress reduction mechanism.
These were the eleven strategies, Happy Working!