Working from home (WFH) without losing your mind

Coronavirus, the global Pandemic is sweeping across countries with impunity, more and more countries are relying on what is being called 'social isolation'. People are staying home voluntarily to arrest the growth and spread of this virus. One method ( positive or negative depends on your perspective) is companies asking employees to Work from home (WFH) when possible. While WFH sounds like fun ( and it can be) it takes time to build your strength in it. I have spent many years being a startup business owner working from home while also being a hands-on mom to two kids. Managing a kid have a full-blown tantrum, while on a client cadence call, or a dog who whines mournfully asking to be walked every time you need 10 mins to just send a perfectly worded email may not be something I put on my bio, but these skills are of great value today. 

Here are some insights to make the best of it, and also caveats on how WFH is likely to impact your productivity.

Set-Up

 Working from home relies entirely on your ability to be connected to the net. In some parts of the world, this is a problem, unreliable electricity connections, internet outages, etc. Please be upfront with your managers on likely challenges and the support you need. On the plus side make sure you charge the increased expenses your phone, internet bills in this period to your company. Most Organizations have codified WFH policies, some are quite laissez-faire while others have iron-clad rules. In either case, educate yourself on the dos and don'ts. This will be very useful when Corona is behind us and the annual appraisals come up. In case you have one of those ' let me make life difficult for everyone' kind of boss or client this input is going to save your hide.

Perfection is a myth: Believe me! I tried. 

I learned this the hard way trying to get my startup off the ground. My kids were then 3 and 4 years old and I (like most people believed) that getting up and dressed exactly as one would on a normal day, spending the same time, in a designated work zone at home would be the best way to WFH. Yes, it's a perfect way if you're a Robot. I like most parents, had to find pockets of time when I had the energy and focus to get things done while also ensuring my kids didn't get a ragged burnt-out mom, but one full of life. Rules like no calls between 6-8.30 pm ( ie till their bedtime), Chores shared with the spouse, etc are best sorted out now.

Usually, within a week of WFH, freed from the artifice of a ' workday' most people's sleep patterns change, we fall back to our natural circadian rhythms. All of us are built differently and function perfectly well without falling into artificial patterns. It's best to follow your own and deliver to your best potential rather than try and fit some ' ideal' measure.  

Getting things done: Burn your to-do list

Most people find to-do lists the best ways to keep track of projects on the anvil. The general tendency is to get things done in a continuous stream from when your day begins to when it's done. I once had a colleague called Joe, who diligently carried a to-do list with him. The to-do list was a thing of beauty, it had 140 things on it (average) classified into various categories like Urgent, Important, Leads, etc. Every task he had, new business pitches, clients fires and emails a-plenty from higher up's to answer were all listed. And though he worked both hard and smart, new tasks replaced old ones, he always had 130 things on the list. Joe was the busiest guy in the team, but he never felt satisfied at the end of his workday, caught in an endless cycle of To-do list guilt. It's worse working from home, soon the 10 minutes spent playing with your dog will feel wasted if you follow a draconian practice like this. My hack to shortlist 5 important things I must do per week, and have a rigid delivery schedule. Eg: If you need to write an article once a week scheduled for Thursday at 11.30 am. All the research, writing, editing can happen days or weeks ahead of schedule. But the publish button gets hit at the given time. Consequently, you will never miss the deadline. A similar schedule for personal items ( have coffee with the spouse at 10.30 am every day) will bring much needed calm moments in your WFH workday.

Managing Time: Don't get caught in time Swamps

Time swamps are the killers of productivity and creativity. Of course, Streaming Services like Netflix, TV, etc are obvious swamps. There are others. Example checking friends pictures on Social media, Twitter and the worst, short videos on youtube Facebook, etc. Naturally, you want to see all 27 pics of the same sunset your friend shared after the vacation from Bali, and you may believe that you won't spend more than a few minutes on it. These few minutes add up and it can take hours out of your day, with nothing to show for it. so how does one beat this ?. On a normal workday, I would suggest you use the time spent on commuting for this ( ie if you are not driving). During WFH you will notice that your attention starts flagging after an average of 2 hours or so. If you find ourselves nodding off or looking vacantly into space it's a sign that you need time. Get a 10-20 min break every 2 hours of work. You may use it for introspection/meditation / other Me-time activities or the 27 Bali sunset photos. 

Sprint: Stretch to Sprint

WFH is the best time to meet a stretch goal. There's no unnecessary chit- chat, unproductive meetings, etc. so it would be a great time to get clarity on a stretch goal you want to accomplish either personal or professional. The only caveat is it should be something that stirs you and not something mandated by someone else. The time spent introspecting, following your Rhythm will put you in a great frame of mind to zero in on and build towards this goal.

Socialization: Get some Vitamin " P"

Like my old sociology professor used to say " Man is a social animal." Staying indoors keeps us away from vitamin ' P' viz vitamin people. Given the lockdowns in various parts of the world, getting struck by cabin -fever is a real possibility. Some things I find to beat this are

A) Get plenty of exercises, several youtube videos with bodyweight exercises that will help you shake off lethargy and drive up energy levels.

B) Get a virtual social life. while you will miss the social presence of your colleagues and co-workers, the inside jokes, etc. An evening skype coffee and conversation with your best pal or mother may go a long way in mitigating the empty feeling. 

c) Get to know yourself better by writing a journal.  I've found that short notes to motivate myself can take that boredom away. Whenever you feel the need during the day a short note on whatever you are thinking might cheer you up till this lockdown lifts. I even have a WhatsApp group ( with just me ) where I add Books, interesting articles, food recipes, motivational quotes, Clothes, shoes, whatever I'd like to take another look at into this group and look at it when boredom strikes.

In summary, the lockdown can be a productive fun break for employees, and managers if tackled with a little mix of pragmatism and goodwill. I look forward to hearing all the cool stuff you've accomplished at this time.

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