The global pandemic has pushed up indoors. What used to be a daily routine of heading to the office, working at your workplace, and returning home to personal life, has changed on its head.
Most people are carrying out their daily roles and responsibilities by working from home. Teams carry out meetings on web conferencing tools. People use chat and email instead of exchanging words in person.
Starting work at a specific time and winding up at a particular hour seems tougher than expected.
This whole new arrangement has shifted the dynamics of how people work. Some people feel no difference, some find the switch positive, and some are finding it extremely hard to deal with the change.
Irrespective of which category you fall under, everyone has experienced some change or the other.
- Challenges of working from home
- How to stop wasting time
Challenges of working from home
The people who are still trying to cope with the change are facing different challenges. Here are the 3 most common problems people encounter with working from home over a long duration:
1. Loss of productivity
Here is a visual which explains the change.
Earlier, when you were working from the office, you were away from many of the distractions you have at home. Your workspace creates a mindset of work and separates it from your personal life. Sure, you might take a long lunch break and chit-chat with coworkers, but your brain knows that you’re at work to work.
The thought process changes when you work from home. What used to be a place for personal life is now your workplace too.
Your mind has associated your house with family time, personal life, and leisure. If you get frequent thoughts to turn on the TV, check the refrigerator or grab a snack while working from home, do not curse yourself. Your brain has made such associations with the surroundings.
Every time your brain encounters a trigger, you act without thinking. For example, when you walk past the refrigerator, you feel like opening it and checking what’s inside. Even if you had checked an hour ago and you don’t feel hungry, you pull the door open for no reason.
You do many things at home by instinct than by conscious thought.
2. Lack of work-life balance
You might have a different problem where working from home has made you glued to work for longer hours. Since you are at home and cannot go out as much, you keep working to pass time.
You set up late meetings and check your emails beyond midnight. Earlier, you used to spend time on your personal interests and family. Now with the doors closed, you end up spending all that time on work.
Another reason why working from home creates a poor work-life balance is Parkinson’s law. Being at home gives the impression that you have more hours to complete work. As a result, you spend more time on a task than you otherwise would.
An 8 hour day turns into a 12 hour day without any extra output delivered.
3. Discomfort of working
Your workplace had an arrangement of a desk, table, screens, keyboard, mouse, drawers, and more. You do not have all those privileges at home.
To make that worse, you feel like working on the couch or the bed. Not only do you feel uncomfortable, but your back hurts too.
How to stop wasting time
Here are 9 tips to overcome the most common problems with working from home.
1. Stick to the same schedule
The most common mistake people make while working from home is changing their schedule completely. It starts right from the time of waking up, continues with the time you start your work, and ends with the time you go to bed.
If your entire cycle is pushed by an hour or two, you need to correct that first. Start right from the first step where your schedule goes off track. It can be the time you wake up, have breakfast, or check your emails. The moment you let one activity go astray, it snowballs into your entire day.
If you start your day at 8 AM when you work from the office, you must begin at the same time while working from home. Keeping the same cycle helps you maintain the same level of productivity and efficiency.
If you have other chores to attend to like dropping children to school, factor them in.(Thanks to Nic for suggesting this tip over comments)
2. Try to match your work environment
You have a particular setup while working in the office. If you use a keyboard, a mouse, a screen, and a laptop at work, you will have a hard time shifting to a laptop.
As much as possible, try to replicate the exact set up in your house too.
Make sure to supply your house with the right devices. Adequate lighting, a file cabinet, HVAC equipment, hygiene supplies are a must to build comfort in your home office. From a cost, availability, and space perspective, you may not be able to have a similar set up at home. But make an effort to mimic as much as possible. Spending some money on the things you need makes a huge difference in your productivity and mindset.
You will no longer complain to yourself, saying, “Damn it, working without a large screen is a pain.”
3. Sit in isolation
If you and another family member are working from home, using the dining table seems like the most natural solution. But when you together, you put yourself in a zone of distraction.
The keyboard rattling, the cellphone beeping, and the other person talking distracts you now and then. On the surface, you do not notice any difference, but those little things add up and kill your focus.
As much as possible, sit in a separate room. If you have to buy a brand new table for it, do that. Tables aren’t too expensive these days. If your house has enough rooms, setting a workspace where you work by yourself helps you stay focused and avoid distractions.
4. Introduce friction for distractions
James Clear suggested the method of introducing friction for bad habits in his book Atomic Habits. The technique suggests adding an extra step in between to prevent your brain from working on autopilot.
Let me explain with an example. When you sit on the couch, your mind automatically picks up the remote and turns on the TV. Your brain has wired such actions into your behavior. You do them without applying any thought.
To break such unconscious action, you must introduce an additional step. If you unplug the TV or leave the remote in the kitchen, the next time, you cannot turn on the TV. You must get your ass off the couch to turn the TV on or walk to the kitchen to fetch the remote. Your brain isn’t prepared for such friction.
You will avoid such distractions by breaking the loop of your habits.
5. Close browser tabs
If you do most of your work on your computer, you might have the habit of leaving certain websites open. For example, Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora, Amazon, and others.
While these seem harmless, they call for your attention in discreet ways. Social media websites like Facebook, Quora, and LinkedIn show (2) on the top of the tab, indicating you have new notifications.
Such updates are an invitation to open the website. Once you do, you check not only the notification but also other updates from the newsfeed.
Keeping a website like Amazon open can remind you of buying those shoes you wanted to buy. You start with one item and go on a shopping spree.
Keep only the necessary tabs open and close the rest.
6. Set a log off time
Working from home can make you forget that you have a personal life too. Earlier, the work environment and your house provided a clear boundary between work and personal life. When you were at the office, you considered yourself at work. Once you reached home, it was time for personal life.
When you start working from home, you lose the boundary between work and personal.
One way to solve the problem is by setting an end of day time. When the clock gets there, you wind the day up. Only if you have a real need should you continue working.
7. Communicate expectations at home
Let the people in your house know that you intend to work with focus. As trivial as it sounds, it is the critical step that most people miss. Others may have a notion that working from home is equivalent to relaxing.
Sure, they are free to look at it that way, but let them know that you won’t. Communicate your intention to spend the day productively. You can also learn methods to increase focus and reduce distractions.
Inform your loved ones that you will work at home like any other working day. The last thing you want is your spouse or kid thinking you are ignoring them on purpose.
While your spouse might understand, explaining the same to your kid can become a challenge. If both you and your spouse are at home and your kid needs attention, you can swap turns to take care of your child.
8. Do not do chores between work hours
Because you are at home, you might feel the temptation to change the time of your routine chores.
For example, if you had a habit of cooking in the evening, you might feel like shifting that to the afternoon. Be wary of such changes because it can throw your rest of the day off schedule.
If you take an hour to do the laundry in the morning, your work might go more than an hour beyond your standard end of day time.
I am not saying you must not change your schedule at all. Make a change only if you have a strong reason to do so or if it helps you in some way. Do not make a change because you have more time at your disposal.
The more you change your schedule, the more off-balance your day will seem.
9. Do not compensate for low quality work with extra hours
Working from home helps you save time, which was otherwise spent on a different activity. For example, commuting to work is one such area.
Do not use the extra time as an excuse to work at a slower than usual pace on your regular tasks. Such work, called shallow work, is devastating for your productivity.
If you persist with such a working style long enough, you will get accustomed to it. When you have to return to your usual routine, you will no longer be able to complete your work on time.
Your brain would have adjusted to your slower working style.
Carry on working at the same intensity while working from home. Use the spare time to pursue something you never had the time for. You can start a hobby you always postponed, read the book you always had on your list, or learn a skill which you wanted to.
Working from home for a long duration is more of a change for your mind than your body. You have to overcome some of the battles you fight inside your head to stop wasting time at home and become productive.
Distractions will show up one way or the other at home. You cannot get rid of them all. The best you can do is minimize the damage as much as you can.
At the same time, do not aim to turn your home into the office. Enjoy some of the inherent differences between your work and the office. After all, that is what life is about.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.