As the pandemic continues into the second year, I realised that I have been working from home for almost a year.
WFH did not sit well with me when it first started. I missed lunching with my colleagues, and I didn’t like trying to recreate a comfortable (air-conditioned!) workspace at home while respecting the boundaries of my family members. Not only that, I had to deal with the lack of human touch that limited so much of my personal and business communications.
Yet, I have to admit, WFH grew on me.
With zero commutes, fuss-free home-cooked lunches, room workouts (thanks YouTube!) and fewer distractions, I find myself more productive and a lot thriftier.
But with all the comforts and benefits of WFH, one aspect of it does worry me.
As the months passed, and as I got used to the WFH arrangement, I started to question the blurred boundary between work and rest: there seemed to be no clear knocking-off time. You know how sometimes people ask you whether “do you eat to live or live to eat”? Well, when it comes to work, I realise I can’t tell the difference any more – working is a part of me.
As the pandemic drags on and as we are expected to adapt accordingly, start making a conscious effort to make working in the “new normal” a success – not just in our professional careers, but in our personal well-being.
Here are three pointers that you may find helpful:
1. Claim your weekend by really disconnecting
We need equilibrium in our lives. If you find yourself spending much more time working than you initially intended or feel compelled to work even on the weekends, you may be succumbing to workaholism.
Now this doesn’t mean that you should watch the clock constantly or practise presenteeism – sometimes we do need to put in that extra bit of effort to finish the project or help a colleague. But take note that you don’t start to plan to work during your time-off in order to catch up on work that you should have completed during your “time-on”.
We all know that work can sometimes get overwhelming. But the intention to strike a balance is important. Make a conscious effort to get in a routine of disconnecting on the weekend through steps like these:
Record To-Dos without doing them
Finish that e-mail. Text that colleague. Start that presentation. Call that vendor. Sometimes stray work thoughts flash through your mind while you’re just chilling. Don’t let that whisper turn into nagging guilt. Learn to jot them down then consciously take no action on them. Come Monday, they’ll be patiently waiting! It is also a great way of training yourself to recognise the difference between what is urgent and what is important!
Disconnect from your phone
This is probably the hardest thing to do since we use our phones for everything from entertainment to shopping these days! So when that work text pops up while you’re happily searching for that perfect pair of shoes or scrolling through your IG feed, it’s hard to ignore it.
Try this: Mute your work group texts during the weekend. That way, you can control the time at which you see it, and you won’t be compelled to breathlessly answer it. Remember to unmute them on Monday though!
Did you realise that organising leisure activities can be another source of stress? Or worse, an unhealthy embodiment of your need for constant over-achievement?
Don’t tell yourself that since it’s the weekend, you must do something or else “it’s a waste”. Yes, sure, it’s a great time to catch up with loved ones or complete errands. But do those because you want to, not because you have to.
Try simply sitting around with the important people in your life (you know who they are) and focus on low-stimulation activities. Read a book. Watch TV. Take a really long nap.
When you realise that setting aside time to do absolutely nothing is nothing to feel guilty about, you may find yourself feeling relaxed, less stressed and have a greater appreciation of all that you have.
2. Get physical, it helps your mental well-being too
We all know that exercise improves our mental state. Most of the time, we just need a little more motivation to get going. Here’s how we can make physical activity enjoyable:
Start small. Start smart.
Set achievable goals and start small. Consider a brisk walk instead of a high-intensity run and build up from there. What is important is to maintain a routine and expand your capacity gradually. After all, your fitness journey is not a sprint (pun intended)!
Do something you enjoy and make it a social activity
Try different activities. Learn a dance, play a sport that you haven’t tried before, go for a swim, toss a frisbee in the park or try out skipping while you watch your K-drama.
Ask a friend or family member to join you. The companionship can create good conversations and help keep each other motivated in the right direction!
After having worked so hard to overcome the inertia and to get through your workout, follow up with a reward for yourself. A good massage session or a tasty treat can be something for you to motivate yourself with if you feel particularly lazy that day.
Of course you should set up an appropriate reward, so that you don’t over-reward or under-reward yourself!
3. Every minute spent organising as an hour earned
This quote from American scientist-philosopher Benjamin Franklin reminds us that being disorganised is costly. If you can spare some time planning and getting organised, you’d be surprised how this can end up saving hours down the road.
Here are some ways to get organised:
Plan your days the night before
By getting your priorities straight the night before (write them down, in order of importance), you will find yourself less distracted by the ‘tyranny of the urgent’ – those little fires that pop up and get in the way of your real work priorities.
Do the worst task first
Eat the frog. “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
This memorable quote by another American legend, the author Mark Twain, succinctly describes one solution to procrastination. By doing the most dreaded item on your to-do list first, you free your time up for the rest of the day to do stuff that excites and inspires you.
Be aware of what you’re bad at
Use specific aids and routines to work around your weaknesses. If you tend to let meetings run too long, set a timer. If you have trouble keeping meetings productive, make an agenda. Have honest conversations with trusted friends or colleagues to learn your blind spots and have them keep you on track.
Make time for lunch
Did you know that skipping meals not only affects your concentration and productivity, it also affects your waistline? Research shows that missing meals can lead to complications that result in eventual weight gain, not to mention a bad mood!
Clean up your workspace, and your headspace
The best remedy for clutter is to set aside about 10 minutes at the end of each day to organise your desk. Pair that with writing your priority list for the next day.
That way, you don’t have to deal with the sense of low-key guilt that you might get for not resolving all the things you have left half-finished today and leave the office (or your living room!) ready to start afresh tomorrow!