In what feels like an eternity, I realized it’s just been 5 months since I started working from home. March 2020 feels like a long time ago, a couple of years to be honest. I was in denial for the longest time and was optimistic that things would go back to normal. But the temporary arrangement quickly turned into a new way of life!
At first, I considered this a good break from my usual routine. In Ross Geller’s words ‘ I was given the gift of time’ and decided to make the best of it. Though the circumstances weren’t great, I knew I wouldn’t get a chance like this again. So I decided to go all in.
Life was great during the first month. Focusing on everything else but COVID seemed like a good coping mechanism. I felt very productive and got a lot of work done. It felt like I had a lot of time to spare. I kept the momentum going by adding on more things to do. When the bubble eventually broke a couple of weeks later, I woke up one morning with no energy to do any work, even the ones I usually looked forward to doing. I was exhausted beyond measure. Though I managed to do the bare minimum, I knew I was setting myself up for failure if I continued this.
Instead of trying to do everything at once, I came up with a new, well-paced routine to ensure I did not repeat the mistakes of the past 2 months. Here are a few pointers that helped me establish the ground rules for my new routine
Stop looking for Motivation
Turns out motivation doesn’t find you every time you need some. So instead of waiting for motivation to kick in, I treat it as another task to finish and start working. Especially in times like these, when even the simplest activities can become a struggle, I did not want to rely on motivation. Every morning I make a list of 5 tasks to complete for the day and get cracking. I realized that things would be manageable if I handled this with logic than with emotion. I curate my to-do list with the utmost care. I delegate as required and dedicate time to follow up, so most items on my To-do list are tasks I know I *have* to do. Stepping into a day with a good idea of what I need to do, helps me get mentally prepared and have better control of the day.
Do one thing at a time
The sheer amount of context-switching that happens when you multitask is detrimental to the quality of your work. You think you’re juggling all your tasks well but end up in a mess. I remember days when I start working on something, abandon it midway and jump on to something else. And then to another. This continues until I lose track of what I had started with, in the first place. It is easier to stick to one activity at a time – do it once and do it right. Once I pick my 5 tasks for the day, I write all them on a sticky note and put it on my desk. If I get distracted, the note reminds me of what I should get back to. If I come across something I should check or someone I should talk to, I make a note of it and do it later so that I don’t lose my train of thought.
Decision Fatigue is real! Did you know that the average adult makes about 35000 conscious decisions every day? That’s a LOT! When you spend most of your energy on frivolous decisions, you get exhausted by the time you’re ready to make life-altering, game-changing decisions. I knew I was falling into the same trap. So I’ve set up systems to reduce the amount of time spent on taking decisions every day. For example, I wanted to tackle one of the biggest questions in my life – What to eat. Every Saturday I plan every meal for the following week. When I used to go to work, I’d spend 1 hour every Sunday picking out clothes for the week (saved so many precious minutes every morning!). I do this for the other chores at home – I have a template for weekly grocery runs and monthly purchases. I allot specific times during the week for Grocery runs, Cleaning, Laundry and so on.
Of course, I make changes as I see fit, but you get the idea. I work on the assumption that on 90% of the days I can get these done. On the remaining days when my schedule/plan goes for a toss, I take it as it comes.
When things get overwhelming, I usually talk to someone. As an extrovert who never misses an opportunity for small talk and conversations, I yearn for the social connection. I’ve had the most interesting conversations with friends for hours on end over coffee and drinks. I miss not being able to do that in person. I miss just being around people and drawing energy from conversations.
I realized this when I was having a pretty bad day and a friend randomly called me up and we spoke for more than an hour. We both realized that we just needed a space to discuss even the most trivial things and we both felt visibly chuffed. That’s when I realized how badly I missed catching up with my circle and started taking conscious efforts to stay in touch. A couple of minutes catching up with people is such a mood booster.
Set Boundaries for Life and Work
Defining boundaries were a lot easier when home and work were different places. You associate a specific action when you’re in a specific place, thanks to visual cues. For someone who thrived well with well-defined boundaries, working from home brought in a huge challenge. My office work, personal work, entertainment, reading – everything was on the laptop. I couldn’t tune in and out. I was in the same place – working from home and living at work. In an attempt to draw boundaries while working from home, here are a few things that helped me
- I have a few hours in the morning for myself, but right before I log in, I freshen up and make myself presentable for the video calls. That’s a cue telling me I need to get ready to work.
- I try to wind up at 5 pm every day and go out for a walk or run. A change of place or activity tells me that it’s time to tune out.
- Once I come back home, I try to avoid using my laptops (work or personal) and use my other devices, to not associate many tasks with the same device.
I rely on visual cues and habits for this. Now my days are not a blurred image of me sitting in front of the laptop all day.
Amidst all that is happening around us, it may be challenging to adapt to what seems to be the new way of life. But if there is one thing that life in these last few months has emphasized, it’s doing what is best for you. People thrive in different environments and what works for others need not necessarily work for us. Writing in my journal every single day has had a great impact on me. Find out what is that one thing that dictates the quality of your day. Find out what works best for you. Find out your priorities. Life became a lot easier when I got my priorities right. Because on some days that means doing my best to maintain my routine. On some other days, it means taking time out for myself.
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