We spend a large part of our lives working, but what exactly is work? How do you spend the minutes and hours of your day? The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the working world upside-down, and with it, our work-life balance. That’s why now is the perfect time to reflect on how you spend your working days so that you can improve your wellbeing and find how best to balance working from home.
1. Meetings, meetings, and more meetings
Even when working from home, I would guess that meetings are still a big part of your daily professional life. Different studies by researchers at Harvard and London Business School found that knowledge workers and other senior executives spend between 30-40% of their working days in meetings. And it is often much more for many of us.
The big shift in our post-pandemic world is that most of these meetings have become virtual and home-based, resulting in a toll on our physical and mental health. Many people are suffering through longer working days, filled with back-to-back video conference calls and meetings.
– Can you cut the video channel on certain meetings and go for a walk to combat the serious ‘sitting disease’ caused by a highly sedentary day?
– Can you finish all meetings at 10 or 5 minutes to the hour to take a breather?
– Can you try and have a meeting-free day at least one day a week to gain some space to focus?
2. Take some time to reflect
What else makes up your workday? Emails, maybe? How many per day? And calls? Maybe throw in some desk research or analysis, PowerPoint, and other tools, and we cover most of our working time.
But hold on a minute. What about thinking? During a meeting, we think when reading or writing an email and, of course, during calls and PowerPoint presentations, too. But I am referring to dedicated thinking here – deep work on the tough problems. Former AOL chief executive, Tim Armstrong, considered the key metric for his executives to be ‘10% thinking time’. That’s right – they had to formally commit to 10% of their weekly time as being dedicated to thinking.
I’m sure you work many hours in a day, but what percentage of that time is actually deep work? And here’s a related question: when and where do you do your best thinking?
Before the current pandemic, typical responses might have included ‘during the daily commute’, ‘while exercising’, ‘while walking the dog’, ‘just before sleeping’, or even ‘in the shower’. In many cases, anywhere and everywhere – apart from the office!
Now that some of us are working from home, it’s all too easy to take many of these challenges beyond working there, which means our overall work-life balance and wellbeing begin to suffer.
3. Build back the routines and rituals
So, build back the routines and rituals that have been taken away in recent months. Perhaps you don’t need to travel to the office, but could you take a walk around the block after breakfast before logging on for the day to ready your mind for work?
Try and create distance between the space where you work at home, and where you eat and relax. If you have a spare room for an office, great, but even if you have to use the kitchen or living room table for work, try changing your position, so you’re facing a different direction, or even tape off part of the table for work and non-work.
Make sure you close your laptop and put away your work equipment at the end of each day to mark a distinction between work and personal time. Such little tweaks that create headspace do pay off.
Finally, sitting excessively also creates behavioural states associated with powerlessness, so walk around your home when you can (even during meetings!) to improve positivity.
Take a moment to reflect and ask yourself what you do every day. Then try and take some of that time back for just you – and watch your workday benefit, too.
4. ‘Done’ is better than perfect
It’s easy to feel like every single thing we do is just as important as the next. Look at your to-do list – are there some things on there whereby done will be better (or just as good as) perfect? It’s likely there will be a few things on there, whether that’s doing something for a colleague, putting the washing away, or maybe the meal you’re going to cook for yourself tonight.
5. Eat your frogs
Procrastination can be our worst enemy. Putting off tasks can actually give us anxiety around completing them and cause further stress because, well, we still haven’t done them!
If you’re struggling, try the frog technique. Do your most dreaded task or that thing you’ve been putting off for ages first (doctor’s appointment, creating that report, or having to have that conversation with someone). Doing it at the start of the day will give you a real sense of accomplishment and leave you on a roll, ready to tackle whatever comes next.
6. The fake commute
As much as most of us hate the long drive to the office, or perhaps having our face buried in someone’s armpit on the Tube, there is something to be said for your commute being good for your work-life balance.
It punctuates our working day and gives us time to decompress and separate our working life from everything else. If you are struggling to get into the right frame of mind to start work, or even if you’re struggling to switch off at the end of the day, try a fake commute.
It can be as simple as walking out your door and around the block at the start and end of the day to create the punctuation, space, and definition you need.
Now, I’m not asking you to participate in yet another Zoom pub quiz, but socialising is good for your mental health. Whether that’s a video call, a phone call, a distanced walk with friends, or a proper night out. Social engagement has been found to help with physical wellbeing, too, by strengthening your immune system.
8. Embrace the abnormal
No one could have predicted that we would have been in this situation a few years ago. View it as a gift. Not having to commute means we are bound less and less by time frames. So you can make your day work for you.
Are you a morning person? Great! Use it to your advantage. Make your morning a special time when you can get the most important things done to set you up for the day, whether that’s a little bit of time with the kids, perhaps a workout, time spent on a hobby, or maybe even working (if that’s your fancy!)
Same with your evenings. If that’s when you’re firing on all cylinders, then maybe use the start of your day for meetings and admin and the end of the day for focused tasks or the hobbies you want to give extra attention to.
9. Saved by the bell
Just because we now have greater flexibility doesn’t mean we should be working 24/7. Make your day work for you, but give yourself a ‘home time’ when you stop work, turn off your emails, get away from your desk and go and do anything but work.
10. It’s up to you
What a healthy work-life balance looks like can only be determined by you. What works well for one individual won’t necessarily work for another.
There are only so many hours in the day, and we all have different things that we need to be present for outside of our working life. Make your day work for you.
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