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Switching from the office to work from home (WFH) can have a significant positive impact on your wellbeing. Daniel Kahneman’s research showed that commuting can be the single largest source of dissatisfaction in a person’s life. When the routine of rushing to get out the door, fighting traffic, and settling into the office is replaced with the seven-step stumble into the home office it leaves us with a lot more time for other pursuits (and sleeping in). At first, it can feel great! The average person saves about 4 hours per week when they don’t commute. That translates to about an extra month per year of vacation time – take every second Friday off. You deserve it! But it’s not all sunshine and fuzzy slippers.
Problem: A blurred boundary between work and personal time. Just ask my 10-year-old that is currently bouncing around my home office, simultaneously playing on the treadmill desk and taking the printer apart. It’s both hard to get started on work and hard to stop working at the end of the day.
Solution: Create routine. Have a dedicated space for working (not your bed), get your coffee, and turn on a task light. Set a signal to yourself that “work” has started. Similarly, develop an end-of-day routine when work stops. It may seem like work-life balance when you can watch your kid playing soccer and respond to work email at the same time but, in reality, you’re giving 50% to both tasks. Set boundaries between work and personal time and follow those rules.
Problem: Maintaining the appearance of being productive. There are workplace cultures where “face time” is the primary indicator of productivity (I’m looking at you professional service firms). A sudden switch to working from home can lead to anxiety that people will think you aren’t working. This fear of being invisible can lead to an intense pressure to be on all the time.
Solution:Find a middle ground. Communicate your working hours. Explain the situations that merit getting hold of you outside those hours and how to do it. This is particularly important for leaders. If your team sees your work creeping into all hours of the day and night, they will feel the pressure to behave similarly. It will only be a matter of time before burnout infects your corporate culture.
Problem: Time management / prioritization / accountability issues.
Solution: Experiment with a few time management systems and implement the ones that work best for you. For some people, time blocking can be extremely helpful in adding structure and improving productivity. Keep in mind that breaks are an important part of productivity and interruptions are inevitable. Instead of fighting them, manage your day as a series of sprints with small breaks. Also, everyone has some form of a to-do list. How about a “done list”? Keeping track of what you have completed might just give you the confidence and reassurance that you are making progress, even when it feels like you aren’t.
For knowledge workers, it’s hard to imagine WFH completely disappearing in the coming years. Learning new habits is hard. If you focus on the process right now, the results are sure to follow later.
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