How to find structure in chaos – and why it helps to anchor our minds
The chances are you’re reading this in a very different place than you were a year ago. That different place might be physical, mental or emotional – or more than likely, a mixture of all three!
Lockdown and the ongoing Covid restrictions have forced millions of us into isolation: working from home for the foreseeable.
In my last blog I talked about the constant low-level anxiety that seems to underlie life right now, and how to cope with it. It’s the open ended nature of difficult times which can be hardest to grasp.
Adjusting to a new life at home is just the same. Once the novelty of not having to get dressed up, having the fridge on hand, and the ability to multitask and juggle the work/life balance has worn off, what are you left with? The same four walls, day in and day out – with no clear end in sight. And that can be a very hard thing to live with, however fortunate we are with the place that we call home.
So again, I’d like to share four suggestions for taming that endless time at home, and forming a new shape for your working week by creating a familiar rhythm.
Be mindful of working hours
New research from LinkedIn and the Mental Health Foundation discovered that those working from home put in an average of 28 extra hours’ work a month during lockdown. I see this with my own clients all the time. It’s all too easy to start working early, and carry on too late, when your home becomes your workplace – but this puts you at severe risk of burnout.
Just as you would at your usual physical workplace, try to set strict working hours for yourself at home too. It may be that you want to make the most of the ability to mix work and home time – and that’s fine – but if you’re starting early and finishing late, make sure you actually are taking back that time for yourself elsewhere in the day.
Perhaps this is the chance you’ve never had to actually schedule in a daily yoga class, or walk the dog – or simply take time out to learn a new skill, read, rest or enjoy an old hobby. Remember: doing nothing is perfectly acceptable!
Switching rituals are key
Now, if you’ve managed to set a working timetable for yourself, the next most important thing is to purposefully transition between work mode and home mode. There is actually great value in commuting – value we’re all currently missing – simply because it provides switching signals to the brain that work is over and our own time is about to begin.
During online workshops I’ve run in lockdown, it’s become clear that those who feel they’re winning in the WFH stakes, are those who have set clear switching rituals for themselves, in place of the usual physical commute.
So take a moment to think about what would work for you. How do you want your day to start and end? If you’re working in a room other than a designated office, make sure you pack your things away at the end of the day, to repurpose the room for leisure time. Psychologically it’s impossible to be restful if the evidence of your day’s work is sitting beside your bed, or on your coffee table. These things may seem laborious, but it’s providing a process for your brain to recognise when it’s time to wind down and switch off.
Schedule your day
When we’re working in an office – and among other people – days become effortlessly scheduled. We start and end the day at a fixed time, we may have to take a lunch break at a designated hour, and our colleagues make regular demands on our time.
At home, there can be great freedom in not being a slave to the clock, but unplanned time can also be very disorientating. Our brains thrive on routine – it helps with productivity and provides a feeling of stability. So during this unusual period, set a timetable which suits you.
Put together a structure for your working days, using this opportunity to factor in time for what you’d like to achieve each day, as well as blocking out the time you need to dedicate to your job. You’ll feel a greater sense of purpose, certainty and wellbeing.
Use the power of technology to help, not hinder
This year has forced a digital revolution like no other. Suddenly we’re au fait with all the tech, enabling us to “be together” even when we’re apart. These collaborative work tools are incredible, and mean most companies can achieve the same output remotely, as they did a fixed physical space. However, digital fatigue is a real thing.
It wasn’t until I myself fell foul of the fabled “Zoom-fatigue” that I really felt the need to be more mindful of my use of technology. Just like last week’s challenge to avoid over-consumption of news (how did that go? Do let me know!), I challenge you this week to question how much technology you really need to effectively do your job.
Virtuals meetings are wonderful resources – on occasion. But do you need yet another videocall for this discussion? Or could it be a phone conversation instead? In fact, do you really need to be in this meeting at all? Do you need to be on instant messenger all day long with your team, or could you simply check in and update at the end of the day? Could you leave your phone and laptop in another room during lunch?