14 days was the magical number. You self-isolate for 14 days and the risks are lower. The number then switched to 21 and suddenly, 30 days later you are still working from home. The initial hopes of returning to lunch with colleagues, water-cooler breaks and a comfortable work desk have disappeared amidst the uncertainty of living in lockdown. Add to that, when multiple self-proclaimed clairvoyants claim work from home as the future, you have little choice but to accept that the temporary may be longer than expected.
It is time to embrace being indoors and make it work. This is not a post about seven nifty productivity apps that you need to install on your phone or the 15 hacks to make work from home more productive. There are enough of those out there.
This post is about destroying three popular recommendations and figuring what one can do instead.
Sticking to the old routines:
There is nothing more frustrating that spending weeks waking up at the same time, putting on your best clothes, slapping on lipstick and walking to your dining table pretending that you are headed to work only to find yourself slumping minutes later. It took me two weeks to realize that I needed to kick the pretense and find myself a new routine.
Suddenly I was working in my pajamas, not wearing makeup and taking noon naps. I could afford to wake up earlier or later and not synchronize waking hours to the traffic schedule. In short, the moment I rejected the advice of maintaining old sleep schedules, dressing up for work and staying true to my old routine, my productivity skyrocketed. I also found a way to build in time to cook, wash, mop, and exercise.
Yes, I was working until much later in the evening but the total number of hours stayed the same.
The part about building a routine is true, it helps with productivity and just keeping sane but it does not have to be the pre-COVID routine. It could be a brand new one that involves pajamas and letting your skin breathe.
This is a big one. The world around me seemed to imply that my employer and I were both being irresponsible if we were not using this opportunity to upskill. I am already learning plenty as a consequence of changes at work. How I use the rest of my time is really up to me. It is no different now than it was before. I can use my discretionary time to learn a musical instrument, pick up a solo sport or do nothing. Yes, the organization can choose to expand offerings but mandatory training have only evoked more revolt than happiness. The lockdown could also likely leave someone with an epiphany that they have been in the wrong career all along.
Bottom line – do what you want to do. Yes, not learning may leave you with regrets but that would have happened even if there had not been a pandemic. And organizations – learning is an individual’s prerogative. It is helpful to widen the offerings but it is not a good time to force them to learn or make them feel guilty for not doing so.
A dedicated workspace:
I believed this to be very valid advice until I discovered that it wasn’t. My interpretation of the advice was that your effectiveness is at its peak when you have a work desk, chair and the complete works. Of course, since we were put under lockdown with little prior notice, that wasn’t a luxury I could manage so my dining table doubled up as my workspace.
The advice was still valid. My dining table was my dedicated workspace. Then suddenly, summer decided to turn up its activity by a notch and I had to move my workspace to a cooler area. I realized that I was just as effective. Just to be sure, over the next one week I worked from my kitchen, from the stairs in my hall, took a few calls from the balcony and realized that effectiveness was not a function of space.
Comfort was a function of space.
Were some areas more comfortable than others? Sure.
Were they more effective? Not so sure.
The advice assumes that one has the luxury of space and the absence of kids/animals to be able to create a dedicated workspace. In reality, one just occupies whatever space is available. Just pick a space where you will be uninterrupted and can focus. It can be a different space every day.
It is easy to be overwhelmed with the endless stream of advice on how to be more productive. On the other hand, there is an equally large movement on how to stop feeling guilty about squandering away hours watching Netflix. Either ways, these are confusing time with different things working for different people. Find your own rhythm to dance to. This too shall pass. Until then, just stay indoors.