Life Hacks by Charles Assisi: Winning the work-from-home war
Find ways to ease into your day, ask co-workers for space when you need it, delegate all you can to tech.
As we continue to work from home with no foreseeable end in sight, more people are reporting feeling stressed and stretched. Interruptions from family, lack of space, an assumption by colleagues that we are on call 24x7 and patchy internet connectivity are among the most common pain points.
When I embraced working from home a few years ago, after the initial euphoria, I hit roadblocks too. One big one was that, at work, my mind was in a certain zone with certain people; at home, it moved into another zone, with another set of people. Now, here I was, expected to juggle both roles, both sets of tasks and, most importantly, both personas. The two worlds I had otherwise moved between seamlessly went to war with each other.
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Eventually, some measure of peace was restored. And I learnt a few things in the process.
Take your time: Among the best pointers I was offered early on was that I must “get into the zone” to work. By way of analogy, think of Roger Federer. To fans such as me, his game is magic. But sports journalists vow it isn’t just Federer’s genius at work when he plays, but the routine of a man who knows how to regain focus. Each time his situation on the court is altered, he acknowledges it and begins to quickly work out what it will take to get him back to where he wants to be. It sounds easy, but it isn’t.Most of us respond to altered circumstances by complaining, getting distracted or frustrated, losing interest and wasting time.
Get into the zone: I have found that the days on which I have functioned best are days when I followed a routine to get into the zone. My first step is to acknowledge reality and work around it. Because the world doesn’t care what I think.
My second step is to treat myself to a little peace in the mornings. I don’t look at email or social media for about two hours after waking up. Instead, I use a respirometer or lung exerciser to help me start my day by breath-ing in and out for at least two minutes. This helps deliver oxygen through the body faster and trains the lungs to breathe deeper and slower — something most knew to do as kids, but have forgotten about. This helps keep calmer in the long run as well. It is followed by a cold shower and masala chai. I am now ready to work.
Negotiate for time: It took a few rounds of conversations with everyone at home to ensure that I was left alone at certain hours. It’s not a foolproof system — my youngest daughter doesn’t understand it all, and I’ve come to accept that she may wander in with questions when I’m trying to focus on something. My colleagues, meanwhile, know that I ought to be left alone after certain hours and over the weekends. They trust me and I trust them. If my physical absence compelled my colleagues to check in on me all the time, I would consider the workplace a toxic one.
Work smart: Once at work, notifications from all apps are turned off. Colours on the phone are permanently set to grayscale (studies have shown this is far less distracting). I’d much rather have technology manage the back-end while I work. Here are a few pointers on how.
Depending on what phone you use, decide between Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and Outlook Calendar. Connect your calendar to IFTTT (ifttt.com), which stands for ‘if this then that’. When a certain action occurs, such as receiving and accepting a calendar invite, you can now set it to trigger a chain of events. Such as, remind you at a certain hour that a meeting is coming up, inform others on your team you will be unavailable then. Much else is possible. It’s not perfect, but works well for most tasks.
I’m a power user of the premium version of Evernote (evernote.com). Notion (notion.so) made its debut recently and looks impressive. Try the free versions of all and settle on what works best for you.
While at work, if a distracting thought, task or hyperlink encroaches, you can make a quick note of it on any of these tools. They have plug-ins that can be embedded directly in your browser. When they remind you later, it may turn out that what had seemed urgent and riveting, was actually trivial.
The mind likes to play tricks. It’s up to us to keep up.
The writer is co-founder at Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect