If you’re anything like me and have been working from home for over a year, then maybe you too will have felt that you are losing the battle for a healthy work-life balance. At times, it feels as if my productivity is like a battery that drains at a faster rate than I’m able to recharge it. What’s interesting is that I didn’t really notice that I was starting my day significantly below 100% for a long time until I stopped and thought about it. It sneaks up on you, and without consciously taking time to switch off from work in the evenings, I found my energy and productivity were depleting more and more each day.
Let me set the scene. I’m a remote Xero Partner Consultant. I work closely with our accounting and bookkeeping partners to help them transform their businesses into efficient digital practices that are able to provide best-in-market services to their clients. In my role, I specialise in change management and service design. Before COVID-19, I was on the road a lot, spending my days presenting workshops and having face-to-face meetings with accountants and bookkeepers. I would spend one or two days in my home office catching up on admin, emails and so on. Now, since the pandemic, I spend every day in my home office and it’s back-to-back online meetings.
After realising I was working longer and longer days but, ironically, achieving less and less, I decided to do something to combat it. I’ve tried a few strategies over the past few months and I found that some things worked better than others for me. Now that things are starting to open back up again, I thought I would share the five lessons that I’ve learnt working from home to stay productive and balanced.
1. To-do lists
Tip one is having a to-do list. When you log in for the day, check your emails and your calendar. From there, you can prioritise what needs to be achieved that day and turn it into a to-do list. I personally find it’s best to get the stuff I least want to tackle done in the morning. It’s called ‘swallowing your frog’.
So create a list of what you think you need to get done that day and make sure you get the worst things out of the way early.
2. Turn off your work phone
Okay, maybe just put it on silent mode. But this is a big one!
When you finish work, it’s important to protect your personal time and allow yourself some downtime. I found that if I heard a notification ping, I would walk over to my phone and read it. This would lead me to either think about the message all evening or respond straight away. I also found that just hearing my work phone ping outside of working hours was causing me to feel really stressed.
So, silence your phone when you finish for the day to enable yourself to disconnect from work until you log back on.
3. Take your lunch break
I think we’re all guilty of this one at times. Skipping a lunch break and opting instead to eat in front of the screen can feel like the best way to get more work done, when in reality it often has the opposite effect.
I’ve found that if I take a proper lunch break and get away from my desk, when I return I have a lot more energy and a renewed focus going into the second half of the day.
You’ll be amazed at the difference that stepping away for an hour, hydrating, and generally recharging your productivity battery can make to the quality of your output. So block out that time in your calendar and make sure you take it.
4. Block out chunks of time in your calendar
A great way to stay on top of your to-do list and avoid being bogged down with meeting requests is to block out time in your calendar for tasks. You could block out some time to deal with the backlog of admin that inevitably builds up, or allow a chunk of time after a meeting to send follow-up emails.
Based on your to-do list, allocate blocks of protected time throughout your week to get admin done or clear your inbox, because we all know if someone sees a gap in your diary, they’re going to try to fill it.
5. Stand up every hour
I certainly found over lockdown that I spend way too much time sitting down. Sitting in a chair is actually an unnatural position for a human, which is why it leads to so many problems. Chronic neck, shoulder, and back pain are all common side effects, not to mention the eye strain, blurred vision, and headaches which can be caused by spending too much time looking at screens. So make sure you stand up and get away from your desk once every hour. Set a reminder or an alarm if you need to.
Get up, walk around, go and talk to someone, or make a drink. Just stretch your legs and get away from your screen. Your eyes, and the rest of your body, will thank you for it.
At their core, these tips centre around discipline and organisation. Being organised by prioritising my to-do list in the morning and then booking out time in my calendar to make sure those tasks are completed by close of play. Being disciplined about my wellbeing by taking regular breaks throughout the working day but also closing off the working day to protect my downtime.
By focusing on these simple principles, I have much more energy and greater focus. My work days are a lot more productive, so when 5 o’clock comes around, I feel satisfied with what I’ve achieved and can switch off and enjoy my evenings without feeling guilty.
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