Contributed by: Head of School, Chettinad Sarvalokaa Education International School
When it comes to managing time while working from home, your workspace is a powerful tool. It's the physical and the mental boundary that you create between work and your personal life. As much as possible, you want to keep working in your workspace. Your workspace is the home for work and the home for everything else is, well, everything outside of that workspace.
Processing is the act of deciding what you're going to do with something, when you're going to do it, and where its home is. Processing begins when you take one item out of a gathering point. A gathering point is a place where unresolved, unprocessed items gather. For instance, an inbox or an email inbox. When working from home, processing takes a slightly different flavour. I strongly recommend you process both personal and career-related items at the same time. Your time spent processing will be reduced because you'll get into a solid rhythm and you'll be able to see the relationship between both work and personal demands on your calendar.
Time management and tools go hand in hand. If I were a contractor, I would want to make sure that all the people working for me had the best hammer, the best saw, the best ladders that they needed in order to build a house. When working from home, you're likely not building a house, but you are using tools every single day. Your monitor, your keyboard, your mouse. Even things like a stapler or scissors or drafting board. Your mindset should be to get the best possible tool that you can afford.
Many people who work from home feel they have no boundary. Rather than working fewer hours while at home, they work more. Working endlessly like this is a bit like being a hamster running on a continuous treadmill. Let's get you off that treadmill and get you into the mindset of a race. Unlike a treadmill, a race has a starting line and a finish line. There is a clear beginning point and a clear endpoint. You also want to create a clear starting line and a clear finish line to your day.
Typically, there's a great deal of freedom and flexibility. You want to take that freedom and flexibility and make a conscious choice about your working hours and then stick to them. Let's start at the beginning of the race. What is your starting line? To answer this question, think about your sleep and health needs. The average person needs about seven to nine hours per night to function in a healthy manner each day. The more consistent you can be when you get these hours of sleep, the better the benefit of sleep will be to you.
When you take a break to do something relaxing and enjoyable, it releases just a little bit of natural dopamine into your body. That dopamine motivates you, pushes you forward, and makes it easier to learn new things. By taking fun, meaningful breaks, your performance improves over time. Yet, all too often, when people work from home, they deprive themselves continuously. They tell themselves that fun is something that they get when they earn it, that after a project is complete, I'll be able to relax. Doing this degrades performance over time. It makes you less likely to find success. Instead, you want to make it a top priority to take meaningful breaks on a consistent basis, especially when you work from home.
When you have a long-distance work relationship, it can be tempting to view those that you work with in a transactional manner. What I mean is that rather than seeing other people as human beings with a unique personality, you begin to view them as names with email addresses, human vending machines that if you put in a certain input, you get a certain result back. This mindset is almost counterintuitively unproductive. It may be helpful to be quick and get to the point for lots of small tasks. However, when it is time to collaborate with others or to get their buy-in for your ideas, if you haven't taken just a little bit of time to build and maintain a relationship with them, you'll likely find the communication to be slow and difficult. You may even find yourselves at odds with each other because of an underlying lack of respect. On the other hand, when you take time to build relationships, collaboration becomes more interesting, more insightful, and more productive.
Working from home can be a challenge regardless of your life situation especially if you have your loved ones or children at home. Many people also have pets who share their workspace. In the same way, that freedom is a blessing and a curse for you working from home, the freedom creates opportunities and potential confusion for those you live with. This is why it's especially important to establish boundaries for you with them.
Come in with an open mindset, so that you can find a middle ground when needed. If you're talking to an adult, this will be a fairly simple conversation in which you're just negotiating the hours and perhaps making some small adjustments to accommodate their needs. In this conversation, what you're looking for is agreement. Agreement in terms of when you will be working and when you will not be working, and be available to them. At the end, you should make a commitment to them that you will honour that agreement. It's also reasonable to ask them to make a commitment to you, that they will also honour that agreement in turn.