In this second part of our four-part series on holistic healing with her, Sandhya gives us her personal take on dealing with the workplace to home transition, and capitalising on this time to become the best version of yourself.
About four years ago, Sandhya took up a work opportunity with an American wellness company that worked across multiple time zones, but required her to work from home. Her previous maternity period aside, this was the first time in her professional run that she had to stay home, and this came with its fair share of challenges.
"I was thrilled at the thought of not having to commute, but also wary of the dynamics of working out of a busy apartment. In the first few months, to prove my productivity, I made sure I was always available, no matter the time zone. Consequently, my work day had no boundaries. I would feel guilty about taking a lunch break, and conversely, about not finding the time to order groceries or spend time with my family. I was anxious, uneasy and exhausted. Finally I decided to take a step back and had a chat with my boss. He told me that I was no help to anyone by being constantly available to everyone. While I was contributing to team discussions, new ideas and projects, he asked me never to lose focus of, and to prioritise my deliverables to the company."
Given her personal learning experience, Sandhya has ben studying productivity, WFH and working in cross-geographical teams for some years now, and has drawn a set of best practices to help boost productivity while working from home and hit the right balance between the personal and professional world.
1. Redefine the work day
We need to take a step back and redefine ‘work’ and ‘home’. The 9-5 work culture was created by Henry Ford to reduce the burden on factory workers who had to work 12 or 16-hour shifts, to keep the factories buzzing during the Industrial Revolution. We are not worker ants. But we’re still held to these hours for clock-in and clock-out. Even before WFH, this put a huge burden on public transport, power grids, and other service providers. Employees too were held almost captive, regardless of their roles, output, productivity or working styles.
2. Draw the line
Home, on the other hand is what we largely associate with distance or a switch-off from work. And now, we’re being asked to bring work home, and make our sanctuaries our workplaces. This will work only if we create a separation, either physically or functionally. Don’t eat and work, even if your dining table serves as your desk. Noise cancelling headphones are a must if you don’t have a study or are sharing one with your kid on online school. Keep your bedroom, or at least your bed sacrosanct for sleep, cuddles and love-making.
3. Define boundaries
Ask questions, create conversations, define boundaries. Many clients mention that team leaders expect them to deliver work at 11pm at night or drop emails at odd hours of the day. By keeping things undefined, we allow for seepage of work into personal time and contamination of the work hours, leading to sub-optimal productivity and lack of separation of work and personal time.
4. Make a plan
Work and life are not two options we have to choose from. Work is a part of life and once we clarify our roles, what is expected of us, and how teams and meetings will operate, we can then start to create a plan. Even if your organization does not define this, it’s helpful to do it for yourself.
5. Time management
We need to see time neither as a source of pressure nor as an endless flow. While we do save time on commutes, dressing up and social travel and other activities, we now also have a lot more domestic responsibilities and fewer support systems. This could be the norm for some time to come. Parents of school-going children, for example, have had to be present for online classes, in addition to their domestic chores and work. So account for time. We tend to underestimate how much time small chores take. Getting real about this and adding buffer times greatly reduces stress.
6. Get dressed
The jury’s out on WFH dressing – but studies do seem to suggest that getting a bit dressed up puts you in the right frame of mind for work. I’m very much in favour of this personally – just the act of showering and getting ‘dressed for work’ energises me. If I have to step into the kitchen or attend to my pets, I just put on an apron or switch to casual clothes. Switching clothes at the end of your ‘work day’ will also signal your brain to switch off from work. Studies are still on on whether getting half dressed (top half only) works just as well, but keep in mind that sweatpants are sweatpants. Your brain will associate them with slouching about.
7. Plan and delegate
Let’s control the things we can. Yes, timings, errands, school, deadlines can dictate or hijack our day, but we can be smart about things. A webinar that requires you to just listen in could be attended while you sweep the floor. Learn to let a few things go; don’t aim for perfection in the kitchen, with housekeeping, or a work report. Learn to delegate – this is a great time to get all of the family involved. A bed made by a 7-year-old will not have hospital corners, but it will teach them a valuable life skill and you the skill of letting go! Do a massive weekend cook up that will reduce your kitchen time during the week. Ask yourself if sweeping and swabbing can be done twice a week or every other day rather than every day.
8. Quiet time
Allocate some quiet time – this is a must. We actually do get thinking time on our commutes, travels or just when we’re alone in the office. Recreate that for yourself over a quiet coffee or a daily walk – the mind needs rest.
9. Stay connected
Make time for socialisation – we’re now learning just how important social interaction is. Other people help us balance out our emotions and social bonds help keep us grounded. Reaching out to an elderly aunt who lives alone or making time for some volunteer work will also greatly take our mind off our preoccupation with negative thoughts or anxiety that many of us experience, especially during these times.
10. Stick to a schedule
Don’t treat WFH as holiday time or weekend work – 3 hours of Netflix means something else has ‘gotta give’. Sleep is essential to productivity, managing stress and having a clear mind. Don’t sacrifice this precious resource to the electronic Gods!
Finally, take a long view of life…see what you would like your life to look like 5, 10 or 20 years from now. And do a reset to make space for all things that are important to you. This life is the only one you have. Let’s make it count!