How to be more productive (and stay sane) while working from home
Ideas and perspectives for adapting to the new normal of working from home.
[Day 19 of #30dayschallenge to post an article everyday for 30 days]
I started a new job in April this year and have been working from home for more than four months now.
If you’ve been following some of my posts, you’ll know that I get a bit obsessive-compulsive about how I spend my time.
Mainly because I’m lazy, and like to have as much free time as possible to relax and do things that I enjoy.
Now that we’re back in COVID-19 Lockdown 2.0 and will be working from home for the next foreseeable future, I thought I’d share some of my ideas and perspectives on how to be more productive (and stay sane) while working from home.
Adopt a continuous improvement mindset
Most of us are familiar with the idea of continuously improving our processes at work.
We can apply the same mindset to our own routines and find ways to optimise the repeatable processes that we do every day.
Lean Six Sigma, for example, uses a framework to categorise activities into value-added, non-value added, and non-value added but necessary activities.
- Value-added activities — these are activities that add-value to our lives — e.g. exercising, solving problems, completing projects, etc.
- Non-value added activities — these are activities that are non-value added such as complaining, getting upset or angry, mindlessly surfing the internet or social media feeds.
- Non-value added but necessary activities — these are activities that are non-value adding but necessary as it enables the value-adding activities — e.g. housework, filing emails and information away so that it is easily retrievable, paying your internet and utility bills.
It should be pretty self-explanatory that we want to increase value-added and non-value added activities.
For non-value added but necessary activities, we want to see if we can optimise, delegate or outsource.
For example, because my family has gotten used to having me being at home for the last two years, they also got used to having me do to the bulk of the housework at home (or what I call “learned helplessness”).
After I started working full-time again, things were beginning to fall between the cracks and I have grumpy kids asking why their laundry weren’t done, or dinner not prepared.
Because I’ve already optimised most of our household chores, there’s really not that much to do if everyone did their bit.
So I gently reminded my family that things have changed and un-delegate myself from doing their chores.
And when neither of myself or my husband can drive the kids around, or can’t be bothered to cook dinner, we now outsource these to Uber and Uber Eats.
Manage your stakeholders
Similarly, most of us who work in large organisations are familiar with the concept of managing our stakeholders.
It’s also common for many people to compartmentalise their life into — work, family & friends, and personal time.
I think in the new normal of working from home, what many of us are struggling with is the blurring of the boundaries — because we’ve never had to juggle all those things at once.
It’s therefore important to take a step back and understand the needs of all your stakeholders, as well as your own boundaries and bandwidth.
If we continue with the housework example, since my circumstances have changed and I now have added responsibilities (to my employer), my ability to be the chief household-chores-doer has also diminished.
I communicated these changes to my stakeholders at home, outlined what it would mean for them, and we agreed to share the load more evenly so that our household could function more smoothly.
Finding your operating rhythm
A few years ago I started noticing the term “operating rhythm” creeping into the corporate vernacular.
Unlike most jargon, I actually quite like this one because it feels flow-ey, and I am reminded of how beautiful music is made when rhythms come together.
So I started to pay more attention to operating rhythms — both within my own teams and also with stakeholders.
What is an operating rhythm?
isixsigma defines operating rhythm as a set of pre-defined process of communication and interactions that should be present between different departments to ensure that the flow of operations is not interrupted and is controlled as intended.
Pretty dry definition — don’t you think?
I did another google search and found another definition from chiefmaker.com that I like more:
Operating rhythm is the drumbeat of your team, it is the rhythm that keeps everyone focused and united, and creates time to do all the right thinking required.
Now we’re talking.
In my lingo, I think of operating rhythm as the minimum amount of regular communication/intervention that keeps everything ticking along nicely.
It is about listening and paying attention. It is about balance and finding that sweet spot so that things flow — seemingly effortlessly. It is about syncing our rhythms with other people or other teams.
Since we can no longer neatly compartmentalise the separate parts of our life, rather than try to optimise each part, I’d suggest that a more effective approach is to look at your life holistically, and find an operating rhythm that works for you — and your work and family.
I’m lucky that my kids are a bit more grown-up now and can manage their schoolwork and part-time work.
If my kids were younger, I imagine that one way that we keep in sync is to align our schedules so we all do “quiet time/work” together, “snack and play times/coffee breaks” together, and maybe even sneak in an “afternoon nap” together.
Again, let me emphasise that my kids are older now, and I can only imagine how difficult it must be for those parents who are currently juggling full-time work and home-schooling/childcare.
So I’m not saying that it’s easy, or advocating a specific solution.
We’re all wired differently and are faced with different situations.
No one outside can understand our situation better than ourselves.
Sometimes when we can’t change our situation, changing the way we look at things might help.
Let’s find a way to make it work. Together.
I hope you find the above perspectives to be useful.
I’m constantly tinkering and coming up with new ideas, and will be sharing more of these as part of my #30dayschallenge and beyond.
I’d love to hear from you about the adaptations that you’ve made as you navigate the new normal.
Please feel free to add a comment, or reach out to me privately.