By Sai Swaroopa Iyer
Coronavirus outbreak: "COVID-19 helping people realize that some meetings can be emails." tweeted a user, to pleasantly find her tweet going viral. Of course, it feels like a breakthrough when what took a couple of hours in the form of a meeting could actually be conveyed over a 15 minute email that cuts out needless, travel, small talk and other dependencies. On the other hand, there are many ranting on social media on how tough it is to stay productive while working from home, and how tricky the relationships hang in balance when we are in the same space for days together.
Coronavirus scare: Mothers working from home
As a mother of a toddler who has to work from home, I know how tricky things can get and how much the drop in productivity can get on one’s nerves. But with more than four years of experience in working from home which saw me writing five full length novels, a score of freelancing assignments and putting together an online novel writing course, I discovered some important process hacks that can help us wade through the tricky phase while not sacrificing our productivity. Trust me, when we follow them, most of us would be surprised to realise how we waste at least a third of our office day.
Work from home during Coronavirus scare: Don't start the day later
The failure of a WFH day starts with this. We often think that the reduced travel time can make up to the morning slack and end up starting our work later than usual. There is something to 'cramming up' the morning ablutions and errands in the early hours that sets us in a momentum required for the day. Slack here, you may lose the first half without doing much and worse, frustrated with yourself and family. Wake up at the very same time, get done with your morning tasks and finish your breakfast on time. Use what could be your travel time to plan your day.
Coronavirus scare: Task Planning with checklists
Check lists are NEVER going out of fashion. Ticking off tasks as we complete each of them lends a level of satisfaction about spending time in a fulfilling manner. Be it a simple task of sending a reminder, a courtesy call or a significant one like writing a report or a column, record every task that requires to be done for the day. But as a professional or a creative, our task lists are more complicated.
Categorise the tasks into two : Deep and Shallow
Our work tasks fall into two categories according to Cal Newport, author of Deep Work. Deep Work, according to Cal Newport, is the kind of work that helps a professional build a body of work and strengthens his core with experience. For an author, writing her manuscript is deep work. Not engaging in sufficient sessions immersed in deep work can impact a professional’s self worth. Replying to an interview questionnaire, writing a proposal, replying to a fan tweet, etc are what Cal terms as shallow work. They don’t help us build our core, but are unavoidable aspects of our daily life. A piling list of shallow work tasks can be a frustrating thing.
Once we are done with listing the tasks for the day, we need to slot them into these two categories, deep and shallow.
Coronavirus scare: Budget your time into 30 minute slots
This is the tricky part. But as we plan our monthly expenses, these tasks need to be budgeted according to the time they consume of us. Conversely, divide your work day into 30 min slots and then prioritise what needs to be done in which slot. Shallow tasks often take less than twenty minutes and can be managed alongside home errands when you are working from home.
Deep work on the other hand, needs longer undisturbed sessions that may span from 30 minutes to a couple of hours. A good work day is when you get to spend at least half of it doing deep work and the rest, clearing your shallow pile. When you work from home, it may be that your partner too needs to balance between the two. It helps to discuss and decide in such a way that your partner does his/her shallow tasks and is ready to attend to unforeseen errands during this time and you reciprocate the same during her deep work time. If you have toddlers who need parental care continually, both can plan your deep work around the child's nap time.
Balance with home errands
Home errands become 'expected' of us when we tend to work from home. It is immensely helpful to slot these too in your daily tasklist. The advantage here is that we have great 'team members' in the family. Discuss with your partner on how to share the errand burden for the day and allot time for each of them. Participating in tasks like cooking after a deep work session can be refreshing and rejuvenating.
Review your day, appreciate the support
Life does not follow a plan. But that is not an excuse to not plan. Trust me, you end up better on a planned day than you do on an unplanned one. Even if there are significant misses on the checklist. Review your day and deliberate on why a task was missed. Could be because you under budgeted the time needed or because some unforeseen things came up. Missing a task is not at all uncommon. And it matters that you know what you missed and why. Encourage other working members of the family to do the same and work on motivating each other.
Appreciate the support of your family, especially that of the partners, kids and even parents. Everyone needs a reminder that their presence and support is not a thing taken for granted, even for a day.
(Sai Swaroopa Iyer is the author of several books including 'Draupadi-Tale of an Empress'. An IITian and former analyst with a venture capital firm, the author has begun writing her next book. Views expressed in this column are the author's own.)