More than ever now, people are having to work from home for part, or all of the week. Such flexibility can be an advantage, but many people often find themselves wasting or losing time. This is because time management involves managing complex relationships and conflicts within ourselves as well as with others. Poor time management is one of the most common barriers to productivity under normal circumstances, but now we are operating in strange times. Working from home during a pandemic means that we must now juggle our typical job duties with childcare and home-school responsibilities, the distractions of a partner who is also working from home, as well as the added mental burdens that come with life during a pandemic.
In an ordinary workplace, our time management is aided by the fact that our access to many temptations is limited. We don’t have to constantly monitor ourselves as our colleagues or bosses are likely to be doing so. We are free, albeit temporarily, from our immediate childcare or other caregiving responsibilities. We are at the office for seven to nine hours, away from partners, relatives, friends and the well-intended disruptions that they may bring. We have already developed a time management system, mentally allocating our working hours towards whatever tasks we need to accomplish, and, being relatively free from social and mental distractions, zip through our daily projects by the end of each day. With work aside, when we leave the office at 5:00 p.m. we are then ready to fully resume our roles as spouse, parent, sibling, friend etc.
While working from home frees us from the hassles of the traditional work setting, it also means that our sense of discipline and time management skills will be put to the test. Working from home provides excellent opportunities for both productivity and distraction as it saves us time and energy commuting but also keeps us in close proximity to a host of social and mental distractions.
Working from home can become detrimental to our quality and quantity of work and it can be surprisingly tough. A partner on endless noisy phone calls, a child who needs help with homework, the loss of structure and continuity – can all be disorienting and exhausting. Working from home in isolation can also prevent people from engaging in the daily interpersonal relationships that working life can offer, and which can help boost creativity and improve our mental wellbeing. Then there are the temptations: food is in the fridge or can be bought in a quick trip to the store, while excitement of all kinds can be easily accessed through social media, websites or games. For some, the temptations to use their time poorly can be very seductive.
At any moment we must struggle to maintain a delicate balance between: our creative, constructive side; the side which seeks easier gratification and mindlessness; the feelings of loneliness and isolation of being away from co-workers; and the external interferences that come with the typical home/family environment. On the other hand, not having to go to the office can offer surprising opportunities to save time, develop a better work-life balance and to tailor our working day to suit our own individual levels of concentration and productivity. We just have to find new ways of managing internal and external distractions and scheduling our time and tasks to maximise productivity.
Take seriously the possibility of re-creating something of a workplace at home by setting aside an area away from the usual relaxation space and setting designated, but limited, working hours. This does not necessarily require a separate room as the same can be done in a quiet corner of the living room for example, where you can set up a small area with all your work tools. Try to set out blocks of time throughout the day when you are “off-limits” to friends and family, and use these blocks of time to chip away at tasks that require greater energy and focus. Also think about what can be done to re-establish some of the typical workplace time management opportunities by involving others in your deadlines, arranging progress meetings and, most importantly, limiting your access to distractions by stepping away from social media for periods during the day. That way, you’ll be more likely to finish tasks on time as you maintain the usual channels of accountability and isolate yourself from social distractions.
Working from home does not have to mean fruitlessly juggling work assignments, caregiving responsibilities, social media and other online distractions amidst the noise of a busy family environment. It can be a great time-saver as the daily commute is reduced to zero and can be an excellent opportunity to capitalise on our personal highs-and-lows of focus and productivity as we become free to set our own work schedules. The sudden shift to working remotely isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as we learn how to manage our time.
Contributor: Sadiyah Mohammed