Maintaining Our Health While Working From Home

Work-life balance is a tricky thing when you are working at home. There are plenty of distractions: kids needing attention, chores that need to be done, and so on. There’s also the constant need to prove that you’re working amidst the potential threat of being laid off from work since many still believe that working from home breeds lower productivity. If anything, it’s actually the opposite and maintaining our health becomes a challenge as work piles on.

Companies like NordVPN have released analytics showing that people are logging into emails earlier in the morning and later at night. Suddenly you’re cancelling your morning routine for an impromptu meeting. Because of the myth that everyone must be free now that traveling to work is non-existent, designated work time is ignored. You are there before work is scheduled to start, and you are there past the time when it’s supposed to end. This is detrimental to any efforts being made towards maintaining our health.

Following this pandemic, there are predictions stating that this would usher in a new age of work arrangements that are more flexible. Many would consider continuing working from home but are we ready for this? What of our health and our balance of living when work is a constant presence at home? Aside from the usual eating healthy, exercising, and having leisure time, what can we do to ensure that work stays within work hours?

Bringing Back the 9-5

The definition of Parkinson’s Law is this: work expands to fill the time available for its completion. It means that if you give yourself a day to complete something that can be done in two hours, that task will take you a day. Why does it take longer for us to complete a task now compared to when we are at work? This is because going to work had a schedule. You start work at 9am, and when 5pm rolls around, you’re ready to get home. Therefore, any tasks that you can realistically complete within the day, you would have already completed them.

This should be practiced when we are working at home as well. Most of the time, we overestimate how much time is needed for tasks because we want to give ourselves buffer time. However, sometimes that results in us taking longer than we actually need. To combat that, try and break your tasks down and start working on them within the allotted time frame. It would be beneficial to take note of how much time each task consumes so so you’d have a better grasp for the next time you have to complete something similar. Pay attention to the execution process as well so you can weed out the unnecessary in future attempts.

As an overview, Parkinson’s Law is more about observation. Once you familiarize yourself by studying your habits, you will save yourself a lot of time, anxiety and worry about unfinished tasks. In turn, it will also benefit your personal mental and physical health that will affect how you approach your attempts at maintaining a healthier lifestyle.

Zeigarnik Effect

The following explanation for the Zeigarnik Effect may sound contradictory to the previous Parkinson’s Law, but when we get into the details, it actually helps us accomplish much more. When paired with the Parkinson’s Law, you may find that productivity increases and you have a clearer mind.

The Zeigarnik Effect occurs when you start on a task, but have yet to finish it. The effect kicks in when your mind starts ruminating on the incomplete tasks while you are doing something else. In studies on human memory, it’s shown that when you repeatedly think a task, you tend to remember it better. Sounds like common sense, right? So how do you use this knowledge to your own advantage?

To get the most out of this effect, write a list of the task that you need to complete. It could be part of a bigger project where you need to break it down to smaller, less cumbersome items. Once you are done with planning, start by completing one or two task if you find it hard to approach the project with full force. When you are taking a break, your mind is likely going to think about the incomplete task. However, instead of having a vague sense of needing to complete your project, you now have specific steps that you can follow that will bring you closer towards completing the bigger picture.

Planning is important because it reduces ambiguity and anxiety, and helps knowing what needs to be done next when you come back. Regardless of how you decide to plan, whether it’s making a physical to-do list or using a reminder app, it paints a clearer “future” picture. By doing at least a little bit, you build up your self-esteem and motivation to complete the remaining ones.

How do both of these tie up together?

Combining the above two theories works best at the end of the workday before you clock off and wind down. Start by summarizing tasks that you’ve completed for the day and you will have a solid piece of information showing your progress. Instead of feeling inadequate, you now have a piece of paper in front of you displaying what you have accomplished. Then move on to planning for the next day: make your list, and then assign time frames to each item within your work hours.

Lastly, make sure you declutter your workspace as well at the end of your workday as this will help you start your next morning focused and distraction-free. It also helps keeping work out of reach and having it ruin the schedule you’ve set for yourself when you turn your computer on again to unwind by playing games or watching Netflix.

Working at home may sound like paradise to most people. What’s not to like when you get flexibility of timing within the comfort of your own home, right? However, it can also prove a challenge to our mental and physical health when work is a constant presence at home. When you apply practical self-care methods, you’ll come away with a more rewarding work-life balance and a better well-being to avoid overworking and burn out.

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