Some of us have had plenty of experience balancing the demands of working in the home environment. However, the current phenomena of physical distancing, stay at home and remote work are a new and complex experience for a number of individuals. It is normal to experience struggles with concentration, focus, productivity, balancing work and life, and mood when transitioning to a new work environment. This transitional stress is real, as our brains are finely tuned learning machines which differentiate our behaviors, actions and experiences based on our contexts, which includes our environment. Research has reliably demonstrated that students who study in the rooms or environments in which a test will be administered predictably recall information more quickly and accurately and have higher test scores compared to those who study in a different environment. Based on this, it makes sense that a switch of work environment from your typical building, office, desk, computer/laptop and other daily experiences will predictably create some decrease in effectiveness and productivity initially. However, the concept of neuroplasticity reveals that our brain is exceptionally adaptable. Using learning theory and leveraging the power of the brain, we are able to take some steps to cope with this transitional stress and decrease the time it takes for our brain to adapt to and thrive in this new way of working. To improve your concentration, focus, work/life balance and mood consider the following strategies:
- Follow a Routine that is Similar to your Work at Office Routine - If your typical pre work routine includes something (showering, changing, gathering materials, filling a thermos with coffee, reading news) consider doing something similar when working from home.
- Create physical and symbolic boundaries between work and home - as a Mental Health Therapist, one of the most important aspects of our work is creating boundaries between our work, our home and personal life. This is essential in doing our best work for clients. Many therapists have a special outfit, set of clothing, or an item (scarf, vest, necklace) that is reserved only for use during client work. Some even switch chairs when doing therapeutic work and administrative work to create clear boundaries. Creating an intentional space for your work, dedicated only to work time and not towards rest,play and/or home tasks will also increase focus/concentration and reduces the "blur" effect that happens at times between work and home. Additionally, although it feels great to wear "comfy" clothes at home while working, wearing just one item that signifies your "working hat" is on can improve effectiveness as well.
- Work in similar ways - How did you start your day - did you check in with your team, check email, create a list of tasks or review unfinished work? How long of a chunk did you work before taking a break? When did you eat lunch or meals? How often did you collaborate and/or work with teammates? What tools or strategies did you use throughout your day? When did you end your day and how? Try to create similar ways of working while in your home office.
- Attend to creating a productive environment - The most difficult part of working in the home environment is distractions. When we work where we live there are urges to connect with the people around us, finish that one last thing we needed to pick up or organize or clean, watch that Netflix show that only takes 20 minutes, check to be sure our family is doing what they are supposed to be......and the list goes on. Create an environment in which distractions are at a minimum. Ideally, an isolated room with a door that closes, white noise machines to drown out sound if it is distracting, a desk and dedicated tools that are used only for work and not for pleasure (like gaming, TV, scrapbooking, etc.) will assist in maintaining focus on tasks of work.
- Have patience with yourself - While you may employ many of these strategies, it may also be difficult given the difficulty in our world. Be patient with this major shift to working in a new environment. All of us are experiencing a major amount of stress and a disruption to our normal homeostasis. It makes sense if you are struggling, many of us are. Be kind to yourself and know you are doing the best you can at the moment. Self compassion increases our ability to cope and shift to more workable ways of doing in our life. Self criticism, judgement and guilt tend to keep us stuck and depleted.