The morning commute used to signal the dread repetition of the eat-sleep-work-repeat cycle, but in hindsight it was something to look forward to. You donned those prized noise cancelling headphones, turned your Drill playlist up to Cleared For Take Off volume and it was the cue to your slumbering brain that it was game-time, you were entering the part of the day when you earned your corn.
Now, for many of us, the rhythm of that transition has been somewhat disrupted – either reduced in frequency to a couple of times of week or wiped out altogether. Now that the commute is gone, that separation between states of mind have been washed away. Spotify has reported that compared to the very start of the year, the time people spend listening to music is down between 10 to 20 per cent. We’re not listening to music on our commute because the commute has gone and so has the balance between home and work life.
Now that we are not passing border checkpoints between activities, many of us have found ourselves working longer hours to signal that we’re engaged. One survey of US workers by NordVPN suggested that since the Great Hometime the average worker has been clocking up an additional three hours of work per day. In the UK, France, Spain and Canada, the working day has extended by an average of two hours, with many people starting work earlier than usual. We’re picking up our devices to do work because in the new world we’re at work longer than ever before.
As a response, many are finding that using a daily ritual as their act of separation helps. Wellness apps have evolved a lot over the last couple of years and even if you previously found that mindfulness wasn’t for you, apps such as and Calm offer coaching lessons and relaxation aids that can help those of us who found our personal zen state to be elusive to pin down. Using one of these daily interventions can help us transition into (and out of) work mode.
If your biggest challenge is actually getting anything done when there are children in the room next to you, then Forest is a satisfying twist on the Pomodoro method of productivity. Coming in classic mobile or shiny new Chrome app versions, Forest rewards each 25 minutes of uninterrupted concentration with a beautiful pixelated tree to sit in your own gamified woodland. Being able to emerge from 2020 with a rainforest to show for it may well prove to be better than nothing if you have to console yourself over your first Zoom Christmas lunch.
Venturing further into the distraction-blocking world is clearly something to discuss with your colleagues, for fear of them sending search parties out for you. Firstly, science tells us resolutely that distractions are bad for us getting things done. Multiple research studies have suggested that every interruption to our thinking clouds our cognition for between eight and 20 minutes. If your personal objective is to emerge from a day with something to show for it then plugins such as Freedom could be the way to go. Freedom lets you block whatever you choose, from social media alerts, to chat notifications and emails. It works on the basis that turning all of those dopamine spraying distractions off can make you feel like work is your last remaining waking option. But – heads up – if you’re about to go dark from colleagues for hours on end do flag your absence up to your virtual desk buddies, as a global pandemic might not be the moment to go AWOL.
Maybe your personal challenge isn’t drowning the din of the world out, but wanting to let some noise from it in. The solitary isolation of working via your screen can be compounded by the eerie silence of Zoom calls. Gone are the polite giggles and the applause in Meeting Room 4, replaced by a series of muted video squares and staring faces. Online meetings strip the social signals that tell us that despite our sleepless night of angst, the big presentation has actually gone okay. Maybe it’s worth making a team suggestion that you adopt the system of Zoom semaphore popular with distributed activist groups. This is a series of hand gestures that work even when muted in video chats’ gallery view. Two palms up means “yes I agree”, two palms down signals “hell no”, wiggled fingers tells the presenter “I don’t understand”. It’s a versatile way to fill a video call audience with a bit of feedback. And it’s filled with colourful options, depending on how heated things get in the weekly status call one furious clenched fist signals “over my dead body”.
Staying in a positive frame of mind is the surest way to stay productive. If that doesn’t work then maybe it’s worth listening to the advice of work-from-home veteran, Peter Robinson, creator of the website, Popjustice. His eternal wisdom to those not venturing out into the big bad world to do their work is, at the very least, to wear shoes.
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