How to stop working long hours when working from home

Did you start lockdown with adrenaline-fuelled intentions about what you were going to do with all your spare time now you were working from home? And are you now finding that spare time you had from not commuting, not travelling, not doing the school run or being your children’s taxi service has failed to materialise? Instead has this spare time has been replaced by working long hours at your temporary desk? It’s something which we are hearing from many of our clients and contacts unused to working from home. They are telling is they want to stop working long hours now they are working from home. The reality is it is very easy to slip into working incredibly long hours from home. And that’s with or without needing to sit in on endless conference calls and video meetings! It appears you are not alone, from stats collated it appears that the average length of a working day has increased by 2 hours in most countries since lockdown started. So in this article I wanted to share with you some tips and techniques to stop working long hours and make sure your work doesn’t take over your life when you are working from home.

Put the structure back into your day

In our recent article on how to adjust to working from home we talked about the importance putting a structure and routine into your working day. Otherwise, what happens is that work can easily drift into all of your day, and it becomes nigh on impossible to stop working long hours. Add in the distractions of kids, housemates and partners also being at home, it can be very difficult to stay focused and productive when working. With the net impact of your working day starts to consume every waking moment of your day. I am guessing exactly what you didn’t intend to happen when you started working from home?

At the very simple level you want to put a start and end time to your working day. This is huge if you want to stop working long hours when working from home. Then create a set of rituals or habits which signal to you and your brain that your working day is starting and ending. For example, before you get going you could review your diary and decide on what really needs to get done and when it will get done. At the end of the working day you could clear down your email and identify your priorities for the next working day. When setting up these new habits the key is to give yourself a reward when you have done the these new routines.

Use your recovered commute time productively

I’ve met so many people who had lofty ambitions that they would have learnt a new skill or tackled a major home-based project after a month into lockdown. These same people are also now pretty frustrated that their adrenaline-filled good intentions have not turned into reality. For many of us the commuting time was also our thinking time. Time when we could disconnect from family as we went into work and time we could disconnect from work when we went home. How about using your commute time to signal when work starts and finishes, but use it effectively. For example, exercises or reading a book or completing some personal development. As I may have mentioned many times before life isn’t a dress rehearsal. We only get one go at it. So, take a moment to consider how you can use the 1-4 hours of commuting or travelling time you have saved more productively.

Set short-term goals to keep you focused

Goals are great for helping to create short-term accountability and bursts of performance. That’s why the software industry has pioneered the use of ‘sprints’ where whole teams come together for up to 90 days to take giant steps forward with a software update or new feature or new piece of coding. We recommend that you set a goal of one thing you are going to get done in a day, and one priority you are going to achieve in a week. If you can put this goal so it is visible and in your eye line during the day it can really help to focus your mind on what matters.

Create blocks of time

Most of us have many more calls on our time than when we just had to go into the office to work. There is our partners still expecting the same productivity and output as if we were in the office. Then potentially the requirement to keep children safe and occupied. Add on the additional home chores which have now come our way, we are being pulled into many, many, many different directions. Creating blocks of time where you just focus on one thing, such as 30 mins of emails, 2 hours of deep thinking time on client work, 1 hour on phone calls to catch up with the juniors in your team etc, is a great way to keep yourself focused on what really needs to get done. Ideally these blocks of time should be focused on one thing or one priority. Multi-tasking really doesn’t work.

Probably the most important thing about creating blocks of time is to put an end time on each block. When will you finish working is so important, otherwise your working day just drifts into your whole day.

Set expectations with colleagues, clients and partners about your working hours

For most people this working from home thing is very new. Any of the more extroverted members of your team may be struggling with the lack of people around them. (They will be the ones ringing up in the afternoon for a chat more often than not!) Regardless of your levels of introversion or extroversion if you don’t set boundaries about when you are working or not working, you’ll soon find yourself always working and at your work and clients’ beck and call. Of course there always needs to be some flexibility, but take the time to let people know good times to get in contact with you, and times when you are not available.

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