As many of us are now taking to working from home in growing numbers, some for the very first time, the absence of structure can start to wreak havoc with our productivity levels – not to mention taking a toll on our collective mental health.
Working independently with more fluid and unaccounted for schedules can prompt episodes of doubt, worry, procrastination, and in extreme cases, lead to learned helplessness. It’s only natural: our minds have evolved to take notice of distractions and meditate on worst-case scenarios. But in the absence of structure this evolutionary trait that once kept us safe during more dangerous periods can prove harmful to our wellbeing, making it difficult to maintain focus on the tasks in hand.
Studies in resiliency, particularly during periods of change, encourage keeping a routine to your day, and those of us with children will understand just how important schedules can be. For my family, whiteboards help provide the visual prompts to help us commit throughout the day to the routines we set ourselves in the morning.
As well as reducing decision fatigue from figuring out where to begin, or what to do next, the regularity of completing routine tasks delivers a satisfying sense of control and can keep unwanted rumination at bay. Plus, for me personally, routines add a helpful cadence to my workflow that can keep me on track from the moment my morning alarm goes off to my end-of-day mental check-in, where I plan for success tomorrow.
Retired US Admiral William H. McRaven knows a thing or two about routines and self-discipline in his 34 years as a Navy Seal. His tip for changing the world – or just getting your day off to a good start – is to begin every morning by making your bed. In my own life, I’ve found that building this small routine into each day can have powerful upshots.
By making my bed, I’ve already achieved the first task of the day, which soon inspires another and another, and serves to remind me that small daily wins really do lead to greater triumphs. In fact, some of the most successful people of the past and present – Steve Jobs, Ernest Hemingway, Elon Musk – have all shared a common routine to kick-start each day: getting up at the same time.
We may think that these standard daily rituals – having breakfast, taking a shower, and getting dressed – are less important when we’re working from home. But perhaps they’re even more important! That’s because these routines build the momentum that will maintain our productivity and focus throughout the day, and when practised consistently, can make it habit.
Need more convincing? Well, while not everything can be scheduled perfectly, following bushcraft expert Ray Mears’s wilderness adventures has taught me that focusing on the essentials is key to surviving new and even extreme environments; those in Ray’s television programmes may be far tougher than our own homes, but the principle remains. When faced with the removal of recognisable structure in our lives – when working from home, this can be commutes, agendas, social interaction – he stresses that maintaining a ‘never give up’ mindset is key.
So setting up a basic routine for your essential activities can help you retain presence of mind, avoid sinking into a state of learned helplessness, and ensure your most important processes are tended to, as well as buying time to learn more and adapt ever-better to the new situation.
Of course, sticking to routines can be easier said than done, which is where some simple tech tricks can come in handy. Recognising that the conscious part of our minds can only focus on a handful of tasks at a time, it can make sense to outsource any dispensable brainpower wherever possible. I like to make good use of smartphone timers and voice assistants to help me power through my work at set times, and of course there is my trusty desktop scanner to help me quickly organise any paper based admin that comes my way. Receipts, invoices, or even just memos – being able to quickly and simply digitise the content on a regular basis stops my desk (and mind) from becoming distracted or overwhelmed by clutter, and besides – the more we automate, the less we need to do.
So for me, taking action through routines not only sets me up for making progress each day, it also reinforces a sense of control, staving off feelings of doubt and rumination which can become all too common when working from home in a solitary environment. At the end of the day, adapting to home office life is a journey like any other learning experience, so in addition to routines, I would also add in another critical survival tool for the trip – make sure to pack a sense of humour, and use it on a regular basis!
Want to know more about how to technology can support you while you work flexibly, from different locations, but still have access to all your important documents? Connect me with me on LinkedIn, or drop me a line on Steven.Chad@uk.fujitsu.com