Most of us enjoy variety but find change less comfortable: we like eating different foods at meals but prefer to eat all the meals in the same room. And so with our biggest time commitment - work. Or whatever you call that set of activities that means that you can make a contribution to the household budget.
So, I thought I’d share a few tips for resettling – re-settling into another way of work/life.
Being in a different environment (at the office - whatever that looks like now) may cause you to think that you have to behave differently with regard to your work. Don't be surprised, either, if you notice that you are a lot more distractible. It's inevitable, just as when you were settling in to working at home, that finding yourself back at the office three days a week will seem a bit like trying to settle down to do some thinking in the middle of an operating fairground. Just as you did transitioning to working at home, try to keep some of the routine that you developed then, and equally, give yourself a break if you're not getting as much done to begin with. lastly on this one: absolutely leave on time.
Of the things that many people found tricky was the grinding routine of working and living in the same space. But for most of us this lack of contrast was also represented by what we were wearing…for example it was just too easy to work in the same clothes (all be it having washed them) as we had weekended in. Interestingly, when actors take on a new role, early on in the thought process of how to turn themselves into the person they are trying to portray, they will adopt and start wearing a piece of clothing which epitomises the character of the of the person they are acting. So, if you're up for an experiment try making sure that you change out of home shoes or slippers when you are in work mode at home. And if you find yourself on an office day, make sure that you don't wear the same footwear as you do at home. Yup, no more fluffy mules in the Board room.
One of the things you may have found out for yourself during the last year is that keeping work and life separate can be made much easier when we designate certain things or objects to one world or the other. So, it's not too late to experiment with designating areas in your room or living area as ‘no go’ territory for work objects - at least for certain times of day/evening. Think of banning mobiles, laptops, iPads, work papers, mouse mats, reading glasses – anything that says ‘work’ to you from areas like the kitchen, your bedroom, the living room and the bathroom (we've all read emails whilst brushing teeth - and much besides).
One of the things that I have always found a challenge whilst working at home (and I have been doing it for over 30 years) is stopping work at the appropriate times of day to eat. It's a discipline that I just have never cracked. And yet when working with clients on site, in their office, it has felt so natural to take a proper meal break in keeping with the work rhythm of the company whose premises I was in. I simply suggest that you keep an eye on the clock at mealtimes and try to be strict about pausing for half an hour to take a food break. It's an important recharge and a great way to gain perspective on tasks and events.
And finally a few words about guilt. I think it's fair to say that many of us have worked ridiculous hours whilst we have been at home because we perhaps felt that working from home was somehow not as ‘worky’ as going into an office. We might even have felt guilty that being able to go to work in our home clothes, with our home comforts all around us, was somehow less worthy - perhaps even a bit cushy’. Consider this: work is work wherever we do it. It needs us to think about issues, to make decisions, to compose emails, to hold meetings, to enquire after the wellbeing of our team and loads of other things – all of which are forms of work.
Perhaps the biggest mental trick we have to play on ourselves from this point onwards is to recognise that context is irrelevant. And perhaps with the advent of the mobile phone, 40-or-so years ago, on which we were soon able to text, email and communicate – and even run meetings, we should have recognised that work was already peppering most of our waking hours. The difference now is that we have been forced into even more scrambling of our working and home lives and what we need to do now is to acknowledge that the term ‘work’ actually applies to what we are doing with our minds rather than to where we are sitting. Keeping track of where our heads are rather than where our bodies are should help us to get a handle on the true balance between our work and play lives and so help us to keep proper time and energy for both – minus the guilt.