Faculty of ManagementComenius University Bratislava

How to maintain work performance and healthy habits when working from home

Working and studying from home is a reality for thousands of professionals and students today. Many people are more productive when working from home, but this may not apply to everyone. And maybe you are wondering how you can maintain your work discipline, level of performance, and healthy work habits in this challenging situation. Good time management offers a variety of tools to efficiently plan and organize your time and avoid the pitfalls of working from home.

23. 03. 2020 17.48 hod.
By: By: CU Public Relations Office

A work–life balance

Perhaps more than ever, there is a need to find and maintain a balance between your work and your personal life. This will be different for someone who lives alone and for someone who has a family, where it is necessary to take into account the needs of all members of the household. Let us try to strike a balance in everything we do. This will allow us to meet our work and study goals as well as find time for ourselves, our family, our hobbies, and for rest and the chance to recharge our batteries. 

Considering you own needs as well as those of others

When working from home, we can significantly adapt to our own tempo and times of “maximum” and “minimum” performance. Some people are productive in the morning, while others do better in the evening. If your productivity falls after lunch, have a short rest, or plan routine activities that don't require too much energy or creativity. However, we often have to adapt to others. It makes no sense to plan to do your work in the evenings if there are meetings at 9:00 AM. If you are a parent working from home, you need to harmonize your work with your partner, childcare, and the household. Small children in particular may need some time to adjust to a different style of learning. 

Planning your tasks in terms of priority and time

Use scheduling calendars, motivational diaries, mind maps, spreadsheets, and various apps designed for individuals or teams when planning your activities. Check your goals on an ongoing basis and note down each completed task. Plan individual tasks in terms of time as well as in terms of priority. Pay attention to important tasks immediately, and remember that "importance" takes precedence over "urgency". In terms of time, divide tasks into long-term, medium-term, and short-term ones, and put down the deadlines in writing. To be motivational, our roles and goals should make sense and comply with SMART rules (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound).           

Expert tips on time management

Your short-term To-Do List should be aligned with your medium- and long-term tasks. Time management experts recommend preparing a list on a daily basis, preferably right after you finish your work, when you still have in mind what you have just been doing and still have the best overview of the planned activities for the next day. This saves time and helps us navigate quickly. Plan only 60% of your daily work time and leave the remaining 40% for unplanned matters. As part of a self-review, check that the results you achieved match your planned objectives. Feedback should create space for self-development, efficiency gains, and an adjustment of some tasks and deadlines. 

Dealing with procrastination

Procrastination is a problem for many people. It may be caused by the inability to start something or the dislike or fear of leaving your comfort zone. One of the treatments for procrastination is self-discipline, which forces us to act even when we don't want to. Sometimes the right time to do a task has not yet come, and you need to wait a bit. But don’t delay things too long, because procrastination ultimately brings more stress than when you commit yourself to an unattractive task. 

Having a healthy work routine at home

Having a defined start and end time to the working day (and to individual tasks) forces us to work more efficiently. Many people who work from home are tempted to spend the whole morning sleeping or even working from bed. However, this is a trap that reduces performance and prevents you from entering “work mode”. Set rules and create a routine. By making your bed in the morning, showering, and getting dressed, you end one cycle and are mentally ready to start one of working. Find a way to start the day positively. Some people have a hearty breakfast, whereas others are helped by meditation or a few exercises with the window open.

Revealing your time thieves

"Flow" refers to the state of mind when we experience a sense of harmony, meaningfulness, and concentration, wherein we lose a sense of time and the outside world. Everyone has experienced it, whether it be in making a poster, writing an essay, solving a mathematical task, dancing, or cooking. Our flow can often be interrupted by “time thieves”, which are various external circumstances such as unexpected phone calls, e-mails, or spending time helping others with problems. But it can also be our inability to delegate work, our inability to say "no" to others, our excessive perfectionism, or poor preparation at the beginning which causes us to keep going round in circles or looking for something. A detailed analysis of the working day and week will help you identify these time thieves and point out areas that require fixing. 

Single-tasking, not multitasking

Multitasking is the result of poor working habits or poor time management. In the short term, it can stimulate our brain. However, if it happens all day it is exhausting. It deprives us of the ability to concentrate and reduces the quality of our work. Our brain is designed and able to focus on one task at a time. Therefore, it is much more advantageous to “single-task” and concentrate on the performance of one task after another. By concentrating on one task only, your efficiency, creativity, and well-being will increase as you feel good about the number of tasks that get completed.

The Pomodoro technique as a way to work from home

The Pomodoro technique was developed in the 1980s by a college student called Francesco Cirillo, who used a common tomato-shaped kitchen timer (hence the name “pomodoro”) when studying. It always warned him when it was time for a short break. The technique is based on the well-known fact that our mind can only concentrate for a certain amount of time. To keep it fresh, we can divide our working time into 25-minute intervals with five-minute breaks in between. After four such phases (i.e., 100 minutes of work and 15 minutes of breaks), a larger break of fifteen to twenty minutes is taken.

Pomodoro teaches us to work effectively and not spend two hours with something that can be done in 25 minutes. Also, you can divide large tasks into smaller units. It's all about setting your mind to something and is a prevention of mental fatigue. This technique keeps your mind fresh and productive. In addition, when working from home, you can combine it with small household activities that you would normally do after working hours. 

A few words in conclusion

Good time management allows us to work efficiently, maintain healthy work habits, have good work performance, and achieve our goals, whether we are working from home or not.

It is important to keep in mind, especially nowadays, that others may also have commitments outside of work or study which we may not know about. It is therefore worth considering abandoning to some extent the high demands and performance levels which we have been accustomed to. We need to have an open mind to be able to communicate constructively. This will show our understanding and humanity, and thus contribute to better managing this difficult situation.

Ing. Miroslava Atanasová - a lecturer of soft skills and a personal development adviser, The Centre for continuing education