The new year is seen by many as a window to take a fresh perspective on one’s personal and professional goals.
Australians had their work routine disrupted throughout 2020, and by now most have learnt to adjust and settle into a new, albeit home-based routine.
But productivity expert and author Donna McGeorge says there are a few bad habits we may have overlooked that could threaten to slow us down in 2021 if we don’t take a more deliberate approach to how we work.
“We have been in reactive mode for most of 2020 and making do,” she told Yahoo Finance.
“Now that it looks like work-from-home or at least hybrid models might be extended or here to stay, we need to start being intentional about how we work, and to design our days for better productivity and wellbeing.”
If these are some bad habits you’re still hanging onto in the new year, it might be time to reconsider them:
Ditch: Your makeshift workspace
We all know it: remote work is here to stay, even if you’re only working from home a few days a week.
“A temporary workspace at your kitchen bench won’t cut it,” said McGeorge. “You need to designate, even if it is in the corner of a small apartment, a dedicated work space.”
If you’ve been working from your couch, your bed or something you’d typically associate with relaxation, it’s time to stop, she added.
“It makes it hard to switch off and on if you blur or contaminate designated rest or work areas in your home.”
Ditch: Blurred boundaries
Sometimes, it can’t be helped if you need to duck into your work inbox to reply to an urgent email.
But if your work day is constantly bleeding into your personal life, you might find yourself better off if you set stricter borders between the two.
This might mean bracketing out ‘hard’ start and end times to your work day, said McGeorge.
“If necessary, set alarms. It’s just too easy to start earlier (reading your email from bed) and continue working later (reading your email from bed). Decide when you are on and off and be clear about that,” she said.
If you feel like you’ve been working longer and attending more meetings since the era of remote work began, you’re right about that; a Harvard study of 3.1 million people across 16 global cities found we were all working 48.5 minutes extra every day on average in the early weeks of the pandemic.
“Down time is just as important as uptime when it comes to being productive, so put attention on both.”
Ditch: The marathon
Work in sprints, instead.
“It’s very easy to put your head down at work in the morning and then not surface until mid-afternoon,” said McGeorge. This isn’t good for your energy levels, or for your productivity.
And according to University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, spending too long on a task can actually be counterproductive.
“You start performing poorly on a task because you’ve stopped paying attention to it,” he told ScienceDaily.
The solution is simple, and one that both Lleras and McGeorge agree on: take a break.
“Working in 25 minute bursts and then taking 5 minute breaks has been proven time and again to be the best way to get through work that requires high levels of attention,” McGeorge told Yahoo Finance.
Ditch: Rushing from one thing to another
“No really, take breaks,” she said.
McGeorge takes pains to put extra emphasis on this one, and likens our brain to a bucket of water.
If we’re constantly trying to fit more and more water in the bucket – flitting between Zoom meetings, diving into our emails straight after, and jumping into another video call – we won’t actually be able to process or store more information.
But taking breaks will ‘empty the bucket’, she pointed out, to make space for the next ‘round’ of information.
“After every meeting (zoom or otherwise), take a 5 min stretch, walk around, get a drink of water. It’s important to decompress and it allows a release of tension.”
Ditch: The lack of structure in your work day
Do you set out your goals for the day intentionally, or do you dive into your emails head-first and just start on whatever falls into your lap?
Figure out what needs to be prioritised for the day, and just go from there, McGeorge said.
“Decide the night before what your key three things are for the next day. In the morning, scan your email quickly for 5 minutes for anything urgent or that can be quickly dealt with.”
If you want to be extra strict on yourself, put a timer on.
Work on the three things on your list first, then work on anything you like after that.
You can also bracket out hours specifically for meetings, or vice versa. This will come in especially handy if you’re a parent.
“Many people are also designating “no meetings” time between 8am and 10am, then 3pm-5pm. This allows people to not only get work done, but also manage any family requirements like getting the kids to and from school.”