Finding stability in the unfamiliar world of your home office
Stability is one of those things in life that we don’t think about appreciating until we no longer have it. In the current state of the world, and in particularly in Australia, we have had several months of chaos – from being ravaged by bushfires, followed by harsh floods, and now with the world going into a fight against the COVID-19. It is now important more than ever to be considering how our mental health is doing.
It is needless to say, as organisations, that there will be some difficult truths that will need to be faced in regard to our economic and financial stability over the months to come. But, what about us as individuals? As we and our local communities struggle we still need to find a way to make it all work
For many of you, you may be reading this article when new ways of working are being introduced in your office or from a new arrangement of working from home but, instead of being what we imagine in our heads – active wear and a whole lot of tea – instead, we are filled with an anxiety that we would never have anticipated before.
But here we are, in this place, with little end in sight. So, what can we be doing as individuals and as a collective whole to keep ourselves above board while we address something we’ve never had to address before?
Set up a Connection Group
For many teams, the concept of staying connected might seem like a no brainer. You may already have a weekly team meeting, or a daily huddle, so you feel as though you’ve done enough to stay connected during a workday from home. But it might be time to think about how your team can extend these practices a little further to build the support systems we really need right now. We know that staying connected with others is critical element to our mental health, but it must be more than just a daily huddle to tell everyone what we are working on.
Setting up genuine connection groups across your teams can help create the community that we need to keep on top of ourselves when we are going through times of significant change. It can, at times though, feel daunting to open up to our colleagues about what might be going on, so consider creating a peer group that are outside of your direct team. Find people at work, set up a regular time to connect, and share what is on your mind the most.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Right now, we all are, and we just need to face the music and share the vulnerability together.
Create Clear Spaces
Working from home can be challenging for many people. Not only because you no longer have the routine that you didn’t realise you depended on so much, but suddenly you might also have an awful number of distractions at home that you didn’t have before.
When I first started my part time job and spent two days at home each day, I struggled immensely at first trying to figure out how to keep myself productive with all the easy distractions that surrounded me. After making myself the twentieth cup of tea one day, I thought to myself “how on earth am I going to make this sustainable?”
As we move through the world currently, many people are being required to work from home, without the luxury of choice, to reduce contagion; and this is why it is critical, as individuals, to learn the importance of space. Not only the obvious physical requirement of space, for example, a clear physical space to work, and a clear physical space for home, but also considering the space in our minds.
When you start your day in the morning, give yourself a clear guideline of what you’ll be working on that day, and what success might look like. Amongst your diary, be sure to set time aside for strict breaks – this might be for tea, lunch, or going for a walk. By setting these clear times in your diary, it can immensely help keep you on track. Not only does it help you be more productive, but when you take those “breaks”, you can switch off properly, and take the time out that you need.
Continue Practicing a ‘Commute Home’
Now, creating the space during your day is one thing, but learning how to switch between ‘work’ to ‘home’ when you finish for the day, is another kettle of fish. When we work from home, our distinction between our workday and our home time become a little blurrier, making it easy to keep working until too late, or if you do stop working, you may not be switching off properly. If this is something that you struggle with, I would recommend thinking about creating an activity that replaces the time where you would normally commute home.
For example, let’s say you have a good day and finish at 5pm. Instead of going from the study where you’ve been working all day, straight to the TV or to the kitchen to cook dinner, give yourself a “third space” to go and separate the two parts of your day. This could be going for a walk, heading to the grocery store, or leaving the house to head somewhere that creates that clear distinction between work and home.
Set a Time for Worry
Last but not least, having chaos sitting around us each day can be overwhelming at the best of times, and especially in times of uncertainty, it is all too easy to keep checking the news sites and consciously, or subconsciously, worrying about what is happening around the world.
If you’re particularly struggling with worry, a useful technique can be to set a specific time of the day to worry – what you can refer to as your ‘Worry Time’. Now, on first reading this, you might think that sounds totally counterproductive – “You’re telling me I should set time to worry, so that I stop worrying – that makes no sense!”
But hear me out. Right now, you might be spending half of your brain’s efforts at any point in time concentrating on work, but the other half isn’t quite so present, with the worry clogs going round in circles the back of your mind. Checking your phone constantly, revisiting the same news articles, making sure your family and kids are okay. It is completely normal to worry, it is a natural human response, but getting caught up in the constant worry wheels isn’t a healthy practice, and it won’t help you, or anyone else, in the long run.
This is where a ‘Worry Time’ comes in handy. What you can do instead is set a time of the day where you ‘allow yourself to worry’. Let’s say you set it for 3pm. Throughout the day, as you notice the worries come and go, write the worry down on a post-it note, fold it up, and place it in a pile that is away from you. Once you’ve put the worry away, tell yourself to let it go until 3pm. Then, when 3pm comes, you can go through that pile of worries, and ask yourself the question – Is this worth worrying about right now? Some of those worries, you’ll be able to scrunch up and realise it isn’t worth worrying about, and some of those worries, you might think “Hey, I’ll let you sit in the pile until tomorrow”.
What this activity allows you to do:
- It takes the repetitive worries out of your head and onto a piece of paper
- It provides an opportunity to put the worry aside for later
- When you revisit the worries, it gives you an opportunity to reconsider whether the worry was worthwhile, and think through each worry logically at a set time of the day
As a fellow working from home person, and a mental health comrade, I know that change and chaos isn’t easy. But, if you can find 4 simple ways to create stability in the chaos, you’ll be out of those PJ bottoms before you can say coronavirus.