Updated: Mar 25
These are unprecedented times. Many of us are waking up to the new reality of being confined to working (and mostly living) from home for the foreseeable future. It could transpire to be several months before we are permitted to return to our workplaces or even use public transport. While many of us are still really busy, it would be inaccurate to describe our busyness as ‘business as usual’. Most of us will probably recognise that some of our busyness may not even be particularly productive. There is nothing usual about the situation we find ourselves in and it will not be long before the novelty of these enforced social distancing measures wears off. I think a challenge that many of us will face in the coming weeks and months, will relate to how we maintain our motivation during these uncertain times.
The challenge of maintaining our mojo at home will be multi-faceted. Our home environment will throw up some curve balls for us to contend with, so too will the uncertainty around the economy, client needs, as well as colleagues’ needs. While finance teams might be working day and night re-forecasting their organisation’s financials, how long will it be before their heroic efforts result in burn-out? Conversely, for those teams where work has seemingly dried up, how can they maintain their mojo and add value when they are feeling less than inspired due to their major projects being put on hold for the foreseeable future? Add to that the additional challenges of increased anxiety and uncertainty due to the impact that the pandemic is having on our mental health, and it quickly becomes apparent that maintaining our mojo in these uncertain times is no easy feat.
Below I have set out a few ideas on how to maintain your mojo while working from home. It’s not an exhaustive list but should provide some useful pointers for those struggling with specific aspects.
Set your day up for success
It is incredibly important to start the day on the correct footing. Working from home provides ample opportunity to re-invent your morning routine, especially now that there is no morning commute to contend with. In my previous post on Thriving from home, I discussed some of the rituals we should look to adopt to maintain positive wellbeing, with morning rituals being at the top of the list. The rituals you adopt will have a disproportionate impact on the rest of your day, so it is important to make good choices. Personally, for the first hour of each day, I would avoid the news and social media, I would perhaps practise some mindfulness (before the rest of the household wakes up) and I would make a plan for the day ahead. Ask yourself, what it is you want to achieve today, both professionally and personally? Make a list, not too long. I would aim for 2-3 big ticket items on each list maximum. It's important to feel that you are making progress.
One of the main challenges of working from home will be the myriad of distractions at your fingertips - with no one, other than yourself, to keep you accountable. At this time of uncertainty, there will likely be a temptation to check the news or social media, or engage in hours of pointless chat on instant messenger with colleagues or friends. When we have plenty of exciting or time-bound work to do, we might not need to worry quite as much about such potential distractions, but for everyone else, it will be a challenge. The ideal would be to set up an office environment away from distractions (TV, Phone etc). However, many of us are lucky if we have one home office, let alone sufficient space for all the family to be home at once. For many reading this, you might be at your kitchen table sitting opposite your other half or children. Now might be the time to invest in some noise cancelling headphones to enable you to focus without distraction. Think about keeping your phone in a separate room and limiting your access to certain websites or social media channels on your computer. It might be worth spending a bit of time paying attention to what distracts you and then make a plan to minimise it – it might be time well spent.
Identify your value
Some of you may find yourself in a situation where much of your work has been put on hold for the foreseeable future. Perhaps because it is seen as ancillary to the business during these challenging times. As a result, you might be wondering what to do next. However, this could be a brilliant time for you to reflect on how you can deliver exceptional value to colleagues and clients. We rarely give ourselves the headspace to truly think about how we can add value to others, even though it is the one thing that sets us apart. If you’re struggling to figure out how to do this, now would be a great time to connect with industry colleagues to find out what they are doing. Why not set up a virtual coffee with a few people to share some of the challenges you are facing in your role and discuss with them how you may be able to help each other add more value in your respective organisations.
Set clear boundaries
For those of you who find yourself just as busy, if not busier, than before the pandemic, it is important to remember that this is going to be a marathon not a sprint. In the rush to add value and meet client demands it can be easy to forget our own needs. Before the pandemic hit, there was a growing awareness of instances of burn-out at work, caused by overwork and a failure to prioritise self-care. These issues have not simply gone away now that we are working from home. If anything, the risks may have actually increased. We need to be more vigilant that ever to carve out time for our wellbeing, taking time out each morning, lunchtime and evening for ourselves and time with our family. Setting clear working hours for yourself where possible, can be a huge help.
Irrespective of your role within an organisation, communication during a period of remote working is crucial. Whereas in an office environment you will have had a near constant stream of personal interactions throughout each day, unless you consciously make an effort, those interactions will reduce significantly. That reduction in social contact may adversely impact your overall motivation. After all, we are social creatures. To combat this, I would suggest arranging several calls with specific people each day. If you’re a team leader, ensure you check-in with your team regularly on both a 1-2-1 and team basis. We now have access to brilliant video technology, which we should absolutely make the most of if we wish to maintain our mojo.
Maintain a sense of normality during the day
With no colleagues to interrupt you or water cooler to venture to, it might be a little too easy to stay sitting down for prolonged periods and not taking a break. However, you will maintain much better clarity of thought when you take regular breaks (every 60-90-minutes). If you need reminding, perhaps set an alarm on your phone, so that you do give yourself much needed break throughout each day. Do ensure you are eating at regular mealtimes and checking-in with friends and colleagues regularly.
Have a clear sense of direction and meaning
One of the most challenging aspects of working from home, can be to retain a clear sense of purpose and overall direction. I know from my own experience and those who I coach how important it is to be clear - not only on what we’re doing but also on why we’re doing it. It is incumbent on us to seek that clarity both from others, but also from ourselves. Without it, we risk meandering off-course and undermining our mojo in the process. I find it really helpful to discuss my goals with my team, check-in on people’s priorities and remind myself of why it is I am aiming to do what I plan to do. The more readily we can remind ourselves of how what we do helps other people, the more compelled we will be to act and maintain momentum.
Be kind to yourself
As well intentioned as we may be, we’re going to have some good days and some not so good days when it comes to productivity. While some people are happy to write these days off, others may be tempted to berate themselves for not being as productive as they would like to have been. The important thing to remember in those moments is to choose kindness over criticism. If your productivity has dropped, there is probably a good reason for it and beating yourself up is unlikely to make it better. In those situations, I remind myself to prioritise my wellbeing, as there is a strong correlation between wellbeing and peak performance. If my performance has dropped, it’s highly likely to do with my levels of wellbeing. If you have yet to go for a walk or some exercise, now would be a great time to do so. It will not only help you clear your mind and regain emotional balance, but you will return more energised and more focused.