One unexpected benefit of the age of the pandemic is that more people are starting to work from home. We get to enjoy better flexibility while doing the same jobs; work-life balance is no longer an impossible goal.
But are you making the most of this opportunity to seize control over your performance? Here’s how to build a home office routine determined not by some outdated productivity standards, but by your innate preferences.
Break out of the mold
Our energy levels tend to fluctuate throughout each day. Sometimes, we get more or less sleep the previous night. The quality of our rest also affects our energy, along with several other factors. We perk up after a cup of coffee, feel energized after a workout, and tend to experience a dip after some time.
But in the absence of such stimulants and stressors, our bodies will demonstrate a natural, regular circadian rhythm. This internal biological clock determines how well you can function at a high level over any given 24-hour period. And it can vary further with each individual.
It’s common to classify early risers as larks, while others are night owls. Further sleep research also categorizes people according to sleep chronotypes. Those patterns can cross over into hybrids, and people can transition from one to another at different stages of their lives.
The point is that sleep habits are surprisingly diverse and challenging to study. They also have a strong influence on our day-to-day performance and effectiveness. And yet traditional working arrangements often force us to try and fit into the same mold. Many employees are forced to be productive even during office hours that coincide with their times of low alertness and energy.
Study your habits
Working from home gives you the chance to do things differently. Of course, you might have to attend scheduled video conferences with your teammates. You might be collaborating with other people whose output depends on yours; everyone still has to meet deadlines.
But as remote work has gained mainstream acceptance, managers are also learning to adjust and allow their employees to make the most of their autonomy. As the labor pool expands to accommodate workers from across time zones and even in different countries, teams will have to be more flexible.
As a result, you’ll have more opportunities to customize your schedule around your circadian rhythms. You can optimize your performance throughout the day and accomplish more work in less time. In turn, this efficiency will free up more space in your schedule.
However, you’ll first need to identify your sleep patterns correctly. At which hours do you feel most energized, and when do you go through dips? On weekends, when you have nothing planned and no specific tasks to accomplish, at what times do you prefer to get up or go to bed?
Keep a journal to keep track of these observations. Not only will it give you better insight into how you can organize your day for optimize performance, but it also alerts you to changes in your sleep habits over time. If that happens, you can adjust accordingly.
Distribute opportunities across the day
Still, many factors could disrupt an established, optimized daily routine. Kids around the house can keep you otherwise occupied; friends or family might come over to visit and keep you up late into the night.
Not all of these variables are under our control. Sometimes, it will be your turn to compromise with a colleague’s preferred working schedule. On occasion, you might not want to adjust; it’s going to get harder to say no to socializing in the age of distancing and lockdowns.
You can mitigate the effects of disruptions in your routine by creating multiple opportunities to get stuff done throughout the day. For instance, people usually have two peaks of productivity each day. If you find that you hit top gear around noon and then later at 6 PM, try to plan your workday around those windows. Should something come up and knock you off rhythm, you can compensate later on when you regain your peak.
In the same way, you can distribute opportunities for enjoyment and hobbies across those 24 hours. You can enjoy gardening, but you don’t have to do that during the day. A night garden lit up with outdoor LED uplights can let you stay connected with nature even after the sun goes down.
As remote work becomes a more commonplace arrangement, remember that it’s still up to you to ensure that it translates to a successful work-life balance. Reacquaint yourself with your internal rhythms, and you can optimize your routine accordingly.