Now that most of us are working from home, I suspect many people have either started to go batty — or are wondering whatever happened to a culture that was originally thought of as infra dig.
Working from home by choice is very different from being compelled to work from home. Not just that, we are fundamentally different people when at work and at home. Our minds operate differently in different worlds, because we interact with different sets of people. When these worlds meet, it is inevitable that it will feel like a collision.
Feeling stressed-out and batty are manifestations of these worlds being at war. I know a thing or two about it because when I started to work out of home a few years ago, to research a book, I assumed home would be the ideal place to work from. Everything could be done at a time and pace of my choosing. But family and friends assumed my time was largely free, and the mind was susceptible to distractions of all kinds.
It took some conversations with mentors and mental health professionals to understand whatever was going on. I wasn’t “getting into the zone”. That’s what we do when we get to the office. We get into the zone.
They told me I must establish a routine. And why does that matter? Well, think of the commute. People curse it, but it’s a ritual. Commutes are preceded by breakfast, getting dressed and hurrying to the office. After that, people tend to relax and ease into the workday.
When I started to work from home, I assumed I could skip all those steps and dive right in. But something didn’t seem right.
On monitoring my heart rate (HR) using an app called Cardiograph over a few days, I figured out what it was. On starting with work right away, my HR would stay in the high 70s. I got stressed out. Some rituals had to be established.
On the basis of personal experience, then, may I suggest a few things?
All peer-reviewed literature meticulously documents the downsides of looking at the phone screen first thing in the morning. These downsides include higher levels of anxiety and stress when you look at newsfeeds, and IQ depletion after staring at social media. So that must be a strict no-no.
Instead, my friend Dr Rajat Chauhan suggested nine exercises I could do in 20 minutes at home. It was a full body workout to get the metabolism going. Find a workout like this for yourself. Then follow it with a shower, getting into fresh clothes, and brewing tea or coffee.
Next, I plug in the headphone and meditate with Waking Up, an app created by neuroscientist, philosopher and writer Sam Harris. He distils wisdom from the great traditions of the world, including Vipassana.
These rituals started to “get me in the zone”. My HR dropped into the early 60s.
I’m also cognisant of the fact that, while at work, it can take anywhere from 23 to 25 minutes to recover focus after an interruption. That means that, when focused on a task, all notifications such as e-mail, social media and other irritants such as WhatsApp should be turned off. Instead, I turn auto-responders on.
Family, close friends and colleagues who must access me know my landline number and I never take that off the hook. I’ve also negotiated with the family to be left alone for set hours. The only person I cannot negotiate with is my younger daughter. She’s too young to understand. And doesn’t care either. I’ve trained myself now to expect her to interrupt. The mind adapts.
I’ve also accepted that being the primary breadwinner does not mean I get to stay focused on my machine. There is much else that goes into keeping a home running. That is why I now cook breakfast for everyone and help do the dishes in the morning.
Contrary to what many people think, this is neither therapeutic nor does it contribute to the GDP. It is drudgery. But it keeps the family sane.
(The writer is co-founder at Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect)