Top 5 Learnings from Working During the Pandemic

Posted on 07/09/2021, Jan Melichařík

The story of Jan Melichařík, Software Engineer

The pandemic hit us all really hard, on so many levels. Luckily, people got to keep their jobs with the only adjustment being “mandatory” home office. Keeping disciplined and inspired during this time wasn’t easy and I have 5 main learnings to share from this period.

1. Organizing your time is hard

I mean seriously, when you have no guidelines for your workday, it is very easy to lose yourself to the flow. By guidelines I mean the core hours of your workplace, the time you need to wake up to get breakfast, shower, and get to the office, scheduled lunch breaks, and the list keeps going. If you lose these guidelines and everything gets done at any time of the day (even the shopping), you can easily wind up waking up at 11 (in the best case), getting lunch at 5 (if the leftover pizza from last night counts as lunch), finish work you didn’t finish yesterday, and by 10 you are ready to play a few rounds of Counter-Strike or binge another season or three of a Netflix show.

That’s not something you craved for, right? So, how to avoid these scenarios? Read a book on organizing time, watch a motivational video (and actually get something from it), put a 30-minute timer on YouTube in the background, and every time it beeps, get up and stretch for a minute. Start by these little steps and build up to a healthy daily routine. Basically, do something that takes your mind off of your monotonous activity, and it will help you to put some order into your day.

2. Take care of your body. You’re gonna need it.

Without the need to leave your place, you are losing a lot more movement than you might think. If you live in an average apartment in the city, you will probably not get to 10,000 steps by just walking between your bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. Even though you go pick up your meal delivery twice a day, walking those stairs is not going to save you.

What can help, as part of organizing your time, is to schedule some small workouts. Every morning, do a few pushups, squats, and tricep dips after you wake up. I was quite surprised how awake I became in 10 minutes by just getting the blood to flow. Or, if you don’t feel like exercising in the morning, go pick up your lunch, you will let your eyes rest from the blue light of your monitors and your mind will be more productive after a short break. I highly recommend getting up and going for a walk at least once a day for at least 20 minutes. You will get some fresh air, let your mind wander for a bit and you get to dress up, which is a pleasant change after spending the whole day in pyjamas.

3. (Temporary) decline in productivity is normal

When you switch to a new work environment, it can be hard to keep up the same productivity levels. If you are used to being in the office, you might not have noticed it, but you are constantly being motivated by your environment to perform. It can be a sense of obligation to yourself, when you have put in the effort to get into the office, you might as well get your time’s worth and be productive. Or you can look at your colleagues and feel bad for slacking off when they are working hard. Or maybe you just have your boss sitting behind you and don’t feel comfortable watching memes on YouTube…

Now, when you are stripped of these stimuli, it can take time to adapt. Since you don’t have to plan your trip to work and other stuff, you can just postpone some tasks and read an article, watch a video or get stuck eating lunch too long, and get back to work later in the evening. Since your work has lost some of the boundaries put in by the environment, it is easy for it to just “spill out” into your day and interfere with your other routines. Setting up your work boundaries takes time but when it happens, productivity will increase.

4. This is the time to get better

Since you are now not traveling to the office, attending public events or talking with your friends over a few cold beers, you have got a lot more time on your hands. Using this additional free time the same way you would use your free time after getting back home from the office, is not a good idea. I’ll explain why! When you come back from work, do your chores and finally get an hour for yourself, you would like to relax. Watching Netflix or playing video games can help you to relax. However, in the pre-Corona times, there were more things that used up your attention, like seeing a play and planning your day, so that you work, buy groceries, pick up a package at the post office, visit your parents and meet up with your friends in the evening.  When you don’t have any of these activities to use up your attention, your mind needs something else to keep it going and the things that you used to do to relax before, are not going to be enough. They provided the stimulus for an already exhausted mind and now, you need something more to entertain your mind. 

So, make some changes, learn something new! Buy a ukulele, read the books you’ve been hoarding in the past years, try to be creative and draw, or write stories. Get better at anything, because now you have the time and it’s so much fun, at the same time! You will have a great feeling of accomplishment and self-improvement when you finish your piece.

One more piece of advice: set reachable goals and start slowly. If you were always thinking about drawing something, start with some tutorials on YouTube and really small projects. Setting up to paint the equivalent of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel on your first try, can easily end with you getting demotivated, even more.

5. Keep people in your day

Now is the time you should make more calls to your parents and grandparents. Write to a friend you haven’t talked to for a long time or schedule a video call with your colleagues and socialize. Again, when we were used to going to the office, we might not have noticed it, but there were a lot of people around us. When we moved from work to home office, there were only our immediate family members or roommates, but most of the people we were seeing on a daily basis, just disappeared. 

Don’t forget that humans are social animals and from an evolutionary point of view we need to be a part of a tribe, be it our workplace tribe, our friends’ tribe or our broader family tribe. We suffer when we are alone and keeping in touch helps us to be happier.

In the end, it is all up to you how you spend your time and I admit I know people who have not struggled with the points I mentioned above. People who are self-disciplined or motivated enough to work on their own might have actually enjoyed the home office era, thanks to time saved by not commuting to the office. But, I also believe there are a lot of people like me who have “slipped into chaos” when their daily routine suddenly changed. I hope these crazy times are finally coming to an end, and soon we will be able to travel and do everything the same way we used to before Corona.

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