In current times, when many of us are working from home, our brains are having to adapt to a whole new way of working, often not in ideal conditions. The norms of going to the office 5 days a week are on hold, and a new normal has to be established.
One thing that is for sure is that compensating for the lack of person-to-person interaction is critical. We all need to turn to the virtual tools on offer for our meetings and conversations. But what else?
Visual Cues and Context
Home is definitely not work. You just have to look around the room (unless you are fortunate enough to have a home office) and see that the working from home context that you find yourself in just doesn’t provide the visual cues which signal work. The visual cues that unconsciously set your mind into work mode before you have even sat down and got started.
It will take your brain a while to realize that those visual cues are no longer there when you need to work, instead, you have a whole new set of visual cues that are suboptimal. And that you need to retrain your brain to associate your mental work mode with this new set of visual cues. But you can give your brain a helping hand by, where possible, putting some objects or pictures in place, creating a temporary impression of a “workstation” while you try and mentally focus, even if you have to clear them away once you’re done so the kids can eat their dinner.
Distraction, distraction, distraction
The second is obvious but very important, and this is distraction. Working from home is full of distractions that aren’t there in an office (although, of course, the office has its own set of distractions). So what to do about it? How do you block out noise and movement from your surroundings? How do you stop your thoughts wandering onto other “home” matters? There are no easy answers as your attention will naturally wax and wane, although finding a quiet, clutter-free space, where possible, can of course, help.
But you can call on another of your mental faculties to help you manage your mental focus. And that is by tapping into the way your brain is reliant on goal-directed behaviors.
Setting goals gives your brain and thinking mental structure when you are working from home. You know what you have to achieve. And you can organize those goals according to the time, and demands, you have each day. So even if it’s as simple as setting a to-do list, where you can work through each item in turn, then it can help you manage your mental focus. Or at least it can help you get your focus quickly back on track if you are momentarily interrupted, or if you catch your mind wandering.
And, if you do have the time and space to immerse yourself in a particularly engaging work task, then you might find yourself in a state of mental flow, where you can block out distractions, be highly productive, and provide yourself with some much needed mental escapism.
Home habits vs. work habits
The final one to think about when it comes to working from home is habits. At your workplace, you had a whole set of habits that you did throughout the day, probably without even thinking about it and triggered by your work routine. From going to make a cup of coffee to dropping by a colleague in a nearby office, there were actions that provided an important structure to your working day.
Unfortunately, your home is also full of habits and habit-triggers, but usually, they have nothing to do with work—habits like putting on a laundry or doing the washing up, for example. The danger is that it is all too easy to slip into these home habits when you are meant to be in work mode.
And although stopping well-worn habits is never easy, thinking about the ones that may be the most interfering to your work, and trying to adjust your actions so that your working from home habits are postponed to later in the day, can be one way to make sure they don’t eat into your valuable work time.
Synaptic Potential offers science-based solutions and strategies that support, shape and align your people development initiatives, workspace design and organisational policies. If you would like to find out more about how we can help you unlock the Whole Brain Potential™ of your leaders or managers and teams then please get in touch to start a conversation.