5 PRACTICAL TIPS on how to organize our space when working or studying from home.
Technology transcends and disrupts time and space and deletes boundaries between work and life, compressing everything into an urgent NOW that demands our immediate attention. Digital technology has very little limitations, but human mind and psyche is limited. Our attention is a finite resource. Therefore, before the burn-out comes, before the fuse goes and we become an overstretched emotional mess, we need to take back the control over the work-life balance.
Easier said than done. In our busy, fluid and constantly accelerated pace of life, any attempt to structure or to limit its demands, feels like an enormous effort. Therefore, it is important to put our effort where it will certainly yield results. The two easiest and the most effective ways to harness the demands of technology is through structuring time and space. Usually we rely more on limiting screen time, but when living by the bell is not possible, we should rely on structuring the physical space within the domain of our homes.
How we structure the space, reveals our intentions and helps to exercise authority. In other words, space is never neutral. Henri Lefebvre writes that:
“Space is not a scientific object removed from ideology or politics. It has always been political and strategic”.
So, I would like to encourage us to be strategic with how we structure our living and working areas. Here is a little exercise to do. Have a fresh look around your place. What is available, central, loud and easy to reach?…Do you want it to be so?… What is hidden in the loft, under the stairs, in the back of the wardrobe? Is it time to give it priority?….
When I talk to parents who are unhappy about too much screen time for their children, I often ask: “Where is your controller? And where is your pack of pencils? What is more within the reach?”. Here is the everyday mantra for you: ” the amount of available entertainment supersedes our ability to process information that is being streamed at us from every corner”. Remember, that our attention is a limited resource.
STRUCTURING SPACE HELPS US TO CHOOSE WHERE WE TURN OUR ATTENTION TO.
There is no “one size fits all”. Every family has different contingent, different living arrangements and different needs. On top of the unique family dynamics, there is the individual neural organisation, level of inner motivation and skill set. All this plays role in the ability to focus on a task, when working or learning remotely.
Some individuals require total silence for concentration, some need loud music for sensory deprivation. Some find it easier to enter the flow and work uninterruptedly on a single task, others require constant reinforcement in order to keep going.
As we are forced to adapt to the new rhythms, as the result of global pandemic, I suggest to see it as an investment into our children’s future. Most likely, the change to distance working will be more permanent for many of us, with the majority of the future generation working remotely. It will rely on the ability to self-motivate and to self-organize. This is the time to help our children to develop this crucial skill set.
5 PRACTICAL TIPS ON HOW TO ORGANIZE THE WORKING/LEARNING ENVIRONMENT AT HOME
1. KNOW which SPACE requirements make you most productive. A separate room with a closed door or an open space of the garden? A tidy desk and hard chair or a cosy sofa in the lounge? Different type of work might require different environment and different equipment, like a conference call or a live stream will not work with a washing machine spinning in the background. Avoid working from your bedroom, but if it is the only option, make sure the bed is made and you are changed out of pyjamas, to separate the time for rest from the time for work.
2. REMOVE DISTRACTIONS. Out of sight, out of the mind. Switch all unnecessary devices off and put them in a different room. Even a phone on “silent” pulls our mental energy away from the task. If there is important comms that you don’t want to miss, schedule a catch-up break. It will stop your brain from worrying about the piling up messages in a group chat. It is especially important for school children, whose virtual lessons get accompanied by a bulk of chat messages from the peers. Highly distracting and highly draining. If you ought to have your phone next to you for work, at least use silencing apps that stop notifications from all social media.
3. MINIMIZE SCREEN time where possible. When working on screens, refrain from using them also for downtime. Don’t be tempted to fill all the gaps in the work flow with scrolling through social media, reading news or playing an online game. If the prospect of just sitting and staring at a wall is unbearable, put an art project next to you, or a puzzle, or even knitting. Doodling or keeping hands busy in other ways relaxes the brain and helps with concentration. When choosing the right activity to turn to in the gaps, choose the one that you can stop and pick up at any time, the one that doesn’t require an intensive processing of visual information (light reading from a printed media is ok). Physical exercise, like stretches, is great also.
4. AVOID MULTITASKING. This is the killer of productivity and the reason why we are frazzled and anxious in the end of the day. We can only pay attention to one thing at a time. Yet, most of our jobs and learning involve multitasking. If there is no way to remove switching from one screen to another, at least reduce the amount of tabs and apps open, especially those which tend to constantly update and bring more work, like an email box. Neuroscience confirms that multitasking is a mental trap that produces an illusion of productivity and feeds our brain with small dopamine injections, which makes us crave for more multitasking. In other words, don’t spread yourself thin, but rather concentrate on a small group of measurable accomplishments at a time.
5. Force yourself to LEAVE the work area when you notice first signs of tiredness. Every individual has a different attention span and a different capacity for uninterrupted work. Instead of pushing through, it is recommended to take a break – a walk outside, check in with the rest of the household, sneaky look into the kitchen. Change of scenery helps to reset the tired brain. Encourage children to take a break out of the sight of the screens.