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  • Writer's pictureSubha

Help Yourself: Build A Mindful Discipline When Working From Home

WFH Shutdown Ritual

2020 catapulted many of us into uncharted territory: working from home. The lines between

work life and home life (and its pandemic-driven demands) are considerably blurred. Many people feel like they are just spinning their wheels, getting exhausted, and going nowhere. One day ends and there dawns another one just like it.

Everyone would like to work for the requisite eight hours, with regular breaks, and call it a day

like in the good old BC (Before COVID) times. That just doesn’t happen. For some employers,

being online is a constant requirement, there is no downtime, and employees have to keep

checking their phones for essential notifications even late in the evening. This is adding a whole new dimension to the “fear of missing out.”

For the most part, there is no employee pushback. Many are worried if there will even be a job

in the future. All this makes stress levels simply skyrocket. Productivity is the first thing to be sacrificed on the altar of uncertainty and stress.

A mindful discipline for work-from-home is indispensable towards taking control of this

unprecedented situation. It really works. As does an end-of-day shutdown routine filled with its own small rituals for letting go of the day’s stress and feeling more grounded before heading to bed. Stuck at home or not, this is a great habit to cultivate. Any parent who has followed a bath-book-song bedtime routine to soothe and put a baby to bed can vouch for its efficacy.

Sometimes grown-ups need to self-soothe too, in a healthy way. A shutdown ritual helps us achieve just that.

Heard of Cal Newport’s Work Shutdown Ritual?

Cal Newport is a professor of computer science and the author of the book “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.” He follows and advocates a specific effective process, nay, a ritual to follow at the end of every workday, culminating in the saying of a “termination phrase.” This is exactly what it means. Once the termination phrase has been said (out loud, preferably), if a work-related thought pops to mind, this is how he handles it:

  • He reminds himself that he has spoken the termination phrase

  • The phrase only gets said once he’s examined his tasks, his calendar, gone over his weekly plan, and made sure he’s on top of everything

  • He tells himself that therefore, there is no need to worry.

You can adapt his method and develop your own shutdown ritual. According to Newport,

to form a good ritual, you just need to have these three things:

  1. A quick series of steps for staying on track with all that is current and important to your student or working life. This should not take more than 5 minutes at the end of each workday.

  2. A phrase you say when you complete the ritual.

  3. A pact with yourself that after you’ve spoken the “magic words,” the only acceptable response to a work-related thought is to think through the steps required for you to say the termination phrase.

This stress-busting ritual is vital in a work-from-home universe in which add-on stressors are still alive and well, even as we stare at the end of an extremely trying year. Online school, online group project drama, elder care, elder anxiety, and financial worries are still around to scramble our brainwaves. But we can at least exert a degree of control with this grounding ritual, and keep our evenings and weekends to ourselves, to recharge for the next workday.

Working from home is not possible in a bubble: ask for help if you need it

Everything seems to be geared to drag us away from mindfulness while working from home. As if the myriad digital distractions were not enough, we now have to contend with the stress of stocking up food for a family, disinfecting everything from milk packets, cramming as much as possible into a single grocery run, trying to stay physically fit and mentally upbeat, and last but not least, COVID-free!

The blurred lines between work and home duties mean you cannot do full justice to either. Reading a bedtime story to a little one followed by checking email or settling in for an overseas call is the new normal for many. Take this with a side of guilt: said little ones just cannot understand how you can be physically present all the time but mentally miles away sometimes. It is upsetting for all concerned.

This is a predicament that will leave many grasping at straws. We advocate reaching out for help if you need it. Here are a few ideas on what you can do to ease your situation:

  1. Talk to colleagues about your work availability and see whether you can make a “time-share” or switching shifts arrangement with someone in a similar situation.

  2. Encourage people to reach out to you using media more suitable to you, and establish clarity on timelines at the outset. Similarly, respect others’ boundaries and offer to help when you can. This ensures mutual trust and support when either person needs a backup.

  3. Consult with a professional coach about time management techniques that can specifically apply to these kinds of situations

  4. If job security is a concern, take a step back to reevaluate your life situation and speak to a life coach or career guide to figure out your options and how they tie in with your life goals.

Asking for help to be at your personal and professional best is a sign of strength and a desire to excel despite hurdles, so go for it!

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