'Put your phone away while you are working.'
'Do not check your social media more than twice a day.'
'Make a list of things to do for the day and stick to the schedule.'
Six working professionals tell us how they balance time between work and family.
The COVID-19 lockdown has forced young professionals across the country to work from home.
What makes it worse for many, many, professionals is to also manage the house while at the same time attend to chuldren and parents, do the chores and meet targets.
While some of them who are doing it for the first time are just learning the ropes, most individuals are still struggling to find the perfect balance between managing work and family.
Divya Nair/Rediff.com speaks to six professionals to find out how they are dealing with the situation smartly.
1. Balancing kids and work
Maya Unnithan, 28 works as a grievances officer at a private bank and recently resumed work after a maternity break.
Although her work doesn't have to be in front of a computer all the time, she is expected to be on the phone most of the day attending to calls and solving queries and concerns raised by customers.
"My daughter is only 7 months old. When I was at work, a nanny used to take care of her along with my mother. After the lockdown, the nanny and the house-help were hesitant to come home so we asked them to take a break," says Maya.
"It is difficult to focus on solving queries when you have an infant at home. With me around the house, she has become clingy and cranky these days. Last week, I missed multiple calls from office because my daughter had fever," says Maya.
"I had to work late in the night that week sending out e-mails and instructions to my team. Thankfully, most of my colleagues have been parents so they co-operate with me."
Sreekala Nair, 34, who works as a high school teacher at an international school in Dombivli, a township near Thane, also feels that kids end up taking most of your time when you work from home.
With schools being shut earlier than usual during the lockdown, Sreekala is in charge of making worksheets and activities for Classes 6 to 9.
"I follow the same rules at home like we do on regular days when I am working away. Both my kids have to wake up by 7 am on weekdays and 8 am on weekends. They are taught to be independent and eat their own food, like they do in school," says Sreekala.
"We follow a schedule and make little tweaks when required. While I work, I give them some activity which keeps them occupied -- they finish homework, take up craft or painting. If they are too bored, I tell them to play board games than watch TV or play games on the mobile," she adds.
Maya and Sreekala's tips:
- If you have an infant or elderly parents, make your team understand your situation and have backup.
- Plan your day the night before. Check e-mails late evening and early morning and create a list of things you need to accomplish for the day.
- Follow discipline at home. Plan a list of activities that will keep kids busy while you are working.
- When you are working at home, let your kids know that you are doing something important as well. Tell them if you are expecting an important call and train them to behave well. If they are old enough, they should know they cannot interrupt you when you are working or on call with someone at work.
- Once your work and chores are over, remember to set aside time to spend with your kids. Try to have at least one meal with your family.
2. Managing interruptions
Pune-based Priya Chavan, 38 is a freelance artist who has been working from home for 8 years now. She has two kids (aged 7 and 10) and a dog to take care of.
Priya feels that working from home has given her the freedom to prioritise her family and choose her working hours wisely.
She has a maid who helps her cook and finish small chores. But she admits there will be interruptions always and one has to work around it.
"Sometimes the kids have projects to finish and I have deadlines to meet. There are parents of kids and family members calling to do small talk during the day because they think you are at home and available."
"Then you are part of family groups that take away most of your time. Initially I used to get carried away chatting with friends and family and work used to simply pile up while I missed deadlines," says Priya.
Over the years, Priya says she has mastered some of the tricks of working from home.
- Choose a comfortable spot and turn it into your workstation. Let the kids and pets know they can't mess around the place or misplace your things.
- Put your phone away while you are working. Give yourself a deadline and be strict about it; that's very important.
- Do not answer calls that are not important while you are working. Use a Bluetooth/wireless mic and talk to people while you are sweeping the house, putting out clothes to dry, watering plants or doing things that need less attention.
- If you attend calls while working, keep the conversation brief or text them to say you'll call them later.
- Do not ignore your pets and kids completely. They may not like seeing you busy, so let them sit in your lap or next to you while you work.
3. Managing your phone
For Sameer Parab, 41, a media executive at a leading entertainment channel, who is working from home, his smartphone is the most distracting gadget.
"Earlier I used to work from home only during the monsoon or if I was travelling. But now, when I am working from home most of the week, I realise that I cannot put my phone away. There is WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram... I just get immersed in them and take longer to finish work."
Sameer has these tips for others:
- Do not check your social media more than twice a day. Limit your time to 15 or 20 minutes to browse your phone.
- This is the perfect time for a digital detox. Try to delete/minimise apps that distract you. Especially shopping and social media apps.
- Resist the temptation to share or forward messages and memes in a group. You can check social media while you take a break to eat your lunch or have tea/coffee.
Most professionals working from home agree that they are spending more time in front of the laptop/computer than usual.
"At work, I would say login from 10 am to 6 pm. At home, I am online till 8 pm or more because something or the other comes up and then you can't log off. Also, everyone else is working from home so there is no excuse to log off," says Sapna Choudhary who works at an accounting firm and complains that she rarely gets time to spend with her family.
"My mother complains that I lock myself indoors and don't step out even to eat lunch. She leaves food on my bed and I tell her to leave a spoon so I don't have to get up and wash my hands," adds the 23 year old.
Financial consultant Vivek Gidwani, 31, who often works from home and out of office because his job requires him to travel took a two month break in 2016 to de-stress before joining his new organisation.
Today, he has a schedule and come what may, doesn't work beyond office hours.
"Back in 2016, I used to spend nearly 12 to 14 hours in front of the computer working for international clients. I had no friends and social life. I put on weight eating chips, pizza and mostly processed food, because I had no time to cook. Since I returned to India, I decided to work on my own terms. The pay is less, but so is the stress."
Vivek has these tips for professionals:
- Check with your organisation and team about the login hours. Stick to the schedule. Treat it like an exam. Not a minute more, not less. Set reminders for tasks, if you can't keep up.
- Use the time you save from travelling to work to do some exercise at home and plan your meals.
- Cut and store vegetables/fruits in the refrigerator to make a quick salad/stir fry when you are hungry. Keep nuts or juices handy for mid-work cravings.
- Remember to take breaks and drink water. Stretch. Move every 30 to 40 minutes.
Dear readers, how are you dealing with the lockdown while working from home?
Do you have kids, pets and parents to take care of?
What is your schedule like? How do you smartly balance time between work and family?
What are some of the tools/apps you use to get work done? How do you avoid distractions and interruptions?
Share your simple hacks, ideas and more to firstname.lastname@example.org (subject: Work from home tips) along with your name, age, organisation you work for and where you stay. We'll feature the best responses on Rediff.com.