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By eliminating the commute, working remotely offers some wonderful time savings you can put toward better activities. Only it probably hasn’t worked out that way if you’ve been working from home.

Data collected by three academics from 12,000 people across the U.S. and Europe during the pandemic show that the additional time was often burned on unproductive work and unsatisfying leisure activities.

A first step is to guard against Parkinson’s Law – work expands to fill time. “We found that being on the road can help people switch gears between home and work, and that without a commute, people struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Instead of shutting down the computer and rattling home on a crowded train at 6 p.m., many people are working later than ever, ‘just one more e-mail’ stretching into an extra two hours hunched over the laptop. And that additional work time is not always well-spent,” Harvard Business School assistant professor Ashley Whillans, University of Zurich professor Jochen Menges and Harvard postdoctoral researcher Lauren Howe write in Harvard Business Review.

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Also, guard against what they call “passive leisure.” When people did manage to gain free time, it often was squandered on passive leisure activities such as watching TV, which rose dramatically, while active leisure activities such as volunteering or socializing became less frequent. They recommend the following:

  • Create your own “commute”: Their research found the happiest commuters are those who use their commutes to plan their workdays. Other research has shown the most-desired commute length is 16 minutes. So putting that together, they recommend starting your remote-working day by taking 15 minutes to plan. You might even do that with a short walk, adding an element of stress relief.
  • Give yourself a Feierabend: In Germany, that’s a daily evening celebration marking the moment when work is switched off for the day, often accompanied, they note, by a hearty German beer. “Whether you finish the day with a beverage, a snack, going for a run or calling a friend, find a ritual that can mark the end of your workday and give you something to look forward to. These daily routines help you celebrate what you have accomplished during the day (rather than focusing on what still needs to be done), bringing life meaning and happiness,” they write.
  • Focus your day on a “must-win”: To avoid drowning in work, give your day some intention with a priority item. Belinda Ginter, a certified emotional kinesiologist who lives in Oshawa, goes further, recommending four priorities each day. She sits down every Sunday night with a glass of wine and sets attainable weekly goals. Every night, she draws from those four specific goals for the coming day. “By doing this, I am able to easily focus on what I need to do, even with the distractions of having children home. Even on my craziest days, I know I can complete four tasks,” she told ThriveGlobal
  • Put “proactive time” on your agenda: Zoom is a great place to visit, but you shouldn’t want to live there. Reserve time each day in your schedule for important but not urgent work.

Another useful strategy might be to figure out whether you are an integrater or segmenter. Nancy Rothbard, a professor at the Wharton School, explains that integraters are people who don’t mind blurring the boundary between work and home, while segementers have a strong desire to separate business from personal life. Segmenters should probably return to the office as soon as they can. But in the meantime, her advice is to acknowledge that work and home lives can’t be completely separate. Create a structure and routines to structure your time; separate your work space from living space and other people at home; develop a ritual for transitioning out of work mode, such as closing all tabs and shutting down all apps; and move home-related items to another room so family don’t come in to find their stuff while you’re working.

If you’re working from home, you might as well be productive.

Quick hits

  • To invigorate your small talk, writer Dave Schools recommends that after the other person says something, you should respond with a two-word phrase: “I’m curious.” Invariably, they will reveal more.
  • Never ask your boss anything you can easily find out for yourself, advises entrepreneur Anouare Abdou. Also avoid responding to a directive with “Are you sure?” since it might indicate a lack of trust in your boss’s judgment.
  • Here are the eight verbs you need on your resume to show your leadership skills, according to researcher Deborah Sweeney’s canvas of HR officials: Built, championed, collaborated, generated, led, owned, spearheaded and transformed.
  • Presentations expert Dave Paradi suggests three types of slides for each talk: The slides you will use when speaking, primarily visual with clear message headlines; backup slides with additional information explaining those presentation slides, to be called upon when needed; and document-only slides, which are different versions of the presentation slides with additional data or explanations.
  • Happy workaholics don’t need work-life balance, says executive coach Ed Batista. Instead, they need boundaries to keep themselves under some control.

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