Remote working has created a new kind of workload burnout. With most of us attending several Zoom or Teams meetings a day, it can feel impossible to do any real work. People are starting their days earlier and finishing them later, just to complete a couple of hours of task-orientated work amidst the back-to-back meetings. We’re glued to our screens more than ever.
Meetings interrupt our flow. According to a study by the University of California Irvine, it takes an average of 20 minutes to get back into your workflow every time you get distracted. On average, we also lose 120 minutes a day in distractions, which amounts to a shocking 10 hours per week.
Another study by King's College London found that IQs reduce by approximately 10% when we’re distracted. And it’s not just all the extra meetings that make it difficult to work efficiently from home, there are also other potential distractions such as calls or texts from family or friends, or another trip to the fridge. All these factors add up to a work overload.
Why work overload causes anxiety and poor thinking
Overload is detected as a threat by the primal system of the brain—the amygdala—and in response, it sends fuel to our large muscle groups preparing them for fight or flight.
This feeling of threat makes us more defensive, reactive and unable to see a clear path forward. We’re officially stuck in a vicious cycle. Ironically, overload disables us just when we need all of our faculties to juggle so many competing priorities.
And, paradoxically, meetings are required because they replace the quick chats that enable people to collaborate in the physical office. So how do we cope and stay productive?
1. Meetings meeting meetings
The influx of video meetings, stemming from a natural desire to interact and collaborate, means workdays are lengthier and often don’t have a stopping point. Diaries fill with hour-long meetings often without a schedule or agenda. You can download a Laughology template here for your own use.
Firstly, is a meeting the right thing? Does it need to be as formal as a video conference or is it a quick five-minute call to clarify some points?
Start to positively challenge the necessity and length of meetings if you feel they are unnecessary. Do they need to be an hour? What’s the point of the meeting? Has an agenda been circulated prior with actions, so attendees have clear expectations and come prepared?
Try blocking out days or half days where no meetings can be scheduled. Agree that people can call you on these days for a quick chat instead. Eventually this should minimise meetings altogether.
2. Move, breathe and break
The mind-body connection is well-established, even though we have a tendency to operate as if our brain is simply a device. We ‘power on’ early in the morning and expect to run at a continual pace until we turn it off at the end of the day.
In fact, your brain is an organ just like any other. If you want it to perform at its best, you need to provide it with sufficient fuel in the form of sleep, exercise, nutrition and oxygen.
Press the reset button at certain times of the day by having breaks. Go outside or stand by a window to get natural sunlight and fresh air. Try some ‘triangular breathing’.
Take short walks outside. Just five minutes is fine, but try and do this at least four times a day.
Giving your brain a break by getting up and moving around creates energy and focus by increasing blood flow to the brain. You’ll also be able to think through your workload in a better way.
3. Pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro Technique helps you resist all those self-interruptions that tempt you throughout the day.
It re-trains your brain to focus, using one of the many free productivity timers available through smartphone apps. Each Pomodoro is dedicated to one task and each break is a chance to reset and bring your attention back to what you should be working on.
Pomodoro is a cyclical system. You work in short sprints, which ensures you’re consistently productive. You also get to take regular breaks that bolster your motivation and keep you creative. Here’s how to get started with Pomodoro in five easy steps:
- Choose a task to be accomplished
- Set the Pomodoro timer to 25 minutes
- Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
- Take a short break (five minutes is OK)
- Every four Pomodoros take a longer break
You can download this handy sheet to share with your team or pin it on your wall to remind you what to do.
4. Batch tasking
Batch tasking is a helpful way for your brain to work well. All you need to do is think about which tasks you have that sit together. For example, what admin tasks do you have? These could include phone calls, data entry or email follow-ups. Batch all these together and do them in one go.
Other batches could be planning, researching or writing. Don’t batch too many of these at once and use the Pomodoro technique to get the best out of your time spent on them.
The brain concentrates better when we batch tasks and, rather than decreasing your IQ through distractions, we increase it by grouping pieces of work where we need to use a certain thinking skill.
Also, know when your brain works best. Is it early in the morning or late at night? We all have different times of the day when we focus better, so plan your more taxing tasks accordingly.
5. Set yourself micro-deadlines and goals
Stay on-task with micro-deadlines. Breaking large pieces of work down into chunks and setting deadlines for each will help keep workload down and increase motivation, as smaller goals are more manageable.
Use a to-do list which provides visual confirmation that you’re chipping away at your goals.
Each time you tick off a completed task and achieve a goal, you get a small dopamine hit which encourages you to do more.
6. Eisenhower Method
The Eisenhower Method, also known as the Eisenhower Matrix or Eisenhower Box, is used to organise duties and tasks in order of priority. All tasks are evaluated using the criteria important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent, and put in quadrants relating to their assigned status.
Doing this at least once a day will help you be super organised. It can also help when others are asking you to support them on a task or do a piece of work for them, as you can question the importance and urgency of their work in relation to your own.
Attending our FREE webinar Finding your Oomph - getting your motivation and drive back will explain this further.
7. Go off-grid
Going offline for a while will help you get through more work in a shorter amount of time. Let people who may need to get in touch with you know that you’re blocking time out to work.
Blocking out an hour, turning your phone to silent, moving it away from your desk, turning off notifications and any other distractions allows you to focus solely on a piece of work. You can use the Pomodoro method to increase concentration. I guarantee your work will be better and you’ll also work quicker.
Working from home is here to stay, so we need to get better at helping ourselves work in a way that is productive and supports our wellbeing. Putting into place just one of these ideas will help.