Published: 13th February 2021
Hi and welcome, this is Creating Cadence, a podcast for life and work in motion. And I’m your host Mich Bondesio.
Click on the audio player to listen, or read the show notes below.
In this season, I’m introducing a Q&A element to some of my episodes and that’s what we’re doing for the first time today. I’m going to be answering some questions and addressing some challenges and observations that listeners have written in about.
The topics in this episode cover issues with balancing work and personal responsibilities in this time of Covid.
I’m a business coach and performance mentor, a consultant and the founder of Growth Sessions, which is my learning and training platform for individuals and small teams working in creative and digitally focused workplaces. Essentially, I help people to build better work-life cadence, so that they can lead more extraordinary lives in full colour.
The aim of my work is to enable people to develop more mindful approaches to work that better support their creativity, productivity and wellbeing. You can find out more about me and what I do at www.growthsessions.co.
The Creating Cadence podcast is an accompaniment to Growth Sessions and supports my mission to help people activate more of their potential, both in themselves and in their businesses.
A reminder too that I’m recording this podcast at home during the third lockdown. So you may hear random noises and passing traffic. It’s also howling a gale today and my neighbours are doing repairs on their roof.
Today’s questions are from Rachel, a freelancer based in the North of England.
Rachel submitted two questions.
The first is How to avoid wasting time scrolling when you should be working (which just takes some will power on my part I think)? And second, how can people separate their work life from their home life?
Rachel also included some background which I’ll share when we get to her second question.
So, thank you so much for writing in Rachel, these are great questions and pretty common predicaments that people are finding themselves in with many of us working from home.
Q: How to avoid wasting time scrolling when you should be working
Rachel I’m afraid this is going to take far more than just your willpower.
For many of us, scrolling on our phones has become an autopilot behaviour. It’s a coping mechanism for stress. And it does two things. Scrolling can be a soothing behaviour and it’s also a procrastination tool. Studies have confirmed that procrastination is an emotional response to stress and diving down the social media rabbit hole has become a common way for us to unconsciously avoid what’s making us feel stressed, bored or uncomfortable.
(Check out episode 7 on Procrastination if you want to dive a bit deeper on the topic).
Now our willpower comes from the same well as our energy, motivation and our cognitive behaviour (by that I mean our thought processes and decision making). That means that if our supply is running dry because we’re perhaps super stressed or we’ve got a lot of work on that’s using more of our cognitive load, then we’re more likely to engage in detrimental habits, whether that means scrolling or eating naughty carbs and sugar.
Also, don’t forget that a lot of apps that we access on our digital devices (particularly the social media apps) they have been specifically and deliberately created to hold your attention. This is primarily so that their advertisers (who are their real clients) get their products seen by you.
These apps also use behavioural psychology to get you hooked on their platform, so that you keep coming back because of a fear of missing out.
What’s happening here is that your brain is deliberately being hijacked.
Psychologists have also identified the affects of our digital addictions as being exactly the same as any other addiction. And when we become so reliant on our devices and their apps, the physical and mental withdrawal effects we feel when we’re without them are as strong as if you were addicted to crack cocaine.
Unfortunately our willpower stands no chance against the tantalising scroll. It’s like gambling with a one-armed bandit. You keep pulling the handle, just once more. Similarly, scrolling has become that default shortcut behaviour to soothe us when we feel any discomfort.
So, if we can’t rely on willpower, what do we do?
Well a good place to start with stopping the automatic scrolling behaviour is to first remove access to the tool which enables this behaviour.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, the main and most typical thing we should really need our phones for in a work context is to make a call – all the other things we do on a phone, we can also do on our desktop)
So, when you are trying to do deep or focused work, then put your phone in a drawer, put it behind you, put it in another room or keep it in your bag. do not have it on your person or within arms reach of you. Turn off notifications, put it on silent,
Studies have found that if we can see our devices, even if we’re not using them, they split our attention in two. And when we are not truly focusing on one thing, it’s easier to get distracted by another.
There are other ways to change our habits too, which I will cover in future episodes, but to summarise, my go to suggestion to help you stop the scrolling, is to make it a challenge to dive into those soothing but detrimental behaviours. You have to disrupt the existing behaviour in some way. You have to build the new behaviour and that takes practice. Not just saying you’ll do it, but actually doing it.
Keeping your phone away from your line of sight is a simple measure, and you might think it sounds so simple that it’s ineffective, but you will find if you give it a go, that out of sight truly is out of mind.
Q: How can people separate their work life from their home life?
Here’s some extra info from Rachel to flesh out this question …
Rachel writes: I’ve found as a freelancer it’s a challenge because of how flexible you can be with your hours. It means you can also work all evening or at least have work on the brain when you would ordinarily be thinking of anything but work if you had a 9-5 employed job.
Not having this distinction between working time and non-working time can be quite draining I find, if you start to feel like you’re always working and potentially not being very efficient with your time as a result.
I thought maybe people who are now working from home more might find this relatable as well… as you’re not able to leave the space you work in.
For example, some people might not be lucky enough to have a separate office in their home to use as a work zone or have access to a place like a coworking space and therefore end up working in their living room or kitchen which would normally be used as a place for relaxing and enjoying time off work.
Rachel, thank you for your thoughts. This is a challenge I see a lot. It requires both a mindset shift and a habit shift.
Working remotely, or in a distributed manner, from home as most of us are currently doing, requires a lot more discipline to manage the distractions and the blended environment we’re in.
Irrespective of whether you have a separate work room at home, or are working from your kitchen table, the key here is to develop some habits and rituals that help to set boundaries, so you can demarcate and separate these different parts of your daily life.
I cover this in a lot of more detail in my Intentional Productivity training courses, but I’m going to offer some suggestions for listeners to consider applying in their situation.
The first is to have intentional rituals to start and end your day. This prepares your mind for starting work and signals to your brain when it’s time to stop work.
For me, when I sit down in front of my computer to start my day, the first things I do are 1. Put my cup of tea or glass of water on the right hand side of my desk. 2. I open and turn on my laptop, 3. I open my bullet journal planner to see what’s on the cards for today. That tells my brain that it’s time to get into work mode.
And when I finish, I spend the last 30 minutes of my work day reviewing my calendar and bullet journal planner to prepare for tomorrow. What signals me to start this shutdown routine is a calendar reminder that I’ve set in the morning based on how many hours I want or need to work today.
I then close my journal and my laptop, which signals to my brain that it’s time to shift to a different mode of being. After that I might go for a walk, or cook dinner, or watch telly.
If you’re working in a space that’s used for other things as well, then it’s good to be as portable as you can be. To help you shift from one mode to the other. For example, can you keep a lightweight movable productivity kit nearby that holds all the tools you need to do your work, that you can put beside your computer when working.
Your kit could contain your stapler, punch, post its, pens, etc. Whatever you use regularly to help you with your tasks. When you’re done for the day, you move your laptop and productivity kit out of the way, so that the table can be used for your evening meal or helping the kids with their homework. And if it’s out of the way, you are not tempted to dip in work stuff.
Now, our phones and tablets can be detrimental to relaxation in the evening too, because they are also the place where we check our emails on the go.
The best thing is to set your devices down in the evening, but if you are using your phone or tablet at night, can you activate your night mode settings for certain apps, so that you’re unable to access emails after a certain time?
If you work as part of a team, do you have agreement within the team about not sending or responding to emails outside of typical working hours? Are you clear about setting boundaries with your clients too?
Don’t be afraid, we all have personal responsibilities and our current situation has made it easier to be open about them. You can be up front with clients, by specify your working hours. You can add a line in your email signature which indicates your working pattern.
To be brutally honest, 99% of the time, nothing is so important or urgent that it requires a response at 9pm on Tuesday or 11am on a Sunday.
And this is where we need to adjust our own mindset and behaviours too. We acting on autopilot and we are letting ourselves work too much.
Even if you put in the extra hours tonight to get the work done, there will still be more work to do tomorrow. And you will be tired. And if you repeat that cycle every day, eventually you’re on track for burnout.
Our brains need adequate time for rest and recovery, so we have to make time away from the console and from our screens.
Sirka, a business consultant also wrote in to share that her challenge working remotely is all the extra time spent on computer screens, especially when doing additional online courses in the evening and weekend.
But she has a way to mitigate the stress and strain. She says: “I realised how important exercise is not just for the body to shake off the sluggishness, but also for my mental well-being.
It’s simple, if we don’t adequately support our body and brain, we can’t work effectively over the long haul.
Many of us are spending far too many hours on Zoom calls. We have to stop this. We have to set better boundaries. We have to change the culture. And it starts with each and every one of us.
So decide how you want to work? What’s important to you in the way that you work? What do you like or dislike? What can you introduce or take away? When is a meeting truly necessary? Does your email really need to be open all day? Do those notifications really need to be pinging at you?
Yes, things do fluctuate from day to day, and we can’t work to rigid systems, so there will be times when you’re spending extra time online. But you can take control of designing what a typical day will look like for you? Can you factor in activities you can do to help you decompress after a long day online?
We have a choice here.
The bottom line is to create clearer boundaries between work and home life, we have to be more deliberate in how we work. We have to be intentional about our productivity.
As mentioned earlier, I offer self-paced courses and coaching programmes focused on developing intentional productivity practices. You can find out more about them on growthsessions.co.
Thank you to everyone who wrote in. I will get to the other questions I’ve received in future episodes, and please do keep them coming.
So what’s bugging you about productivity, wellbeing or remote work. Do you want to share the challenges you’re experiencing with managing your focus, work performance or culture. Or have you found solutions to support your work better in current times? You can write to hello at growthsessions dot co
The Creating Cadence podcast is a place where I share thoughts, ideas, tips, and the latest research on productivity, behaviour design and digital wellness, to help you develop a better work life cadence. If you want to understand the concept of Cadence in more depth, please have a listen to episodes 1 and 2 from the first season.
So thanks again for being here. Until next time, please take care out there. Be brave, think big and keep moving forwards, one step at a time.
“If you’re looking to make positive changes in your work-life, this podcast is a must-listen! Just brilliant!”
“I’ve been enjoying the podcasts and have been taking notes from them. A great mini-course which is very accessible. Your voice is perfect for podcasting.”
These podcast show notes are only shared via the Cadence newsletter. Subscribing gives you access to a safe space for enriching your knowledge and helping you think differently. You’ll get 1 – 2 emails from me per month, max. (I hate spam and overtly salesy crap, so I won’t subject you to them either!)