Guest blog by, Kristin M. Reed, Workplace Strategist – Engagement Influencer – Experience Champion – Trusted Partner

If I could go back in time, you know, way back to early 2020… what would I tell my March, 2020 self ? How would I reassure and support her?

Days after the mid-March exodus from working in offices, airports, hotels, to working from home and nowhere else, I began writing. I wrote as a way to explore my own feelings, reactions, hopes and fears to the rapid changes we all were experiencing. To reflect on how to cope, adjust, and get through. To share some of the “best of” ways to maintain a level of engagement, comfort, and resilience. To prepare my mind for this – at that time temporary – new way of doing things. Little did I, we, know that this would be a 12+ months-long paradigm shift.

For the last five years, I’ve worked remotely – at home and in cities, airports, hotels, and offices around the globe. I’m used to making a work space “MacGyver style”. Working in a noisy, unfamiliar environment. Finding effective work spaces. Brainstorming virtually. What I wasn’t prepared for? Suddenly – in the midst of many unknowns – my home, the place that is most predictable, familiar and comfortable for my individual work, became a place of reduced choices in where I work, how I control distractions, and ease of movement.

Today, I’m reflecting on my first writing, “Embracing the Distractions to Focus on What’s Important”. On March 18, writing from the corner of my small bedroom, I explored five ways that we do our best individual and focus-time work, from anywhere.

While workplace design can provide the settings we needour homes or other places likely do not. How can we quickly adjust at home so we can focus on our work?

To better understand how we work on our own, any where, Herman Miller conducted extensive research into individual work. What we learned is that there are five states of mind that people try to achieve when doing solo work, but not all of them require privacy.

Of my recommendations, here’s what I’d continue and here’s what I’d do differently.

1. Locked In – a state of mind requiring the highest level of concentration. “I’m in the zone; I don’t want to be disturbed.” – we are trying to solve a complex problem, identify a solution, or think deeply. Typically, we work in this mode for about 2 hours at a time. Right now, my small desk – a signal to my brain that this is where the big-time work happens – is the place I go to for this type of work. Luckily, it is located in a corner in the bedroom, in front of a window that provides a view to the lovely CA sunshine, but where I can also close the door and close out distractions such as my “co-workers” voices and music, and even the cat. Unfortunately, it also puts me in eye-shot of a place where I can take a quick nap…

1 – No change. Having a room with a door is key for me to be able to focus, whether for thinking or while presenting content. For a few months in between, I moved to the open living room. No door or no signal that I needed quiet was a problem. This required a conversation with the co-workers to ask for their help to be quiet or stay in other rooms.

2. Half Open – a balance of productivity and interaction with others. “I’m working, but if it’s important, I’m available.” – we might be editing, coding, or catching up on work, but are open to disruptions. Typically, here, too, we work in this mode for about 2 hours at a time. I might go to my dining room table, with a snack or 2nd cup of coffee, or stay at my desk. The buzz, chatter, or low noise I hear from my co-workers is sometimes refreshing and inspiring.

2 – Slight change. I would stay at my desk only if necessary. I realized the importance of a slight change of scenery, change of “buzz”, in order to transition my mind. If my desk is the only option, I chose to raise my desk to standing height. And, snacks are a must.

3. Opportunistic – fitting in bursts of work between other demands. “I want to protect the pace and energy of my day.” – we might be responding to messages, thinking generally and quickly, or lightly practicing for a presentation. We also want to be resourceful with our time. Typically, we work in this mode for about 30 minutes at a time. I might go for a quick walk, thinking the views might inspire me but not distract my flow of thinking. I might spend a few minutes simply standing and stretching, or moving to get the blood flowing. I might walk over to where the cat, Vashti, is snoozing to give her some love to help clear my mind for thinking.

3 – Major change. I would schedule in those times to walk, move, stand, stretch. Like many, I allowed my calendar to be jam-packed with back to back meetings, time spent rethinking how to do what we thought we mastered, and juggling work things with home-life things. I allowed my schedule to dictate when I (did not) take those well-being breaks, movements, and interruptions. I forgot to be opportunistic for my own well-being!

4. Glide – re-energizing while doing work that doesn’t take a lot of concentration. “I want to work without feeling taxed.” – we might be reading, sketching, writing ideas for clients or markets. We also want to feel a little indulgent in the quiet. Typically, we work in this mode for 30-60 minutes. I love to eat, so taking a lunch break is important for my well-being. I can enjoy a meal indoors at a table or in a soft seat, or outdoors on the patio, while reading all of the Saved Articles in my LinkedIn feed, planning an agenda for a client meeting, or outlining my next great idea to share with my team.

4 – Slight change. I learned that gliding out of the work day is an important transition behavior. I am more purposeful about spending my last 30 to 60 minutes of the day gliding through work, reading, thinking. This makes it a little more natural to click “Shut Down” on my computer!

5. Restore – re-energizing to be more effective while working, so we’re not burning the candle from both ends. This is one of the most important work modes, often overlooked or given lower priority! “I want to be able to take a break without feeling guilty.” – we might nap, play a game, connect with someone, or enjoy a snack. We want to decompress, feel energized, and unwind. Typically, we work in this mode for about 30 minutes. Sitting on the couch with a cup of ice cream, resting on the couch or bed for a quick nap or to watch a few more minutes of my favorite Netflix show, or walking around the block are my favorite ways to be refreshed and ready to do my best work.

5 – Same. Ice cream is a really great companion. Another great idea? Call someone. I call my 2-year-old granddaughter to say hi, to see creativity and freedom in action, and to be reminded that the future is bright and full of hope.

What have you learned works best for your focus and restore times? What tools or access to other resources to help you create places where you can do your best individual work are helping the most? What would make it even better for you?

About the author:

Kristin M. Reed, Workplace Strategist – Engagement Influencer – Experience Champion – Trusted Partner