[YS Learn] World’s top happiness expert reveals how to WFH productively

Work from home has become the new normal amid the coronavirus pandemic, but it isn’t easy. What are the steps individuals and managers can take to ensure productive and happy work days?

French mathematician and writer Blaise Pascal famously said: “All of humanity’s problems stem from the man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

The health threat of loneliness loomed large as billions of people were quarantined in their own homes amid nationwide lockdowns to implement social distancing and quell the spread of coronavirus. 

Prof Raj Raghunathan in conversation with Shradha Sharma

Continued social isolation leads to chronic loneliness and boredom, which can have detrimental effects on physical and mental well-being over the long term. 

Three months later, as offices, stores, cafes, and restaurants open up, people continued to remain cooped up at home – stepping out only if they needed. And amid the layoffs, salary cuts, and anxiety, isolation can be extremely tough to deal with. It is easy to get sucked into a negative vortex of thoughts, which can impact your work and productivity. 

To prevent going down this rabbit hole, Dr Raj Raghunathan, Zale Centennial Professor of Business at the McCombs School of Business, University of Texas, Austin, offered advice in a masterclass with Shradha Sharma, Founder and CEO, YourStory: “Try to reduce the amount of news and reports you consume on a daily basis and avoid negative people in your life.” 

Raj’s work has appeared in scientific journals such as The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, The Journal of Consumer Research, Organisational Behaviour, and Human Decision Processes. Apart from that, his work has also been seen in media publications like Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, The New York Times, and the Atlantic

Raj listed down the many things individuals and managers can do to ensure positive emotions and productivity. 

Lead a healthy lifestyle 

Eat healthy and exercise for at least 20 minutes in a day. “If you are not feeling good physically, it is hard to feel good mentally,” Raj said. He explained that you need to carve out a few minutes from your day to ensure that you lead a healthy lifestyle. If needed, fix a workout regime with your family. 

Set aside a non-negotiable time for work 

One of the biggest banes of working from home is the porous nature of work-life balance. There is no demarcation in terms of physical space or time. “One’s personal life stops and work begins immediately; it is easy to slip from one to the other,” Raj said. 

What helps is carving out a non-negotiable time for work – this could be two to three hours in a day. During these hours, you need to commit yourself to only work and avoid all forms of distractions. 

Raj recommended the Pomodoro Technique, a time management technique that breaks down work into intervals of 25 minutes. So, take a break after every 25 minutes. 

“It is important to identify a time in the day when you re the sharpest and protect it. Don’t fritter that away, else you will feel tired and unproductive,” Raj said. 

Designate a work spot 

To bring in a physical demarcation, select a certain ‘spot’ where you can work peacefully. This could be your home office, or a small corner in your room. 

Raj also believes in dressing up for work. “It is easy to jump out of bed and work in your pyjamas, but when you get up take a shower and dress up, you are sending signals to your mind that you are heading out to work. This will also make you feel more energised,” he said. 

Sometimes it may also help to shift your spot and move around for a few minutes. While you need to have a default space to work, you also need to be flexible. 

“Most importantly, be easy on yourself. Now is not the time to set lofty standards of productivity. Take care of yourself and slowly work towards productive goals,” Raj said. 

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)