One of the benefits of academic life is that the job can allow a certain amount of flexibility. In most cases your employer will not expect you to be in an office from 9am to 5pm every day (although working culture and expectations vary from university to university). Working from home is the norm for many academics but this can be a challenge for some people who are not then able to ‘switch off’ and leave work behind to enjoy relaxation.
Here are some of the key time management challenges faced when working from home:
- Modern technology: smart phones and laptops mean that you never switch off
Many of us base the working day around dealing with problems that have come on to our desk via email. This is fine if you can be strict with yourself and not look at email outside work hours. But you’ll also want to use your phone or laptop for social and leisure pursuits and then every time a new message arrives, how can you resist reading it?! You may also have Twitter and Facebook work accounts, and this means that the line between work time and leisure time becomes increasingly blurred.
- Students’ demands
This affects all academics but is related to the point above and is especially challenging when working at home. If you respond to students at all hours of the day and night, within a few minutes of their email being sent, they assume that you will always be available to send a response immediately. You are training them in bad habits!
- Proving that you’re working
Many people who work from home feel the pressure to prove to office-based colleagues and their line managers that they are working hard and not being lazy. This can lead to the desire to give an immediate response to a problem, when actually this breaks up the working day far too often.
Here are some ways to prevent this from being a problem:
It is vital to set aside allotted times to check your emails and social networking sites, whether for work or leisure. Some people give these jobs an hour at the beginning or the end of the day. Almost everyone who contacts you will be happy to wait a few hours for a response, so don’t let their email pressure you to change your work habits (even if it is marked ‘urgent’!)
Think about how you use and file emails. Would it help to have a ‘pending’ folder for messages which are awaiting action or a reply from someone else? Do you suffer from ‘empty inbox panic’ where you are constantly striving to keep your inbox empty? Or is your inbox so cluttered and extensive that you find it difficult to remember which message you need to deal with first?
Other important issues to do with time management and working at home:
- Be self-aware and explore how you relax: do you need to get away from the house (and from your home office) in order to truly let work go? There’s no point staying at home to taking leave if you’re going to spend the day working.
- Monitor your own working patterns for a few weeks: how many hours a day or week do you work? What distracts you most? When is your most productive time? You might find that your own patterns surprise you and that you were working much harder than you thought!