The Pandemic Work-Life Balance

I would be remiss if I didn’t take some time to actually talk about the ongoing pandemic.  For today’s update, I want to take a moment and let you all know why my updates have been spotty for the past three months and how much longer I expect this to continue.

I had a suspicion back in April that my productivity had dropped and my stress levels had skyrocketed following the statewide closure in March.  It felt like I was doing a lot more work with less actual output, and at the same time my personal life was struggling.  By May it felt the opposite, with better productivity and improved work-life balance. However, I had no data or proof this was the case.  Thankfully, I was tracking some timecard data during this time.  Here is what I found.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Work Productivity

The Blue line represents quality work completed per day, the yellow line shows the total hours worked that day. The area in green is the range seen during the same time period in 2019.

The chart above measures my work productivity since March against my productivity during the same period in 2019.  Productive work means time spent producing quality output, whereas unproductive work includes things like hardware trouble, trouble focusing due to multi-tasking, unproductive meetings, and work that doesn’t produce good results.  When stacked together, it shows how many hours per day I considered myself “working.”

As you can see, my productivity in March was consistent with 2019 trends.  When the COVID-19 lock down started, my productivity tanked.  It only recovered once I had resolved to make some significant changes to my home setup.  In May, the result of changes made to my office reflected in my work performance.  Per the data, I was consistently outperforming my pre-lockdown numbers until a company-wide VPN change and O365 upgrade brought my work to a standstill. I was back at the same productivity that I had when COVID-19 started.  I am still in a state of recovering from these new changes and I am trending in the right direction, but I am unlikely to achieve the same performance I had at the end of May.  This is because the changes were built on the expectation that most employees work 100% out of an office and wasn’t built to handle a 100% remote environment.  This puts a limit on potential effectiveness.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Personal Well-Being

The Blue line represents quality personal time per day, the yellow represents all non-working time. A larger gap between the two indicates higher stress or difficult personal struggles.

This chart measures the quality of my personal time.  Productive time is represents things like playing games, spending time with my family, personal development, or otherwise time spent doing things I enjoy.  Unproductive time represents things that I view as stressful like arguments with a spouse, tough commutes, unwanted house maintenance, and taxes.  The higher the gap between productive time and unproductive time means higher stress and worse overall well-being.  Large spikes represent times of high uncertainty which are additional indicators of stress and unhealthy lifestyles.

The take away here is the amount of uncertainty at the beginning of the pandemic was a difficult time for me and my family.  It took several months to correct, but ultimately I re-organized my home workspace, set dedicated “no-work” time slots, and completely stopped checking work over the weekend.  My personal life took a permanent move towards consistency that remains to this day.  You can also correlate this to when updates to this site stopped and then re-started.

What Does It All Mean?

In 2019, my home office was meant as a space where I can work from home only when needed.  I never intended it to by my permanent work location.  It took a real commitment to turn this space into a permanent home office.  Until I took the steps to make wholesale upgrades to my space, I was never really effective at work.  In the same vein, work from home is meant to ease the separation between home and work, to improve the balance when you have to walk both lines at the same time.  When work from home becomes your permanent working location, you need a well-defined separation between work and home to maintain a quality relationship with those around you.  Making these adjustments had a significant difference in my productivity but it has not yet reached the level of consistency and predictability I saw before the pandemic started.

Until I can see that consistency, things will continue to be uncertain. I am starting to see some signs that things are working towards a normal state.  If this continues, my ability to spend free time on personal projects like gaming will start to come back.  For now, I have struck a delicate balance that am hesitant to test right now.  Perhaps later this month if things smooth out, I will be coming back for more additions to this site.

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