zones

Published on April 17, 2020

Zones have been all the rage over the last few weeks in the remote working scene.

The idea is not new, but now so many of us are working from home, it appears as if all remote work-related content has gained elevated traction. Among one of the many ideas that keeps coming up is that you should try to create your own zones when working.

A zone is a place where you perform a specific task. In that zone, all that should happen is the task you have assigned to that space. For example, my desk could be my work zone -- all I should be doing at my desk is working. A specific seat in my living room could be my relaxation zone -- when I am there, I should be done for the day.

Before I started working remotely, I let the same spaces in my house serve many different purposes.

My bedroom was the place where I slept, worked on side projects, and ate breakfast.

However, after starting to work from home, it became clear that I needed to create more boundaries between my work and my life. After all, if I am spending so much time working, and I am working from my bedroom, then that’s two-thirds of my day being spent in one place (between working and sleeping).

Over the last few weeks, I have been making a conscious effort to plan out the zones in my life -- the places I go to do certain things. There is a seat in the living room that I like to sit in at nights. When I sit in it, I know that I am done for the day.

There is a separate seat that I try to sit in when it is day time. This is because, during the day, I am in a different headspace than I am in at night, and I want to create a boundary between the two. After adopting this approach for a while, my mental attachment to these zones has grown.

My bedroom is now the place where I sleep and work. However, I only sleep in my bed, and I only work at my desk. After my day is over, I take my phone out of my room and spend time with family. I do all my extra reading on my phone, and try to stay away from my room as much as possible. My room is for sleep and work, not so much recreation.

I have also been trying to apply this principle to eating. Last year, I used to eat breakfast in my room, because I enjoyed listening to a podcast while eating. But now, I try as hard as I can to eat away from my desk. This is still a work in progress -- sometimes I have lunch or an afternoon snack at my desk -- but I am committed to making these zones clearer.

Eating away from my desk means that, when I am at work, I am less likely to feel hungry. In fact, I am hoping that, over time, eating at my desk will feel even more unnatural, because I have bound the activity to a different place in my house.

For me, eating away from my desk is also a good sign that I am investing the right amount of time in my non-digital life. If I am eating dinner in the living room, it means I am spending time with family; if I am having a break in the kitchen, it means that I am not spending my entire workday in one room, moving only to retrieve food.

Creating these zones helps my mind separate different parts of my life.

Eating happens in one room. Working happens in another. Exercising happens in a specific spot in another room.

So, when I go to my exercise zone, my mind knows it is time for exercise. Or when I sit at my desk, my mind knows that I should be working (or preparing to work). These are somewhat small changes to my life, but I think most people undervalue the importance of good environment design in productivity.

I still have a lot more I want to do. I want to try to stop eating at my desk (which will be difficult, because I usually have a lot going on during the work day). I want to try to keep my phone off during work days, so that my phone becomes more associated with recreation than a way in which I stay up-to-date when working.

These small changes will compound over time. I have seen that, with my exercising, being in the same spot every day helps me focus. My mind knows that, in my exercise spot, I don’t need to do anything else other than exercise. Thus, I am able to just pedal on the exercise bike, without having to worry about other tasks that I could be doing at the same time.

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