Pandemic paradox

For some, time seems to slow down as one day passes much like another, while for others, life has become much more disruptive

I WOKE up with a start on Monday thinking I'd be late for work. Only it wasn't Monday, and I had nowhere to go. I could have been in the middle of Salvador Dali's Persistence of Memory landscape - all I needed was a melting clock hanging off my nightstand.Suddenly, the concept of surrealism didn't seem so surreal.

It's a paradox of pandemic times.

Victor Seah, senior lecturer of psychology at Singapore University of Social Sciences, says: "Our perception of time is dependent on multiple cues which mark its passage. On some days during this period, such cues are either absent or weakened. Furthermore, the pre-circuit-breaker routines - which vary depending on the day of the week - are replaced by those that are identical throughout."

"The circuit breaker period has brought about widespread changes - some of which will lead to depression or a general sense of lethargy, and apathetic state," says Dr Seah.

With working from home, the physical separation of professional and personal life has all but disappeared.

For all the WFH benefits extolled previously, the problem of technology-driven work overload (eg, after-hours work emails) is likely to be aggravated in a Covid-19 world.

"My boss is messaging me at 8pm!" "I am switching on my PC earlier than usual, and logging off later." Sound familiar?

Even before Covid-19, a Randstad Workmonitor survey revealed that 76 per cent of respondents in Singapore respond to work-related calls and emails outside of their regular working hours, and it is very likely that more people are working beyond their stipulated working hours during the circuit breaker.

Martin Hill, director of human resource at Randstad Singapore says, however, it is important to restore some semblance of balance by sticking to a routine.

"Don't get stuck in a rut by waking up and walking to your desk to start the day, and only ending your work when it's time to get into bed. Instead, hold yourself accountable to taking a break between tasks and make sure that you log off work on time. If you're working on a laptop, stow it away after work so you don't feel the urge to switch back on after dinner."

Mr Hill adds that creating a to-do list in the morning before work helps to prioritise and reasonably determine what one can accomplish in the day, with the caveat to leave enough room for flexibility, as priorities and deadlines can change throughout the day.

But what happens if you choose to keep work and home separate when working from home, and your colleagues or bosses don't? With presenteeism prevalent in Asian working culture, you might feel obliged to respond.

Mr Hill says: "While it might be acceptable to some people, it is important to acknowledge that others might not appreciate receiving calls at 9pm, especially if it is for non-urgent work matters. If it starts becoming a regular occurrence that is disrupting your sleeping hours and mental health, communicate with your colleagues and let them know that they should only contact you after work hours for urgent matters.

"You can also switch off email notifications on your phone, or just switch on the do-not-disturb mode so that you don't feel the need to respond after office hours."

Paul Heng, founder and managing director of NeXT Career Consulting Group, Asia, concurs and says: "Make it pretty clear from the beginning, apart from 'the sky is falling scenarios', your work-from-home working hours are from X to Y. Be disciplined and stick to your planned hours. There will be colleagues/bosses who will still reach out to you. Resist response - soon enough, people will learn."

As days morph into each other when our usual routines are lost, Dr Seah says one way to break the monotony and look forward to each work day at home, is to savour your lunch. "Savouring, the act of reviewing, appreciating, and taking delight in an experience (eg, the crunchiness and saltiness of an ikan bilis in a nasi lemak), has been found to increase well-being and positive feelings. People consistently report lunch time as one of the best parts of the work day - this can continue even when working from home," he adds.

Exercise has also helped me cope during this period. I set aside about an hour, three times a week, and log in to Instagram and Zoom for free zumba or yoga classes.

Of course, my shopping habits have also progressed online, which has taken a hit on my wallet. But in these surreal times, something that increases my dopamine levels can't hurt.

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