"There’s a thin line between being productive and letting go of everything"

We have probably all worked from home once at some point, voluntarily or out of necessity. But how do you divide your day and sort your work or study load now that we collectively depend on our home for a longer period of time? How do you stay focused, how do you keep your team together, what are the tips, tricks and pitfalls? Cursor calls a ‘fellow sufferer’ every day. Today: technological designer in training Tamoor Ali, struggling with his lack of productivity.

photo Privécollectie Tamoor Ali

Yes, of course, the born Pakistani is concerned about the virus that has gripped the world for several weeks now. But perhaps even more about the behavior of fellow humans who don’t understand the seriousness, than about the virus itself. “I go shopping once a week and then I notice how many people still sit outside on a bench, for example.”

His impressions are in strong contrast to those of Pakistani friends in Italy and Spain, for example, who are in a total lockdown in an attempt to contain further spread of the virus. But Ali also has his reservations whether such a complete lockdown would also be a good idea for the Netherlands. "I don't think it solves anything; for all we know, such a virus may just come back afterwards.”

Hours of sunshine

Until then, there is little left to do but to rely on the Dutch strategy and on everyone's own responsibility within the bigger picture. In any case, he is currently only coming out to a very limited extent - except for the aforementioned weekly groceries and an occasional evening walk. “But I only do that once or twice a week. Just to clear my mind, get some fresh air.” Fortunately, the same fresh air is also available in the backyard of his house, where he settles daily to catch up on some missed hours of sunshine after the Dutch winter.

Ali lives in a student house in Eindhoven near WoensXL shopping center. Of the normally six residents, only three are currently in the house, spread over three floors. The social distancing is pretty much accomplished this way, despite sharing facilities such as the bathroom and kitchen. "We don't see each other much, everyone is pretty much living their own life."

He has lived in Eindhoven for almost a year now; he is in the first year of his two-year PDEng traineeship at Mechatronic Systems Design at the TU/e. He has been working from home, just like everyone else from the university, for over a week a now.

Lazy approach

Ali still has to get used to it; planning in particular and continuing to work according to that plan prove to be a challenge. “At the office, everyone is constantly busy with everything, which motivates me. At home you are on your own. I try to stick to my schedule, but” - he laughs - “I take a bit of a lazy approach.”

So he is "not yet fully productive" as he would like to be, the TU/e employee confesses. However, he also acknowledges: "Perhaps in these circumstances we shouldn't be too hard on ourselves." Luckily, this year's first major group project he's involved in, is in its final stages - so the pressure within that project is not too bad. "We are in contact with the team two or three times a week."

According to Ali, he also tries to catch up with some overdue work at home (“there are always things left undone during the year”) and he learns Dutch through TU/e: “My exam is coming up.”

Ali’s best working from home tip is: “Do your daily things as if you were just going to the office. Set goals and try to achieve them. And take breaks regularly, keep your circulation going.” Since a few days now, he has also been doing some basic exercises every morning, “push-ups, some planks. At least that will keep me moving.”


He says he does not follow the daily news too closely, "I do try to keep up with the statistics about the coronavirus online and read the information on the RIVM website." With his friends in the Netherlands he mainly communicates through Whatsapp; he regularly calls Pakistani friends elsewhere in Europe, "if only against boredom."

He also maintains close contact with his family in Pakistan, with the obvious mutual concerns. “Pakistan is a rather chaotic country, a developing country, with not really a very decent healthcare system. So I keep telling my family time and time again, for example to wash their hands regularly and to stay away from others.” He is not sad that he cannot go to his family during this time of the corona crisis. “All international flights to and from Pakistan have been canceled and I can only applaud that decision at the moment. That way you can be sure that there is not a lot of passengers going in and out of the country.”

Ali assumes that the virus will have the Netherlands gripped for more time to come. “I am thinking of late May before we can resume normal life a bit.” He has mixed feelings about that prospect. “This is of course very bad for society, and I hope and pray that we will be out of this situation soon. But I can't do much about it, so in that sense I kind of resigned myself to it.” Laughs: “But I really have to find a way to become more productive. Because the dividing line between being productive and letting everything go is very thin.”

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