I’ve been working from home since 2009. Over the years I’ve heard many people say they would love to work from home and just as many say they could never do it. Now, here we are with the Coronavirus outbreak and millions more are working from home to flatten the curve and stay away from those microscopic germs.
When working from home I’m more productive and creative because I can design my day in a way that best suits my energy, my style, my needs, and my deadlines. However, there are many challenges and it’s taken me a while to figure out how to work from home well. I’m going to share what I’ve learned to help you avoid some of the growing pains I went through.
Design Your Day Based on Your Energy
You want to figure out what type of energy you have at different times of the day. Use that knowledge to develop a daily and weekly pace. It is one of the most important things about working from home. It is part of what can make working from home such a gift. You get to pace your day in a way you can’t or won’t do in an office. Let me explain.
Some days I start work in a rather typical way. I shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, etc. before going to work. Then, I walk into my office around 9am. I usually work until 5pm.
Other days I wake up ready to go. I get up, open all the blinds in the house (one morning ritual I never skip), then grab my laptop and sit on the couch while I do some deep thinking. Most likely it’s crafting a new article, writing a client proposal, or designing a training for a client. I might start at 7am and work for a couple of hours before bothering with the typical morning routine. This usually happens when I was thinking about a problem while I was laying in bed. For instance, today I was laying in bed while I crafted this article in my head. I woke and immediately started writing. When I’m done I’ll go shower and do those normal morning routine things. If I had done those first, I would have forgotten some of what I wanted to write and my energy for writing the article would have decreased. This is an example of how I pivot my day in order to maximize my creativity and productivity.
Both of these approaches work, but neither would work every day. I figured out these two approaches by noticing my energy and following my intuition and working on what felt right at any given moment. If I insisted on a tight routine and schedule I would be less productive. I realize this works for me. I also know others who have a tight morning routine and they love it. They stick to it every day no matter what. They do that because they noticed that is what works for them. The point here is notice yourself, your style, and adjust accordingly. Don’t think you need to be like everyone else. Being flexible about when you work is one of the reasons working from home can actually be more productive.
This might all sound overly romantic to just work on what you want when you want. That’s not exactly what I mean here. I still have expectations from clients, deadlines to meet, and goals to reach. I’m not doing anything I want whenever I want. It’s all within a context of work and balancing being creative, productive, and efficient.
In the book When, by Daniel Pink he explains that most of us are more creative in the morning. That’s definitely me. By noticing my patterns I plan my day so my mornings are more open for writing, whereas my afternoons are for meetings with colleagues and clients or when I work on more tedious tasks like bookkeeping, editing, emails, etc. This is about following the energy and using it to your advantage.
As you design your day keep experimenting to figure out what works best for you. Of course, sometimes you still have to get things done even when you don’t feel like it. This is when you hack yourself.
A life hack is “a strategy or technique adopted in order to manage one’s time and daily activities in a more efficient way.” (Oxford dictionary) Below are several life hacks I use in order to work from home more efficiently.
Some people feel they work better in work clothes. My wife puts on a button up shirt or sweater every day. She feels like she doesn’t work as well in a t-shirt. Me? I love working in t-shirts and jeans or occasionally my pajamas (see above). To be honest, I only put on professional clothes when I have a video call or an in-person event. Every once in a while I’ll be so focused on a deadline and working hard all day that I realize at 5pm I’m still in my pajamas. This is rare and means I had an intense day. I don’t recommend doing this often, but sometimes the time it would take to go shower just seems too luxurious. Figure out what clothes are going to help you do your best work.
Strict Workflow is a handy little tool works with Chrome Browsers (there are other similar tools for other browsers. You download it and a little tomato appears in your toolbar. Then, anytime you want to focus you click on the tomato and it blocks you from visiting certain websites. It comes with a preset list including Facebook, Youtube, and other common distractors. You can change the list and add or delete any site you want. The default is to work for 25 minutes with a 5 minute break (the standard Pomodoro Technique), but you can change that too. The only way to get access to those sites while the timer is running it to restart your computer, and who wants to bother with that?
Focus @ Will
If you like playing background music while you work, Focus @ Will is awesome. As the site states, “Mainstream music lowers comprehension and creates distraction because it is designed to connect with you intellectually and emotionally.” Good point. At Focus @ Will they actually designed music in partnership with neuroscientists to help you focus. How cool is that?! It’s free for 30 days then requires a small subscription fee. If you want an intense, energetic music try the ADHD channel. If you are looking for something more soothing go with Water. Like the background noise of coffee shops? That’s an option too. Give it a try. I use it when I’m getting distracted and it does help.
Sitting is the new smoking. Sitting all day can be incredibly bad for your body. Our bodies were not designed to sit all day, yet we do it all the time. Sitting all day leads to increased mortality, cancer, and hospitalizations, even when you exercise. Here is a meta-analysis study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The solution – don’t sit all day! Figure out how you can get up and move. Some people set a timer so they move each hour. I have a stand-up desk. When on the phone (not a video call) I might walk around my office. I also am someone who just moves frequently anyway.
You probably wouldn’t expect me to talk about naps when I’m referencing productivity, but they can be a surprisingly useful tool for productivity, but especially for creativity. A 20-minute nap can do wonders for your afternoon. I go in more depth in this article.
When working from home you generally have fewer interruptions and it’s easier to get into deeper focus. However, it can also feel lonely and isolating, which can decrease productivity and creativity. There are numerous ways to connect with others while working from home. If a virus had to attack the world, 2020 is better than any other time. The technology we have today makes 2010 look like the dark ages. I feel so grateful for Zoom, Google Drive, Slack, and a long list of other apps and tools I use every day.
Here are some quick ideas for connecting with colleagues during the day.
- Set up co-working time. Each person logs into Zoom (or similar tool) and shares 1-2 minutes worth of what they are working on. Then, everyone mutes and turns off their video for a set amount of time (usually 25-45 minutes). Then, regroup and share your progress. It’s a fun way to get a lot done in a short time.
- Include connection in your meetings. Start each meeting off with a check-in. It could be fun and light or more serious, depending on what’s needed.
- Share relevant, but funny memes via Slack.
- Host an end of day happy hour via Zoom.
A Final Thought
Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on our world. As we all transition to our new ways of working have grace with yourself and each other. You and your team might be less productive for the first week. That’s ok. Everything has a learning curve. It will get better.
Please reach out if I can help you or your team in any way.