Many of you may have begun working from home in the past couple of weeks and may be doing so for the foreseeable future. If you've never worked at home before, it can be a big change and a big challenge! I've heard from some of you that you are struggling in various ways — from staying focused on your work to not letting your working hours bleed into your personal time. I have worked from home on and off for years, so I wanted to share with you some tips that may help you be more productive at work, more comfortable when you are working, and give you the ability to separate work and home life.
1. Get ready for work
You may think working from home means you get to roll out of bed and go straight to your laptop in pajamas and bedhead, but I suggest you actually get ready for work similar to how you would if you were going into the office. Depending if you are required to video chat or not may determine how much time you spend on your appearance, but at least do the following:
Get up early enough to get these things done before you're supposed to be logged on and ready to work. Over the past couple of weeks, circumstances were extraordinary and there were days that I got woken up with issues at my day job that continued all day so that I never had the time to do these basic things. I felt out of sorts and out of control all day long! I'm a true believer that how you look impacts how you feel (so much that I wrote an entire post about it!) Set yourself up for success by being awake and ready to face the workday — even if you're just walking to another room in your house!
"Set yourself up for success by being awake and ready to face the workday - even if you're just walking to another room in your house!"
I wasn't running late.
Time and I haven't always gotten along...in fact I wrote about when I first started my blog because it's such an issue for me! That glorious morning, I had plenty of time - like EXTRA time - and I loved how it felt! I think part of the reason it happened that day was because my kids were well behaved and they were actually ready early as well. Because moms don't have the luxury of just getting themselves out the door on time, I realized that my focus should really be having the kids be ready at least 10 minutes before I wanted to walk out. I also decided to plan to leave the house a full 15 minutes before I would need to. This would give me a cushion for traffic and last minute emergencies - AND it may make me early to my destination, which always makes me feel kind of like a rock star! I’ve definitely improved overall, but the “I can squeeze one more thing in and not be late” fallacy trips me up more often than I’d like! Making lists the night before helps me stay on track.
I normally checked email and news first thing in the morning, and usually there was something negative in the headlines or something stressful in my inbox. That morning, I didn't let my device control me. I realized I didn't feel as down during the morning when I wasn't consumed by negative thoughts. New plan - no news til lunch time and no email until I've at least taken a shower! The only problem is sometimes I feel that I’m not keeping up on current events as much as I should. It’s a tough balance between being informed and staying positive!
I sent a message to a friend and received a reply.
I sent a Facebook message to a friend because they were on my mind, and they messaged me right back. Having that connection made me smile. I decided that everyday, I'm going to reach out to at least one friend- it could be in person, on the phone or via a message on Facebook, Snapchat, etc. I’ve been doing this faithfully, and I love this so much! It’s fun to let my friends know they are on my mind and even better to hear back from them!
I spent time doing my hair, makeup and picked out a cute outfit.
That morning, I had the time (and took the time) to fix myself up a bit. It made me feel confident, put together, and in control. I realized that too often, I sported the "I didn't have time nor do I care" look, especially during the work week. I vowed to put on a little makeup and make an effort with my hair every morning. Time was my biggest barrier, so I tried washing my hair at night and using dry shampoo every other day. I also planned to do what I knew worked for me - picking out my outfit the night before. Last week's blog post explored this phenomenon in a little more detail - how we look impacts how we feel. I still enjoy a good no makeup (or shower) day, but that’s more of the exception than the rule these days.
Because I had extra time and some of that extra time was spent alone, I read a book - for fun! I know that reading has many positive effects, and I wanted to read more. I decided to schedule in reading time into my day. My oldest son and husband read together nightly after the youngest goes to bed. This was the perfect time for me to read, and all I'd be sacrificing was some social media time! I have been reading a lot more recently, I think partly because I track what I read in Goodreads. I have also started reading right before bed which helps with my sleep as well.
1. Motivation - What do I want to be known for?
2. Mentors - Whom can I learn from?
3. Milestones - What are three subprojects I can complete?
4. Monitor - What positive things are happening that I can acknowledge?
5. Modify - What one change can I make to keep moving forward?
This is heavy stuff! Thankfully, there were more exercises in the book to help me work through all of this. One of the activities that helped me the most was figuring out how I spent my time. As I've mentioned before, time is one of my weaknesses, so I needed to figure out if I was proving what I wanted to be known for by how I was spending my time.
- Was I being present with my kids?
- How much time was I working on staying "on top of things" at home and at work?
- How often was I actually helping someone else achieve a goal?
The real difference maker was when I answered the next couple of questions in the exercise. The first was: "What do I wish were different?" You may have heard the saying, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results." Insane may be a bit of an overstatement, but if I want things to be different, I'm going to have to change. I think we could all make a long list of what we'd like to be different in our lives, but what are we doing to make that happen? If you're like me, I've gotten to this point before - I know what I want things to be like and then make a giant plan of all the things I'm going to change to make it happen. And then I fail because that amount of change all at once is overwhelming.
That's why the second question this section asked was really valuable to me: "Do I really need to make changes now? Should and can I wait?" Yes, I definitely need to make some changes, but which of them are critical or should be done first? It takes time to form new habits - longer than you'd think. Gretchen Rubin, author of many books including Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives, wrote about this in her blog post, "Stop Expecting to Change Your Habit in 21 Days." Give yourself time and space to make a change and really master it before adding more change.
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results."
I will add some more changes soon - once the family time on weeknights is a real habit. In the meantime, I'm trying to keep my short list of what I want to be known for front of mind as I make decisions or even speak - is what I'm about to do or say going to cause others to "know me" for being kind or helping them achieve their goals; is how I'm choosing to spend my time helping me stay on top of my responsibilities? If the answer is no, I need to rethink my actions!
How about you - have you thought about what you want to be known for and what that really means in your daily life? I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments. If Get Momentum sounds like a book you'd like to read, you can earn entries for the giveaway by visiting the Facebook page and/or simply like and comment on this post below before Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at 9 p.m. to get an entry!
- I enjoy making lists more than I like doing the stuff on the lists.
- I've written things on a list after I've already done them just so I could check them off.
- I sometimes crumple up a list and throw it in the trash if I've made a mistake or put things in the wrong order and then start over so the list looks nice and neat.
- Lists seem to taunt me when there are unchecked items, and I feel inadequate if I don't complete my unrealistic list.
- Lists make me feel in control even when I'm not.
Are there more list makers out there? Considering the massive amount of options available for both digital and analog list making tools, I don't think I'm alone! Several months ago I did a poll on Facebook about digital vs. paper tools, and I was surprised by how many people preferred paper! There are many advantages to paper: it's accessible and affordable, and there's research that writing things down actually helps us process and remember written material better than digital. In a study done by researchers at Princeton University and UCLA Los Angeles, it was discovered that students who took handwritten notes remembered facts and comprehended subject matter better than students who typed their notes. Now, making a to-do list isn't the same as listening to a lecture, but when you write something down, you do process it differently. On the flip side, there are many advantages to digital tools including the ability to edit and reorder tasks without having to start from scratch. Many digital tools also allow you to categorize tasks, assign due dates, set reminders, and even share or delegate tasks. So, what's the best answer? I think it's a little bit of both! I like to start and finish with paper with a digital solution sandwiched in between. Here's my current process:
A brain dump is a great way to keep your mind clear and your thoughts organized. Just write everything in your head down on a piece of paper without thinking about order or dependencies or prerequisites - you can connect and organize your thoughts later. One option for a brain dump that I tried just this week is putting each idea on a sticky note. When your brain is emptied, you can then organize your sticky notes on your wall into categories or chronological order. This idea is explained by blogger, podcaster, and entrepreneur, Pat Flynn, as it relates to writing a book, but it can easily be used for list making or project planning. Don't do a brain dump once and think you're done - this needs to be done regularly. I like to do it every Sunday so I can start the week with a clear mind.
Now that I have everything I know I need to do or remember either written down or stuck to the wall, I add it to my digital system. If it's an actual to-do item, I add it to the task management program I use, Nozbe. (If you missed it, check out the recent post where I interviewed the founder and CEO of Nozbe!) The key is to categorize the tasks in a way that make sense to you. It could be by project, by due date, by the tool you need to do the task, etc. Though I think it's easier to do this in a digital system, you could do it on paper if you don't mind rewriting your list often. Tasks that have defined time frames, like an appointment, should go on a calendar. Again, my preference is digital so I can access it on the go, but you could go old school and use a paper calendar if you prefer. If it's something that I just need for reference later, I either file it in physical files or add it to a digital system like Evernote. A great example of this is when I wrote down in a brain dump that I needed new makeup but I couldn't remember the brand or shade I liked. I added "buy makeup" to my digital to-do list, but I also added a picture of the front and back of each type of makeup I use to a note in Evernote, so when I am at the store, I can pull up my app and be sure to get exactly what I know I like! Regardless if you go digital or stay analog, it is necessary to maintain your system with regular reviews so you can trust your process includes everything you need to remember and nothing you don't!
Finally, we come full circle to pen and paper! Each day, I physically make a list of the items from my digital tools that I need to do that day. You might think, "why not skip the whole digital middle section?" If I don't go through that process, I end up with one giant list that includes tasks from all sorts of different projects and with various due dates. My digital system makes it easy for me to filter through my tasks so I can choose appropriate ones for the day.
There are three keys to making a daily written list:
- Make it the night before.
- Make it time-bound.
- Make it realistic.
Making your list the night before gets things out of your head so you can sleep better, which will help you be more productive the next day. Making your list time-bound helps you to stay on track throughout the day. There are certain markers in your day that HAVE to happen at a certain time or before or after another task. Put those in, and then you know how much time you have to work on your other to-do list items. Making it realistic is probably the most important part! Overestimate how long it takes to do things so you can actually accomplish your daily goals. Limit the number of big tasks to around three. Nobody ever got mad at themselves for getting everything on their list done!
I try to make my daily list right before I go to bed - sometimes in bed with my nightlight. I look at my digital calendar first and then my digital task manager. I fill in everything I'm going to need to do the next day from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. I only put times next to the things that are on the calendar or relate to a goal I have about how long I'll spend on a certain task, and I also specify what time I'll get up or go to bed. Throughout the day, I reference my list to keep myself on track. If I can't get something completed, I just highlight it; if something gets cancelled, I draw a wavy line through it. When I make my list for the next day, I look back at my highlighted items to make sure they don't get forgotten. I also make sure to continue to add and mark off items in my digital tools on a daily basis.
Eck, Allison. “For More Effective Studying, Take Notes With Pen and Paper.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 3 June 2014, www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/body/taking-notes-by-hand-could-improve-memory-wt/.
SmartPassiveIncome. “How to Write a Book - The Secret to a Super Fast First Draft.”YouTube, YouTube, 6 Feb. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWoYHAwzcpY.
Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
Photo by bonneval sebastien on Unsplash
The idea, if you’re curious, was to split up the house cleaning chores among family members so we would all agree on who does what and make a chart of the chores. Sarah’s family and my family had the same cleaning lady who recently had to take some time off. Instead of trying to find another cleaner who would most certainly not meet the expectations set by Miss Sherri (as my kids call her), we decided to try it ourselves for a while.
We did split up the chores, and after I printed out a nice little chart, I presented it to my family angrily, “Here’s your chart -JUST LIKE SARAH'S!” It got me thinking, though...this could be a stroke of genius...what if Sarah and I colluded and had each other tell the other’s family our “ideas?” Would we both suddenly get what we want? Or is it possible that Sarah’s family wouldn’t hold me in such high esteem, and she’d still have trouble convincing her family? Or does Sarah have a magic ability as a wife and mother that I don’t possess, and her family already thinks her ideas are amazing even when they come straight from her mouth??
So, in the end, I guess Sarah’s fantastic ideas are just one more thing I envy, but I made it work for me by teaching my 11 year old to clean toilets and my 6 year old to dust!
I read and listen to a ton of productivity content, so I was certain I had the secret sauce, the Pomodoro Technique. Basically this is where you set a timer for a certain amount of time (suggested 25 minutes) and plow through your deep work until the timer goes off. Then you force yourself to take a small break (suggested 5 minutes) when you get up, move and do something you like, and then repeat over and over until you’re done. It works, but it still doesn’t make it fun…. Here’s how my Pomodoro-assisted day went, and what I learned.
I was ready to slay this thing and arranged for my family to be away for a few hours so I had the house to myself. I got everything situated to give myself every opportunity to succeed - and hopefully succeed quickly. I got out my laptop, my lap desk, my document for review and sat in the most comfortable place in my house - the recliner in the living room. I set my iPhone’s timer for 25 minutes - now I don’t call it cheating that I set the timer before I logged into my computer - I call that smart because that eased me into that first 25 minutes of reading and editing this document. I worked diligently, but AS soon as that timer went off, I jumped up with a little “Woohoo” escaping my mouth. I set the timer for 5 minutes and did something I wanted to do. Wait for it….organized my coupons. The 5 minute break went so fast, but I did obey the rules and go back to my work for another 25 minutes. I did this three times, and by that third, 5 minute break, my coupons were organized which was pretty cool. By this time I was really hating the Pomodoro Technique. Doing the review of my document was so boring, and there were all sorts of other things I’d rather be doing on a Saturday - especially a Saturday at home ALONE - that never happens!
So by this time I was fizzling out a little so I decided it wouldn't hurt, and I’d still be following the spirit of the Pomodoro Technique, if I set the time for 20 minutes instead of 25 (right?). Then I was like, “maybe I’ll have a snack during my break.” I chose Death By Chocolate ice cream, so I rationalized that my break would have to last just a little longer than 5 minutes because I didn’t want the ice cream to melt and then get my hands all sticky and in turn ruin my computer’s keyboard. Then I was back at it, but I was B-O-R-E-D with this process - I mean I had done over an hour and a half’s worth of work, so I decided maybe it would be ok to just do 15 minutes of work this session. This 166 page document was just SO long, and I was only halfway through. I started watching the clock, and time crawled until it was finally break time. I decided with this break, I should take a shower (I did have that sticky ice cream after all…). Honestly, it was longer than a 5 minute break. But the important thing is I went back to work, and I kept going til I was done.
I think by the end, my break time was longer than my work time, but the moral of the story is - - even with a boring task you may dislike - be it reviewing a document or organizing your closet, the Pomodoro Technique DOES work, but you don’t have to do it exactly as advertised. If you need a longer break, take a longer break, and don’t make yourself feel guilty for needing to! Productivity is individual, so a one-size-fits-all approach will not work and may actually produce the opposite results if you get discouraged. Give yourself permission to “cheat” at being productive as long as you get to the finish line.
How many times have I used the word "actually" as if it described something that was unrealistic and unattainable?
- If there was actually time for a date night with my husband.
- If only I could actually publish my blog.
- I should actually make that photo book from 2016....and 2017.
- If I could actually stop eating so much sugar, I’d lose that weight.
- Actually having time for a date night with my husband requires the action of comparing calendars, choosing a date and time, planning how to complete or reschedule what work or personal projects would have been done in that time frame, arranging a babysitter, selecting what we want to do, making reservations, and showing up!
- Actually publishing my blog requires the action of writing, editing, asking for feedback, researching platforms, purchasing a domain name, getting a logo designed, designing the website, finding photos, creating links and the biggest one - - clicking the giant button that says PUBLISH!
- Actually making that photo book from last year requires the action of setting aside several hours in my schedule and then gathering all photos from my phone, camera, and social media, and requesting ones from family and friends that I don’t already have. Then I have to sit at my computer and select the layout, choose the pictures, write the captions and order the book.
- Actually reducing my sugar intake requires the action of putting only healthier options in my mouth, going to the store to purchase healthy food, planning ahead so I know what I’m going to eat, and making snacks ahead of time so eating sugary snacks is not easier than eating healthy snacks.
"Balance your thoughts with ACTION. If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you'll never get it done." -Bruce Lee
Competing priorities is something I think every woman has in her life. Remembering that we are in charge of our own lives ( “Who’s in Charge?” ) and owning that our choices to do what we want to do may not make everyone else happy is a way to really put what is most important at the top. In order to give those items time in your schedule, you must remove the unnecessary to align with your long term goals.
Finally there is fear. I have lots of different types of fears: fear of failure, fear of change, fear of rejection, fear of disappointing others, fear of not being happy, fear of regret, fear of hurting someone else. One thing I’ve learned is that letting any of those fears keep you from doing something you want to try only fuels the fear of being unfulfilled. If you’re reading this, I must have overcome some of my fears and actually published my blog! What will you actually do today?
It really bothers me that I struggle with time awareness - especially since I pride myself in being organized and a planner. For the past couple of years, I have chosen a word or two to focus on for the year. This year, I chose “time.” After contemplating what I wanted to improve on and how I could do that, I realized something. My natural inability to be aware of or estimate time has actually been what has improved my organizational, planning and time management skills. I think because I crave control over time, and can’t do it naturally, I’ve had to come up with systems to do so. This allows me to complete a project by a deadline, fit a lot of tasks into one day, develop plans to assure all bases are covered when I have multiple projects going on at once.
One way I’ve started improving on time awareness is so simple - just a little mantra I’ve started saying to myself. When I see something that needs done, instead of storing it in my head, I say to myself, “take the time” and just do it right then. This clears my head, gives me a feeling of accomplishment, and helps me to be aware of how much (or little) time that task actually takes. I do this for picking up a piece of paper off the floor, putting away my jewelry as I take it off, writing down something I need from the store right when I think of it, cutting out a coupon and putting it away instead of stacking the entire ad somewhere for later, and the list goes on and on.
"Take the time."
I now use a timer to help me stay on task and not get so consumed in one task that I forget to work on other priorities. I also use the Pomodoro technique for intense projects that might not be my favorites. That is where you set a timer and work for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break and repeat until the task or project is completed. There will be a whole post about how this has worked for me coming up soon.
I used to sometimes lose track of time and be late for a meeting. It wasn’t that I was spacey, it was that I was getting some deep work done! I started setting an alarm that makes some sort of funny noise that I couldn’t ignore. The typical 15 minutes before a meeting alarm was too far in advance. I’d see that I had a FULL quarter of an hour left and would try to get just one more thing done - then I’d end up being late anyway. Now I do 10 minutes which is enough time to finish whatever thought I was on, gather my materials, go to the restroom and walk to the meeting, but not long enough to start any new tasks.
I’m still not “good” at time, but I’m becoming more aware of it and using tools to make time work for me instead of against me. I think getting a handle on our time automatically helps us feel in control of our lives and equates to a sense of order. Have you used any of these tips or have others that you could share with us?
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!