The nice thing about 2020 is how nice and normal it’s been. A truly relaxing time.
OK, let’s be honest. Your routine is probably out of whack. Things are stressful and strange and straight-up bizarre for all of us right now.
And of course, chief among the massive changes for many of us is a new reality: working from home.
Has it been a struggle for you? Never fear. We plumbed the minds of some experienced remote workers to uncover a few expert tips that many people don’t know.
Here we go:
1. Keep a List (And Hack It)
Years ago, my grandpa taught me a trick that changed my life: keeping a loose and messy list. Every day, he spent the first 15 minutes of his time writing down every little thing that he wanted to accomplish. It was incredibly broad. Everything from “buy groceries” to “call a client” to “have a morning coffee”.
Seriously? Who writes “drink coffee” on their daily list?
Well here’s the secret (and I’m dead serious): once you start making lists, you’ll find that crossing off items is downright addictive. And on days when you’re struggling to keep it all together, crossing off those little, easy items can help you build the momentum you need to get the tough stuff done. No joke.
As for keeping it messy and loose? That’s not mandatory. Your list can be as structured or chaotic as you like. The magic is in making it—and keeping it true.
2. Trigger Yourself
We people are creatures of habit. Be it a morning coffee, a stroll in the park…we love our routines, and find comfort in the familiar.
Here’s the thing: no doubt a switch from the office to home has presented serious changes. And no doubt a few of them are positive (OK, maybe more than a few).
Still, it’s important to build yourself new routines. Particularly when it comes to starting and ending your day.
If you simply roll from bed into your desk at 9am (and then back again at 5) you’ll lose the ability to separate work from life outside of it.
Don’t let that happen. Building a cherished work place can be a crucial step. As can the occassional visit to a coffee shop or co-working space (if allowed). Other triggers for work include exercise, caffeine, or reading a paper. Anything to say to yourself, “OK…now we sit down and get things done”. The same goes for the end of the day. A concrete de-compression ritual helps your brain relax.
3. Schedules Are Your Friend
Speaking of the beginning and end of the day…
One of the more difficult challenges of remote work is time management. Naturally, as a professional and creative person, I know you personally are a master of time management. I know you always get your work done promptly, and never succumb to the tempting distractions of the TV, the phone, or the fridge…
But for those of us with a little less willpower, it can be a struggle. Which is why it’s important, when creating your own schedule, to be realistic about your habits. Take into account your other commitments, and be sure to break your work time into blocks, accounting for breaks, meals, and the like.
Once that schedule is set, consider sharing it with the other people in your life, coworkers and loved ones alike. That gives them the ability to predict your availability, and consciously respect your safe time.
4. Take Your Breaks
Simple and important. Don’t build a schedule that demands 4 hours of interrupted creative work at a time. It’s unrealistic, and unproductive. As studies have repeatedly shown, we’re most effective when we work in solid blocks, with clean breaks in between to recharge. Consider adopting that strategy in your own life.
5. The Collaboration Question
There’s truly a bevy of bonuses to working from home…but it’s not without its drawbacks. Perhaps chief among them? A slight risk of feeling lonely.
We’re social creatures after all. And most work is a social enterprise. So how do we maintain those connections, that collaboration, while separated by the boundaries of time and place?
Video is the obvious move. But communication isn’t just about those face-to-face chats (although they are crucial). It also means candidly asking your collaborators about their preferences, and taking care to communicate with them in ways they find meaningful and useful. Some may prefer a video call each morning, while some like to stay in touch over slack. For some, a midday email could feel incredibly intrusive…while others like to ping quick questions back and forth. The more adaptive you can be, the happier the dynamic.
6. Don’t Lose The Casual
Speaking of conversation with coworkers.
One of the first things you may have noticed when switching to remote work is that conversations can become somewhat depersonalized. When the only mandatory communication is strictly work related, it can be easy to find yourself missing those more human moments. After all, it’s difficult to find time in a 9-person Zoom meeting to keep a more personal touch. Particularly when the technical difficulties start to rear their ugly head.
Don’t be dissuaded. Though they’ll never get the credit they deserve, those light-hearted moments of whimsy and fun are absolutely essential—both for your work and for your state of mind. A happy team is a more productive one, and a team with close relationships is simply more collaborative by default.
7. Dress Up
God, this can’t be emphasized enough.
I’ve worked remotely for more than 6 years. Quickly, a pattern becomes apparent: the comfier the pants, the less you end up getting done.
Look, that’s a bit dramatic. Sure, you can make yourself nice and cozy (especially as fall comes rushing in) but…you don’t want to do your job in sweatpants. It’s a psychological thing. For most of us, a stiffer shirt and a nice pair of pants means, “I’m off to work now”. And that little brain hack is more valuable than most people know.
8. Prep With Your Family
This is crucial.
One of the great joys of work from home is the extra time to spend with family, partners, or even roommates. The drawback, though, can be when the typical boundaries of work and play break down. Just because you’re around, doesn’t mean that you’ll always be available. But that logic might not quite immediately work for your partner or child. Take care to explain your particular ways of working, and when you’re free for a chat. Doing so clearly upfront saves a million headaches down the line.
9. Use Video (And Don’t Cheat)
Look, there’s no doubt you’re using Zoom, Hangouts, Teams, or the like on a semi-regular basis.
And I understand the frustration of keeping your video on each time. If your organization is like most, as time has worn on you’ve all gotten just a little more lax with whether or not you turn on the cameras.
It’s absolutely crucial that you see each other. You should force yourself to have video on almost every time you call. Why? Because like it or not, it changes the dynamic.
10. Play With Sound
Try white noise. Try classical music. Think about adding podcasts to the mix. You’ll be surprised just how much the audio stimulation of your environment can get your creative juices flowing…or totally flow off your flow. The only way to find out what works for you is to play around with it.
11. Know When To Stop
At some point, the day ends.
It’s easy to forget that. For younger workers especially, in an effort to impress (or merely to overachieve) there’s a temptation to drag on through the night.
Is having high expectations of yourself good? Of course. But there’s nothing healthy about removing your boundaries, or working yourself into a stupor. Remember: you can always get more done in less time…if you’re effective while you’re on the job. A lack of sleep, constant stress, a poor diet…they all make you a less productive version of yourself.
Don’t fall for the always working trap.
12. Be Patient With Yourself
Now, this is the real meat and potatoes of it all.
You’ve been taking breaks and making lists. You’ve been setting boundaries and communicating and using your video every time…
And yet, it’s Monday morning and you’re struggling to focus up…
Cut. Yourself. Some. Damn Slack.
If the world has ever felt this chaotic and turbulent, I certainly don’t remember it. So remember, on those days you’re not quite getting it done, to lighten up. It’s a tough time, and you’re doing your best.
Take a glance at your list, write down “take a break”…and then follow through. You’ll be better for it in the end.