As many of you start to work from home, I have been thinking about the lessons I’ve learned. I have been working for myself for the last 9 months – which usually means working from home and definitely means managing my own schedule without the external structure provided in an office environment.
I don’t think I have any really great lessons to pass along, but I will share some of my thoughts. I love it! But based on the number of people who have commented on how hard it would be for them, I recognize that it isn’t something everyone will thrive on. Furthermore, if you are working from home for the first time, and your kids are also home, you have a whole different set of challenges.
But to my experience in case any nugget is helpful to you.
- I find that I cannot do as much in a day as I think I should be able to get done. I have worked to set a goal of just one or two priority tasks for each day. I like to use the Momentum extension. This is a Chrome add-on, but I have used it in other browsers as well, including Brave which I have switched to recently for added privacy reasons. It opens with every new tab, provides a lovely picture and a nice quote, and prompts me to type in my focus each day which helps remind me to pick a focus, and then occasionally reminds me to stay focused and not start goofing off getting sidetracked as I open other browsers.
- My to-do list is my fuel. I believe it is David Allen (author of Getting Things Done) who says that our minds are not meant to keep track of what we have to get done.
- Not only does it help me remember to do things, there are times when I am getting tired but still have some ability to get something done. Looking at my list allows me to pick a task that I can do productively based on my energy and mood in the moment. In that tired state, I otherwise would not recall that I had to do whatever task it is that I’m ready for in that moment.
- My to-do list is kept in a Google doc spreadsheet I title ‘Progress Journal’. I put everything I think of in here, and then use ‘strikethrough’ when I accomplish it. Once done, I move it to the bottom of the spreadsheet (this is unnecessary except that I enjoy looking at all I am actually getting done, though never is that list longer than the to-do list in each month).
- I open a new tab each month. This forces me to go through and copy everything over that I have not accomplished – and to really think about whether I want to keep it on the to-do list or to let it go.
- In 2020, I also created a month-by-month list of things to accomplish (I first set big goals and then broke certain items out into month-by-month tasks). This sheet is in the same document, and I review it every month to add that month’s items.
- Some days I don’t use the main to-do list as much and just brain dump the urgent stuff that has been eating at my mind down onto a paper in the morning. Then I start going through one-by-one and crossing things off. This is for days when I have a lot of potentially quick tasks to get done, versus days with longer projects; or when I am just really behind like I happen to be now. Sometimes I need the handwriting instead of the computer spreadsheet…just cause.
- Many people say you should block your calendar. That means setting out time for everything every day. I have tried this. It usually doesn’t work for me. However, sometimes when I sit down in the morning I will write out what I will do during certain hours. I also need to calendar things that are not urgent. My life lately has only consisted of the urgent, but it will get back to normal soon, and I will be able to schedule back in the items that I want to do, but that I will never do if I do not write them into the calendar with permanent marker. Examples include reading and continuing education.
- I find structure extra important. That has included lunchtime activities such as Toastmasters and going to a gym class. Those are not options right now, though they may be virtual soon. But we can still create structure within which to schedule our work. An exercise schedule is important to me. I set aside time for reading each morning. I set aside meditation time.
- Breaks and walking are super important. Don’t get sucked into the desk all day. Either schedule walking breaks or take them after focusing hard on a project when you start to be less productive. Dogs are helpful for this, but you need it even if you don’t have a dog relying on you.
- Ignoring traps such as email (when you should be focusing on something else), facebook, Instagram, Twitter, the refrigerator, is really important. I’m not necessarily a model, but I do find I am able to focus for periods and ignore ‘the other’. If you struggle with it, don’t beat yourself up, just find a way not to. If you are doing something that doesn’t require an online connection, there are programs that will block you from the internet for a set period of time. I assume ones that you cannot override so that you stay true to your goal.
These are a few things coming to mind. I may add to this if I think of others.