Dream Come True or Nightmare – Working from Home

For many the idea of working from home sounds like bliss. You get up in the morning, brush your teeth, put on a sweater and jeans (or stay in you PJs), grab a cup of coffee and bang, ready for work. No makeup or shaving, no dressing up, no stressful morning commute.

Before you say a wholehearted “hell yes, that’s for me! I’d love to work from home,” hold on for a sec. Have you ever given it some thought what the “perfect” work environment is for you? As tempting as it may appear, working from home has its challenges as well, and it very much depends on your personality and/or work situation if this dream is a dream come true or turns into a nightmare.

Join me on a little imaginary tour and have a look at some of the most common situations I’ve encountered or heard of to find out more and help you make the right decision.

The Detour Morning

You’re ready to start your day. You have your coffee and go straight to your computer and start planning your day… and out of the blue you realize you have to wash your gym clothes because you want to go to the gym later that day. You quickly get up, put your gym clothes in the washing machine, and while you’re at it, you also sort the rest of your laundry. It will be so much quicker to put it in the washing machine later, and it’ll only take a minute or two. 

You go back to work. Oh, where were you? Ahhh right, planning what you need to do today. You finish your list and are ready to get to work when you see today’s date. It’s Feb. 20th and your Mom’s birthday is coming up. Oh no! You wanted to get her that book she mentioned a couple of times. No big deal. You quickly go online and order the book. But stop, wasn’t there this book your friend mentioned the other day that you absolutely must read? What was the title? Something like…. You’re sure it won’t be difficult to find it, and off you go searching for it on Amazon. While searching you come across some very interesting titles. You quickly read their summaries and add them to your wish list.

Back to work. Darn, what was it that you wanted to do? It takes you a couple of seconds but finally you remember that you wanted to finish the copy for the newsletter and find some images for it.

By the time you start your day it’s not 7:00 am or 8:00 am, it’s already 10:00 am, maybe even later, and you may have wasted some of your most productive and creative time. Please don’t get hung up on the specific time. It could be any time of the day that is your best and most productive and creative time. It’s about getting distracted and taking a lot of detours before doing the work. It could be procrastination (more about that in a future post) or just plain lack of discipline.

I know, discipline is not a sexy word, but without it making progress will take much, much longer. Do you have what it takes to stay focused, even when the laundry or your conscience calls because you almost forgot your Mom’s birthday? A good policy I found is to plan for these interruptions. Set yourself a “focus time” for 45 minutes, an hour or an hour and a half. Whatever works best for you, and do the work. If a thought or idea comes up, have a piece of paper and a pen ready to jot it down and return to your work immediately for the remainder of your focus time. Then take a break. Wash your gym clothes, get that gift … and keep an eye on the time. You’ll be surprised how quickly ten minutes pass, especially on social media.

The Run-an-Errand Scenario:

Your spouse is at the office and sends you a text. She just remembered that she forgot to go grocery shopping. Unfortunately, she has to stay late and can’t possibly do it. Since you’re working from home, it surely isn’t a big deal for you to quickly run to the grocery store and get a few items for dinner.

Working from home does allow for a lot of freedom and flexibility, and running an errand may not be a big deal. Just make sure that your partner or spouse, or anybody else for that matter, don’t take it for granted or expect that you’re always available when they need you. You have to set boundaries and stay in control of your day. Remember, your work is equally important, and you may have to say no. You call the shots!

The Little-kids Scenario:

I found this to be the most challenging one. And as you can read, it’s based on my own experience. I have a room that is my dedicated office. Yes, I feel very fortunate and consider this an advantage. But – and I don’t write this lightly – I also have a son. Kids, no matter what age, don’t necessarily differentiate between you “being at home” and “working from home.” If something important happens in their lives, they want your attention, and they want it now. When they’re little they may need a hug, or someone to console them. When they’re older they may need to talk something over, help with their homework, or just tell you about the injustice at school, you name it.

There is no one-solution-fits-all to this type of interruption. At least I haven’t found it yet. It depends on your kids, their age and your type of work. With little kids I believe you have to take the time. If you try to rush them, you just prolong the situation. They instantly feel that you are not available to them, and that makes it even harder to console them. With older kids you can set rules. We only had a few, but these were non-negotiable. For example, when I was on the phone, no interruptions were permitted, except for emergencies. That worked pretty well. You could use a do-not-disturb sign or close the door. In that case, they’re not allowed to enter and/or disturb you. Plan your most difficult and important work when your kids are not around and reserve less intense work for times that may not be uninterrupted, and I’m not just talking about kids.

Let’s take a break here. There are a million other things that I could have mentioned: checking social media, getting something to eat, making a quick phone call… you name it.

The point I’m trying to make is, do you have the discipline not to fall for “quick” interruptions and detours? Can you resist the “call of your spouse” to go shopping? Can you arrange your day around your kids so that you can do the work you need to do? How about social media? It’s common knowledge that we greatly underestimate the time we spend on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn.

Take some time and consider your situation, your personality, and your work environment. What works best for you? What is your ideal workplace? What gets your creative juices flowing? When do you focus best?

Tell me about how you dealt with some of the challenges while working from home or what made you decide to go to the office instead.

See you next time!
Regine

The Why of Important vs. Urgent

Last year I blogged in depth about Urgent vs. Important work. I explained what urgent and what important means, why urgent occurs (at least most of the time), and how to deal with it in a better and more productive way.

Doing some online research, I happened to come across a blog written by Seth Godin with almost the same title. He also makes a case for Important vs. Urgent work in one of his February 2017 blogs, but he gave it a different spin. Here it goes:

 “You know you should be focusing on the long-term journey, on building out the facility, signing up new customers or finishing your dissertation.

But instead, there’s a queue of urgent things, all justifiable, all requiring you and you alone to handle them. And so, you do, pushing off the important in favor of the urgent.

Of course, everyone has this challenge, but some people manage to get past it. Even you, the last time you made a major move forward. Think about it–those urgencies from a few years ago: who’s handling them now?

The reason we go for urgent is that it makes us feel competent. We’re good at it. We didn’t used [sic] to be, but we are now.

Important, on the other hand, is fraught with fear, with uncertainty and with the risk of failure.

Now that you know why, you can dance with it.”

Which of the two is you? Take the time to find out and, I paraphrase: “Now that you know (..), (…) dance with it.”

If you don’t know Seth, here is his blog site. Check it out. It’ll be worth your time.

See you next time.
Regine

Urgent vs. Important

When presented with the choice to attend to something ‘urgent’ vs. something ‘important’ what do you do? I bet most of the time you will drop everything and take care of the urgent. It is a natural response. If something is urgent it has to be done right away, doesn’t it? And what does this have to do with your productivity?

Let’s have a closer look. What does urgent mean and what does important mean?

05 Urgent note-2762271_1920

Urgent by nature is something that pops up unexpectedly. It is something we hadn’t planned or even considered doing at a particular day or time (assuming you plan your days 😉).

In many cases, dare I say most cases, it is something we forgot to do or take care of earlier on. Or we just didn’t feel like doing it when there still was time and now… it is urgent because we are running out of time (also known as procrastination). Or we never took the time to plan a project with its many steps and possible hurdles. Many of these ‘urgent scenarios’ are the consequences of poor planning and/or procrastination; sometimes our own, sometimes someone else’s. Most could have been prevented with a little effort, either our own or someone else’s.

Of course, (really) urgent stuff or (really) urgent situations exist. Despite our best efforts, we cannot foresee everything and cannot plan for everything. Unexpected things can and will happen: you may be called to a family emergency, you may have a crucial member of your team call in sick… you get the picture.

The difference between the two: the first ones were preventable, the second ones weren’t.

04-important-2794684_1920

Important on the other hand is a deliberate action that moves you, your business, your relationship, or anything else for that matter to the next level. It leads to progress in an area you decided to work on and devote your attention to. It may be working on a project, it may be preparing a product launch, it may be doing something for your family. No matter which area of your life or business we are looking at, it implies taking the next step.

I don’t mean to imply that paying your bills or getting your car serviced isn’t important in terms of preventing you from adverse effects or harm. I consider paying your bills or arranging for a car service or scheduling a doctor’s appointment ‘mundane work’. It can easily be scheduled at a time that is convenient and, most importantly, does not interfere with your important work.

Do you see the difference between urgent and important? I believe it is obvious why telling one from the other is crucial. Far too often are we dragged into doing ‘urgent’ stuff that, truth be told, isn’t really our concern or at least shouldn’t be our concern. But how do you prevent yourself from jumping up when someone uses the word ‘urgent’ for a request?

Know and be clear about what is important to you. What kind of urgent is really ‘your’ urgent that you have or will attend to? What is aligned with your business, your life or whatever the circumstances. If you know, you have a choice. You decide whether or not to rush to the rescue.

So again, what does this have to do with productivity?

Very simple, rushing to the rescue takes time and energy, your time and your energy. It disrupts your day and quite possibly creates the next ‘urgent’, and the next, and the next. Urgent takes away the time you need for your own business, your family, your friends, yourself. Instead of focusing on your ‘important’, you allow circumstance to dictate where your time goes and that does have an impact on what you get done and what you will achieve.

Do you know what is important to you?
If you need help to figure it out, call me or shoot me an email.
Until next time.

Regine

Pictures:
Urgent: Asatira Astrid, Berlin/Deutschland
Important: Geralt Altmann, Freiburg/Deutschland

Saying YES to one thing means saying NO to something else.

This sounds simple and like a no-brainer, but listening to people around me, especially this time of year, I hear them say things like: ‘I have to catch up on my work’ or ‘there are not enough hours in a day’ or ‘I am so behind…”.

I do realize that the holiday season poses some additional challenges, but honestly, are you always up-to-date with your work? I for one struggle with this problem occasionally. I feel overwhelmed by the sheer thought of the mountain of work ahead of me and, at the end of the day, I feel I haven’t done enough. My to-do list doesn’t seem to get shorter, but longer instead.

Most of the time, our natural response to this conundrum is to try and be even more effective, more productive and to manage time even better. To squeeze every minute out of a day to get done what is on our to-do list. But what exactly does this mean ‘being more effective, or more productive, or managing our time better?’ We all have (only) 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week, period.

I am pretty sure you believe that you are a good planner when it comes to your time and work. So why doesn’t it work?

Based on my experience and by observing people at work, there are a couple of components that contribute to this problem:

  • Lack of clarity
  • Working on ‘urgent’ stuff vs. ‘important’ stuff
  • Distractions
  • Overcommitting
  • Over-planning

Let’s tackle the most obvious culprit first: Distractions.

Now you will argue that distractions can’t be avoided. I totally agree. There are emails to reply to, text messages to respond to, phone calls to take, colleagues, kids, friends or family members to answer to…. I get the picture. In short, you start working on an important project and just when you got into the groove…. the phone rings, or a message pops up on your computer screen, or your mobile phone buzzes with a new Social Media message.

Did you notice something? All of these distractions can be controlled by you. It is your choice to respond right away and allow others to control your day, or you can curb these distractions as best as you can. How? Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Silence your phone for a period of time and focus on your work/project.
  • Turn off screen messages on your computer. Nothing is that important that it can’t wait for 90 minutes.
  • Close your office door to signal that you don’t want to be disturbed.
  • Put a sign up ‘please do not disturb’.
  • Put headphones on to show your colleagues ‘please don’t disturb me’ if you are working in a cubicle.
  • Create a rule or sign that your family knows you don’t want to be disturbed if you are working in a home office. Your kids could craft that sign for you .
  • Turn off your TV or radio.
  • Turn off your Social Media alerts.
  • Maybe the most important step: reflect on the flow of your day and plan your important work at a time that you can focus uninterruptedly.

You will be amazed how much you will get done if you devote 100 percent attention to your work or project. If you are not used to focusing for a longer period of time, start easy. Sometimes 20 minutes is all it takes to move a project forward. Sometimes you may need more time. The golden rule, if you will, is everything within 20 to 90 minutes. After 90 minutes you should take a break. Get up and stretch your legs, get a cup of coffee or tea or simply enjoy that you made some major progress.

But, if you can’t avoid an interruption because your boss is calling or it is something ‘very urgent’ (I will write about ‘urgent’ in another blog), by all means, deal with it as quickly as possible and get back to your ‘focus work’.

I hope this gave you some food for thought. What will you stop doing to cross something off of your to-do list? Do you have other suggestions? I would love to hear from you.

To more great work (borrowed from Michael Bungay Stanier)!                                                  Regine