It’s predicted that by 2020 half of the US workforce will spend at least some of their time working remotely. So it’s inevitable to see a great number of useful blogs and commentary on how you can maximise your productivity when working remotely. You’re warned to avoid domestic distraction – don’t be sneaking 10 minutes to get the laundry done or scrub the bathroom.
Very few consider the opposite perspective. The issue of working too much. I began working from home around 2 years ago and this is exactly the challenge I first faced. After 20-years of city based working, when my daily commute would be the natural start and end to my day, I now lacked the structure that an office based working life can bring. Whilst I was now happily free to live far away from the city smog, I became even more tethered to my work.
In the first few months of being home-based, I fell into the trap of working more hours rather than less. I was even anxious at leaving my desk for just 5 minutes to make a cup of tea, worrying that this could be perceived as slacking off. I made sure I was online before anyone else in the office and would make myself available for late night meetings, whenever colleagues in the US requested my time.
Very soon I was working until 11pm at night on an almost daily basis and saw less and less of my family, who were only in the room next door! So why was I doing this?
For one, I suspected that my peers imagined me “working from home” as actually: sitting in the garden, sipping Pimms, glancing occasionally at emails and putting in the bare minimum to still warrant a pay check. A harsh assessment, but one common of the 70s born generation, who had for many years only known office-based working. Secondly, I felt that I had to put in more than anyone else, for the privilege of being allowed to work from home in the first place.
Well, I was wrong on both counts and quickly became frustrated and frankly tired. I was working harder than ever before and not seeing any of the benefits of being at home. I began to ask myself: If I was in the office, would I be doing this? Answering that one question, helped me realise that I had absolutely no obligation to be online into the night or take conference calls after hours. I could of course be more flexible with my time, but I shouldn’t feel obligated to be. Nor should I work longer hours just to prove that I was in fact working. As long as I continued to deliver value, I was doing a good job and shouldn’t need to prove my worth by working longer hours.
So I began to re-prioritise. Putting the important things first and finding the balance I needed to make myself and my family happier. Here’s how:
Establishing working hours. This doesn’t necessarily mean working at the same time every day (although most days I do). More importantly, I needed to make sure I wasn’t working for double the time. This was massively undervaluing myself and leaving me no free time.
Maintaining a sense of achievement. I began making daily to-do lists that were realistically achievable and focused only on the important things. Ticking them off gave me a sense of achievement at the end of the working day, helping to reduce the urge to go back to the computer for just a few more minutes after dinner. Project management processes, such as the Kanban approach, can be really helpful with this and very rewarding when you see your tasks move to the “done” pile. Try online tools such as Trello.com.
Allowing for breaks. When I’m not on conference calls, I use the Pomodoro Technique to stay focused on tasks. Check it out at https://cirillocompany.de/pages/pomodoro-technique . The abridged version, is that you work in 25 minutes bursts and then take a short break. I typically work through 2-3 pomodoros, depending on the task, and then have 15 minutes away from the screen. And yes, I then DO sometimes scrub the bathroom or deal with the laundry. Being able to quickly knock out a couple of chores is one of perks of working from home and helps me stay on top of a busy household. I also make sure to take a proper lunch break – getting out of the house and taking the dogs for a walk. I come back refreshed and more effective.
I now know when to stop. I even have an alarm to tell me when my working day is done. That’s not to say I immediately switch off from work. That’s something I still need to master. It’s a work in progress and I’ll let you know how I get on another time!