23 Effective and Enjoyable Work-From-Home Hacks (And a few sanity savers if you are suddenly homeschooling kids)
The first time I worked from home was honestly a miserable experience.
In a new job that was not front-line fundraising, with a 3-month-old baby and beagle at home, I was also mired in postpartum depression. I realize now that I made a lot of mistakes. When I got another remote position in 2015 (this time in fundraising), I decided I was going do things differently. At that time, I had a 6-month-old and a 5-year-old, and my husband was a stay-at-home dad. We were homeschooling my Kindergartener and would continue that until this past September.
Certainly, we made mistakes, but I’ve learned much along the way and I’m now so thoroughly adjusted to working this way that I can’t imagine going to an office everyday (that isn’t just up my stairs).
Let me pause to say that I understand how insanely lucky I am, and I do not take that for granted.
In this crisis, many must worry about whether they will get a paycheck, whether they will have to go into work and possibly contract the virus, and how they will feed their kids and get Wi-Fi at home so their children can complete their schoolwork. The transition back to having kids at home will be smooth for my family and I’m so grateful to work for a school that has embrace distance learning and remote work for a long time now. I’m able (because of my privileged position) to focus on finding innovate ways to connect with donors in this crisis and providing support for the community of non-profit fundraisers.
All of that acknowledged, for those of you who have information technology jobs and relationship-based jobs (like fundraising), I hope to provide some of the insights I’ve learned in the last 5 years to ease your transition into this new style of working. If you find one or more of these tips helpful, please let me know in the comments.
Give everybody grace: Everyone is struggling to adjust right now. People are having to learn new ways of being, as well as new skills. People are filled with worry, anxiety, grief, and many other emotions. Give yourself grace. Give your spouse or partner grace. Give your kids grace. Give your extended family grace. Give your co-workers grace. Give the people your organization serves grace.
Time: You will get a lot more done in less time. The big secret of working from home is that you work less but you get more done. (It’s true for your kids too but we will get to that.) Focus on tasks accomplished not on hours put in. Use the extra time for self-care.
Exercise: Get some. Get outside, if that is advisable where you are. If not, here’s a great YouTube channel with indoor walking activities that you can do even if you’re in a small space. You probably won’t realize how much incidental movement you got during an average workday before COVID-19. Working from home requires putting in thoughtful effort to move your body. My goals are to get my 10,000 on my FitBit and do at least 15 minutes of yoga daily. Both help my body, my mind and my spirit.
Boundaries: Communicate with your family about when you have obligations throughout the day and when you’ll be done. A family calendar is a good start. Stop working after a certain time. Just put it down. Because you are in your home, there is a kind of creeping that can happen where work ends up flowing into time that should be for yourself and your family.
Housework: Another benefit of working from home is you can blend your house maintenance in throughout the day. You can throw a load of clothes into the washer before a meeting and then switch it around after the meeting is done. The downside: with your whole family at home all day, the house gets into disarray faster and you’ll need to tidy it up more often.
Food: It’s easy to graze all day. Resist the urge. I like to use the Crockpot or the Instant Pot so I know dinner is taken care of and I do simple breakfasts and lunches so I’m not in and out of the kitchen quite as much.
Thinking-outside-the-box: As fundraisers, our job is to present the funding needs of our institutions as effectively as possible. We must ALL find new ways to do things now. That may mean a return to “old-fashioned” things like hand-written notes and cards or it may mean holding events virtually that you’ve done in person before. Working from home gives you the space to research, learn, plan and innovate.
Eat the frog: If one of the things you had to do today was eat a frog, when would be the best time to do it? At the end of the day, after you’ve spent your whole day dreading it? No! You eat the frog first thing! Your most taxing or unpleasant task of the day should be your first. Get it over with! Everything will seem downhill after that.
Batching: If I’m attempting to set up meetings with donors, I send out all the emails inviting people meet with me on one day during one two-hour period. If I need a day to write a serious report or proposal, I block that day and don’t schedule meetings then. If you must get some thank you cards out, do them all at once. Batching makes you more efficient and you’ll have more time for that all-important self-care.
The Pomodoro Method: You can google this and learn more about this method. If you have a big task and it seems too daunting to do all in one go, tell yourself you are going to work on it for 20 minutes and then take a 10-minute break. Maybe you repeat the cycle immediately after the break or later than afternoon or the next day. But setting a time limit helps you get started. If you feel like you’re in the zone at the end of the period keep going if you want. For the record, this works with personal stuff too. I use it for cleaning. I set a timer for just 15 minutes and then I can stop when the buzzer goes off - no matter how far along I am. Sometimes I stop, but often I’m making such great progress after 15 minutes that I just want to get it all the way done. It’s a win either way!
Three Things: If there is just too much to get done, writing a to-do list will make you more overwhelmed but a three things list forces you to prioritize deeply and then you work until those things are done. (I wrote an entire blog post about the Power of a Just Three Things list.)
Routine or Flow (not a schedule): I don’t have a schedule as such. Obviously, I have some standing meetings, but I can’t let myself get too attached to schedules. I have a natural inclination towards the Hermione Granger end of things (super type A) and if left to my own devices I would make myself into a neurotic mess trying to stick to a schedule. So, instead of that I focus on flow and routine. I follow how I’m feeling and what I feel I can best work on at any given time. I also have things for my own self-care that try to check off daily, though I am unattached to when or how they get done (exercise, yoga, cleaning, etc.)
PHYSICAL SPACE AND GEAR
Designate an office space: It doesn’t have to be a “room-of-one’s-own” but a small desk or one end of dining room table. Some place you can “set-up-shop” and feel comfortable and keep yourself semi-organized.
Decorate it (or at least have a good view): Rearrange the furniture to look out a window. Put a vase of flowers from your yard near your monitor. Move some of your art around so you can see it from your new home office. Bring beauty into your workday somehow.
Comfort: Find a good chair or put some cushions in whatever chair you’ve got. I like to put a large exercise ball under my desk to prop my feet on during conference calls. Get comfortable. It’s worth it.
Watch your posture: It’s so easy to slump at home because (unless we are on video-conference) we are relaxed and not trying to impress anybody. That’s good, but remind yourself to sit up straight sometimes and do some simple stretches during the day (because you can, you’re at home!). I love Adriene from the Yoga with Adriene YouTube Channel and not only does she have playlists including: Yoga for Uncertain Times, Yoga for Neck Tension and Yoga Practices Under 10 Minutes long.
Get a Lift: If you are working with a laptop, I highly recommend a docking station with a regular monitor. Realizing that you probably cannot access tech gadgets right now, get a big book, like a dictionary and prop up your laptop when you are on conference calls for sure (all the time, if you have a separate keyboard available to you). This will prevent you having to look down into the screen and therefore save your neck from soreness. (It will also make you look a bit better on video-conferences because the camera will be level with your face or higher than your face.
ZOOM (AND OTHER VIDEO-CONFERENCING SOFTWARE)
Have a sense of humor: If your kids interrupt your Zoom calls, you can just ask them to say hi (if appropriate) or just mute and shuffle them out. Then make a joke about it: “Well at least he had pants on!” No need to freak out or punish them. Just gently set boundaries. Your co-workers should be giving you and everyone grace right now. Same thing applies for pets. People love seeing your kids and your pets. Don’t worry about seeming professional right now.
Wear pants, please: Yes, you must wear pants on video-conference! Inevitably, you’ll have to get up to adjust your lighting, run to the restroom, handle something a child needs, grab a paper, or close a window. So, yes, wear some pants. That said, they can be comfy yoga pants or pajama pants. No one will fault you for that.
Touch Up Appearance Function: If the idea of looking at your own face in a little box on Zoom all day activates your perfectionist and self-critical tendencies (maybe it’s just me), you can use Zoom’s feature call “Touch Up Appearance”. Basically, it just removes any major blemishes and improves dark circles under my eyes. I still look thoroughly like me.
Use your mute button: If you are not talking or expected to talk very soon, for the love of all that is dear in this beautiful world, mute yourself. It’s the microphone button in the bottom left corner. If you are dialing in via phone and not video, please mute too using your phone’s features. Zoom can be the best of tools and the worst, improperly used. Mute yourself when aren’t talking.
Use your video on/off button if necessary: If you must leave a meeting a quick note in the chat “brb” for “be right back” and then turn your video off momentarily. It’s the button in the bottom left corner with the camera icon. Turn it back on when you return.
Be careful about chat: Zoom’s chat feature is a bit weird. You can message specific people directly, but then it doesn’t automatically switch back to all. Be careful with this and make sure you get the right not to the right audience. Otherwise, embarrassing situations could arise.
SCHOOLING FROM HOME
Ok, I’ve got one final category of tips for those parents out there who are navigating the un-charted waters of having their kids home all day for the whole workweek. You're probably thinking "How do I get them to do their work? How can I get all my work done too?"
First, let’s be clear: this is a highly unusual situation for everyone. Remember how we need to give everyone grace. That includes kids. They absorb all the unspoken worry and fear around them, and it can cause them to act…. less than pleasant and cooperative. Be kind and give them some leeway.
That said, I would not let extreme cases of defiance and disrespect slide. Otherwise, you are setting some precedence that will cause you trouble later, especially if this situation persists for months and not weeks.
Sound like contradictory advice? I’ll cop to that. That’s what parenting is: finding a balance amidst the many paradoxes of raising little humans.
On to the specific tips:
Again, I hope this was helpful you. If it was, please leave me a comment below. If you found this very helpful, I hope you’ll subscribe. By doing so, you’ll get my FUNdraising Friday emails every Friday with pick-me-ups, helpful articles and cool freebies.
At the end of this, I’d like to say again that I know how lucky I am to have the kind of job I have that allows me to work from home, especially at a time like this. So many don’t have this opportunity. Cultivating gratitude will help us all build resilience for this challenge.
Take care and be well,
Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.