I don't know about you, but I feel busier than ever, despite the fact that I never leave home!
With everyone being roughly two months into work-from-home, you probably have your office area set-up and if you have children, they are probably wrapping up formal schoolwork. Now, you’re finally able to turn your attention back to optimizing the situation.
What can you do to make work-from-home work for you?
Last week, I posted a collection of tips for managing your remote team. This week, I want to share what I’ve learned about managing myself and my time while being at home all day.
Forget about the 9 to 5
Everything you think you know about work – throw it out. You do not have to be sitting in front of your computer staring at your email from 9 to 5 to be a “good” employee. In fact, that mentality makes you less productive and more miserable. Have your goals for the day, week, month, and project and move towards them every day. Don’t focus on time. Focus on progress to goal. This is a crucial shift if you want to work from home without having a meltdown or having work take over your home life.
Keep at least one day per week without meetings
If I have meetings every single day of the week, I cannot do important projects that require thought-work or intensive writing. Meetings break up the day and pull your focus away from what you need to produce. They are necessary, especially in a remote arrangement, for facilitating teamwork and communication. But they must be kept in their place. I recommend one day every week without meetings to give you time to make progress on important projects. Also, I recommend doing donor meetings one week “on” and one week “off” when working from home. The “off” weeks give you time to recover as well as time to set up the next round of meetings. Which day will you choose to be your meeting-free day of the work week?
No, you don’t have to dress up
I see so many recommendations saying something like, “Get up and get dressed every day, as if you are going to work, to maintain a sense of normalcy.” If that works for you, more power to you. Cope however you can. But – to my mind – one of the benefits of working at home is being able to be comfortable and I’m not about to give that up just to trick myself with a false sense of normalcy. Most days I wear a tank top and yoga pants. When I have meetings, I throw on a cardigan, pull up my hair, and maybe put on some earrings. I relish my comfort and it makes me more productive. If getting dressed works for you, great! But, if you’d rather be cozy, I give you full permission to embrace that aspect of remote work.
Eat the Frog
“Eat the Frog!” means do the thing you are dreading having to do, FIRST. (If you had to eat a frog on a Tuesday, when would you do it? You’d do it first so you wouldn’t spend the whole day worrying about it.) Do it first and then it’s over with. If you have a tedious or boring or time-consuming task, just get it done. Rip off the Band-Aid and then it’s over and you’ve freed up valuable head-space for the other tasks in your list.
Got a pile of thank you notes to write? Do them all in one two-hour period. It’s been proven that people who sit down to pay their bills only once or twice per month are happier with their finances than those that pay each individual bill as it comes in. Beyond the psychological benefits, it’s efficient. I also do it with laundry. I wash giant batches on the weekend and fold it all in one big push. Doing repetitive tasks all together is time-saving and more importantly, it saves MENTAL energy. You aren’t switching gears back and forth all the time. Make a list of 3-4 work tasks and 3-4 personal tasks that you could try batching.
Maybe there’s an “Eat the Frog” kind of task that you don’t like to do but it’s also recurring or repetitive? How to handle that? I like the Pomodoro Technique for this. This is a time management technique in which you decide how long you want to work on a task, set a timer, and then once you do that allotment of time, you get a break.
For instance, maybe you have a tedious data clean-up project that you’ve been procrastinating on? Tell yourself you are going to work on it for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. Take the break and then repeat at whatever intervals make sense for your deadline. (If the break is not long enough to motivate you or the time on the task isn’t enough to show real progress, tweak the times until you feel motivation and purpose.)
I use this for housework: clean something, anything for 15 minutes and then I can stop. This technique helps you overcome the biggest hurdle: STARTING. I find the 15-minute requirement gets me off my booty and cleaning. Once I’m up, I generally will finish the task and work beyond the 15 minutes. Some days, I will quit after the allotted time. And that’s ok. I know tomorrow I’ll do it again.
What work task could you use this technique on this week? Give it a try and let me know how it goes.
Have a plan for your meals
Food can become frustrating when working from home. When you go to an office, you either have packed a lunch or you are going out to a restaurant to grab something. But at home, you will either must have something ready or you’ll end up cooking all day. Other options include being too hungry to work or eating junk food snacks which will catch up with you in the long run. And don’t get me started on how much it sucks to have a tight schedule of Zoom meetings and nothing ready to eat in between. I tend to do some protein shakes in the morning and cook big meals on Sundays and eat the leftovers for other meals during the week. Could you use your crockpot or insta-pot to have something ready to go while also producing leftover? Find a few recipes to try out next week.
I’m a huge advocate for self-care, especially when you work-from-home. A Zen proverb says, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you are very busy, then sit in meditation for an hour.” It’s true that you are more productive when you care for yourself well and do the things you know you should do to be your best self. I define discipline as keeping your promises to yourself. One of the benefits of working from your house is that if you need a meditation break or a yoga break or an exercise break, there’s no one to see you doing it. My office doubles as a home yoga studio and meditation space. Prioritize self-care and it will make you more productive.
Sharpen your saw
Do things that make you more motivated and productive at work. For me, researching, writing about, and teaching fundraising techniques keeps me at my best at my day job. Learn as much as you can about emerging digital opportunities and explore online learning options, which are exploding everywhere right now. Managing your own mindset and motivation level will pay huge dividends.
Have you tried any of these techniques before – in or out of the office? What has worked for you that perhaps I didn’t cover here? Let me know in the comments below. Comments and questions are, as always, welcomed and encouraged!
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Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.