How to “shortcut” the work-from-home learning curve.
Most people equate working from home with the dream life — after all who wouldn’t want to work on their own terms? (And in your pajamas) But working from home can also be a slippery slope to chaos and misery if you don’t have the right game plan.
To help out I’ve gathered a list of my best advice for those transitioning to a remote working situation and I want to share it with you!
These are lessons I had to learn when I quit my job back in 2001 to flip houses as a real estate investor. Almost nobody was working from home back then so I had to figure out a lot of these things on my own, and it wasn’t always easy.
The truth is, a lot of people don’t have 15–20 years to figure these things out, so I want to share my biggest takeaways with you to lessen the lessons and so you can be at your absolute best, right now.
Whether you’ve been sent home to work, or you’re looking to make the transition indefinitely, here are 7 actionable solutions to find more joy and productivity from home.
1. Have Clearly Defined Work Hours
Although I learned a lot from my own experience, I had a head start from my father, who ran his own construction company for 25–30 years. He gave me some of the most important advice as I started my own journey: treat your home business like a business. Because although he spent time at different construction sites, he had designated office space for his work at home.
So treat your at-home adventure like you would treat your office job. Set designated hours. When do you start working? When do you break for lunch, and how long will you give yourself? When do you “pack up and go home”?
A big perk is that you don’t have to commute, which in turn gives you more flexibility. Maybe you have an extra half hour, or even an hour to do something for yourself. Or maybe you’d like to use that to accomplish just a little bit more.
Some variables may change day to day, but if you don’t have any structure, your day will slip away. Or, you may end up working all day and night. Neither is good for you in the long run. So create structure and remember to treat your work like work.
2. Maintain Some Normalcy
I find it’s important to keep a similar schedule, despite being in the comfort of your own space. It’s tempting to stay in your pajamas all day and get comfortable, but that can cut into your productivity.
It’s easy to cut some corners, but maintaining a semblance of normalcy puts you into a work mindset. I think you should include everything — workout, shower, get dressed. Do anything that you’d normally do to prepare for your work day. Not only does that routine put you into a working mindset, it also makes it easier to adjust once you’re back in the office.
The more you can find a sense of normalcy and routine, the better, because the other work variables you’re used to are gone. No commute, no coworkers, no break room, etc. Create a scenario that is as close to work as possible.
3. Create a Baseline
So you’ve followed your typical morning routine as much as possible, and you’ve mapped out your day. The next thing you need to do to boost your productivity is ask yourself one simple question: how can I be at my best today?
Here’s why I think this is crucial: we don’t know what’s coming, what’s next. To be honest, I think on the short end, this could still continue for another 4–8 weeks. I could be wrong, but that’s my sense.
In reality, it’s all just so uncertain. My girlfriend works for a large company that has numerous fitness franchises. They’ve been preparing their owners for a possible 6–12 months of shutdown. In all likelihood, they’ll be one of the last industries to be reopening. But nothing is set in stone.
The takeaway is this: we don’t know exactly how long this will last. There’s a lot of uncertainty, and your family is going to need you at your very best, and you’ll need to be at your best for yourself. It’s going to help you get through these times.
So check in with yourself. What does your body need? It’s easy to fall out of a workout routine, but it’s important that you don’t. It’s good for you physically as well as mentally. So how do you fulfill that need without gym access? As we speak, my girlfriend is creating home workout routines for others. You should also think of food as fuel — don’t take this as a license to eat junk food in the comfort of your home.
Maybe meditation will help you stay at your best mentally and spiritually. That could also be fulfilled through prayer, reading, a gratitude session, or whatever feels right. What’s crucial is to stay in a positive mental space. Personally, I think journaling is important because it helps you keep track of your mental space and then find solutions. This is especially prudent when you’re struggling to process negative thoughts.
Like a computer, you only have so much bandwidth. Journaling helps you release and process things, so that your mind is free to do what it needs to do. The thoughts you don’t process take too much of your mental capacity.
So do what you need to do to take care of your mind, body, and soul. That way, you can be at your best in all regards, each and every day. You are in control of your life, so dictate how you show up each day, don’t allow it to be dictated for you.
4. Curate a Space of Empowerment
If you don’t typically work from home, you probably don’t have a dedicated office space. Regardless, it’s critical that you designate a space that empowers you. You don’t want some duct-taped together space in some small nook of your home, knowing that this could continue for weeks.
So no matter where you choose to work, make it comfortable and pleasant. Check that the lighting is good, so you can see your work and have optimized video conferences. Decorate with things that bring you joy, and get rid of clutter.
It’s easy to downplay this tip, especially if you normally work in a cubicle or some small space, but this is a big opportunity! Make your space the man-cave you’ve always wanted, the craft room of your dreams, or whatever speaks to you. My own office space is filled with art and inspirational quotes that inspire me to be my best.
Each day, I’m working in a space that I enjoy being in, that uplifts and empowers me. And research supports the idea that we live up to our environment. If you walk into an empowering work space, you’ll be empowered. So set yourself up for success.
Take some time and think about what you’d like to do to create a productive environment for yourself. What can you surround yourself with? Invest in your space now, while Amazon and other resources are available to you. You’ll be happier for it.
5. Be on the Same Page
If you’re home, there are likely other people in your household in the same situation. Have conversations with your spouse, partner, children, roommates, or otherwise. Designate your respective spaces, and ask for what you need.
Without communication, there’s plenty of opportunity for awkward situations. Interrupted meetings, commandeering of your new office space, etc. Defining your needs and your boundaries will prevent any awkward situations going forward — and create more harmony in the household.
Another thing that tends to happen is, everyone thinks your free. Because if you’re at home, you must be available, right? So communicate. There are dozens of things you could be doing at home, but if you’re supposed to be working, the people in your household should support that.
If you don’t set these boundaries, the people you live with can’t be expected to do their best for you either. If you do the odd chore here or there, or take breaks in the middle of your work day to play a game, your family will start to expect that. They might start to encroach on your time because they think it’s okay. If it helps, have everyone write down their “office hours.” That way, there’s a visual record. Help your family to help you, and allow them to do the same.
When there’s mutual respect, everyone can be at their best.
6. Get Organized
Create a space for yourself where all of your thoughts and expectations are laid out. We’ve talked about having a schedule, and having a journal — this is a combination of the two.
The reality is, you don’t have a supervisor over your shoulder. It’s up to you to stay organized and on task. I use a system called bullet journaling, where you take a regular journal, and use it to keep all of your notes. Journals, to-do lists, activity or projects trackers, and more. What I love about it, the Franklin Covey system, is that everything is in one place. I don’t need a dozen different journals.
For some people, a planner will be more effective.
The important thing is to keep yourself organized, so that you can take ownership of your day, and dive confidently into your work.
If you have a system like this, I highly encourage it. There are dozens of options out there, ranging anywhere from $10-$80. Do your research and find a system that works for you.
Give your brain a rest, and put things where you can access them easily — in the pages of a journal.
7. Think Ahead
Now that you’re working from home, you’re a leader in your workplace and your home. There will be a lot of people looking to you, so it’s vital to think ahead.
You can’t predict everything that’s going to happen, but you can have the foresight to see what’s happening a week or two out, maybe more. Know what supplies you’ll need, or what actions you need to take to ensure everything runs smoothly. Anticipate problems that may arise, and have a game plan. Prepare for as much as you can, so that the true surprises seem less overwhelming.
Consider farmers. They can’t just show up for the harvest if they haven’t planted the seeds. In reality, they have to think ahead, make a plan, and tend to that plan every single day. They can’t wait until they’re hungry to act.
Anticipate what’s possible, and act accordingly. Your family will be looking to you for that guidance. Especially with certain products being scarce — make sure you have what you need (but don’t overdo it). In some cases, you may even have to pool resources with neighbors. Start thinking about those things now, you’ll be better off.
This time is a test for us all — our families and businesses will need the best from all of us. Some will stand out at this time because of what they do, and you can be one of them.
Make sure you’re at your best — take care of your needs, have structure, and anticipate what’s to come. Don’t wait until you’re in survival mode to take charge of your life, be in a position to thrive. The people who are able to thrive will be leading the pack once society picks back up again. Position yourself for the best.
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Article written by Elizabeth Hagenlocher in conjunction with Derick Van Ness