When I left the corporate world 10 years ago, the opportunity to work from home was a gift. No longer would I need to endure the 2-hour daily commute to my office; I’d be there for my family in the morning and be able to prepare dinner in the evening. At that point, I was 7 years into my marriage to my musician husband, and our little boy was just 3 years old. We had full-time nanny support: one would come at 6am to help with breakfast and play with my son so I could get ready and out of the house. The second nanny would come for the all-day shift and be there until very late in the afternoon or early evening, until we could get home — many times that was after dinner or even after my son’s bedtime. We were on a rollercoaster and the ride wasn’t fun anymore.
Those first few months at home made me realize how much of life – and of my family – I had been missing. While I continued to work from home as a music industry consultant, I dived into the joys of being a quasi-stay-at-home parent. I reveled in the newness of it all and wrapped myself up in being the loving wife and mom I wanted to be. Life, to me, couldn’t be more perfect than this.
And now, here we are in 2020, and we are ALL faced with working from home. How amazing is that? This is an opportunity for you to reevaluate what’s truly important, what really matters, who you want to be and what you want to give to the world. It’s a blessing!
That said, working from home is not always easy – and, currently, we are all dealing with many stressful challenges. Some of us are trying to work (Zoom calls and all) while balancing our kids’ homeschooling and wellbeing. Many of us are now out of work or, worse, dealing with illness. And just trying to shop for essentials has become a whole new adventure! We all are having to cope with being safe.
As I have navigated the waters of working from home for the past 10 years, I would like to share three strategies on how to make this “new normal” work for your career, your family, and, most of all, you.
Strategy #1: Create a Space
You no longer have an office to dash off to – congrats! Now, as you pad in your bedroom slippers from bed to desk (or dining room table or sofa), let’s figure out how to make this new “work from home” arrangement work for you.
First, you must delineate a space that you will call your “office.” If you don’t have a separate room that can be dedicated to that role, take a tour of your home and find a place that works for you. One with nice seating, good light, access to power and, of course, strong WiFi.
I made this journey myself and converted a family antique heirloom into my office. Funny thing is that four years later, that piece of furniture still functions as my desk, but I prefer to take my laptop out and set up shop at the end of our dining room table. I love how the light pours in from all the windows and skylights around me. I’m only a few steps away from a tea or coffee refill, and it’s easy to get dinner started at the end of the day. I’m also in the center of everything, which is great when I need to help my son with homeschooling (or rather, be an anchor for him so he can sit with me and get his work done). If I need quiet for a phone call, I either take the call somewhere else or schedule it at a time when I can send my family to other parts of the house.
I’m lucky to be a parent to a teenager, so carving out a quiet space is much easier for me now. If my son were much younger, my husband and I would be taking turns on childcare and being entertainer, teacher, chief cook and bottle washer! Which leads me to . . .
Strategy #2: Manage Your Time
Despite what the Rolling Stones may say, time is not on your side in this new #WorkFromHome era. So it’s up to you to wrangle it and manage how you are going to make time work for you.
My three favorite tools for time management are
- Daily Planner
- Time Blocking
- Task Batching
The daily planner keeps you on task and on time: it helps you keep track of all your calls, online classes and virtual happy hours; allows you to pour everything that you need to do out of your head and onto paper (aka brain dump); and determines what needs to be done when, based on priorities or deadlines.
Time blocking is a brilliant tool that helps you dedicate a period of time for work. If you know your child is taking an online class, block out that time for your work. If she’s on a bike ride with dad, there’s another hour you can use for work. Look for those opportunities in your daily schedule (however short or long they may be) and make use of those time blocks to accomplish work you must get done.
Task batching is an extension of time blocking: group “like” tasks together and knock them all out at once. For example, use a block of time to make your phone calls, or to work on slides for a presentation. If it’s reading time for your child, use that block of time for any reading you may need to do for work, or use that quiet time to clear your inbox.
You can supercharge your time blocking and task batching by taking it one step further: when are you most productive? Use that particular block of time for hard-thinking projects. What can you do easily without much effort? Do that at times of the day when your energy is waning. Which brings me to . . .
Strategy #3: Be You
Be good to yourself during this crazy time we’re all in! Don’t push yourself too hard – our lives and respective worlds have been spinning out of control and we all need to give ourselves a break. Don’t compare yourself to your supermom friends who are creating art masterpieces with their kids or ambitious colleagues who have ticked off the 30+ things they’ve accomplished so far during the shutdown. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of this time and find some way to make it work for you, too.
First, a simple “feel good” trick I’ve found: make your bed every day! It’s a really easy task and one that doesn’t take more than a few minutes to do. You’ve got your first task done – boom! You have a feeling of accomplishment – wow! You’re now ready to rock!
Um . . . that is, until you get out of your PJs. Take the next few moments to get dressed, brush your hair and teeth and get ready for the day. Transitioning from comfy lounge clothes to “I-can-face-the-world-if-I-have-to” clothes makes a huge difference in your mindset and your productivity. Also, it keeps us honest: too many consecutive days in yoga pants (regardless if we actually practice yoga or not) will bring an unpleasant surprise when it’s time for us to put on work clothes again.
I hope these three strategies help you manage working from home. Practicing them will set you up for success, and whatever pleasant surprises, like finding a four-leaf cover with your child, come your way today.
It’s OK to take this time to just be. Be there for your family. Be there for you. We won’t have an opportunity like this again. Seize it!
I’ve been working at home for over 15 years, but even I appreciated these tips – especially #3. Some days it’s really hard to get motivated for obvious reasons and it’s good to be reminded not to be too hard on myself. Thank you!
Thank you, Janet, for your kind comments, especially from someone who has been rocking the “work from home” ethic for a while now — and who’s continually smashing it!
I love the tool of time blocking. It fits my style and also makes sure that priorities are upheld. Thank you!
Yes! It’s a perfect way to stay focused on a task and get things done. Thanks for your comment, Ellen!