This post is a bit of a departure from the usual fare (not that the usual fare is all that usual or regular to begin with). Given that we are all “social distancing” many of us are now working at home. It occurred to me that some of you that are newer to this, might benefit from a few of the lessons I learned the hard way over the decades I have worked, on and off from home.
Just to be clear, these principles apply whether you are in your living room in an 800 square ft. apartment with a toddler watching reruns of Sesame Street on a worn out VHS tape (done that), or you have your own dedicated office space in your home (actually, I haven’t done that). They will also apply if you are an introvert (done that) or an extravert (I can pretend pretty well most of the time). What will differ is the particulars of how you implement the principles.
Chunk and Breath
That is not the latest birthing method, it is a work at home survival tool.
Chunking your work
If you are blessed to be in a busy role, you have an abundance of work. This is a good problem to have, but it is still a problem if you don’t have a strategy. Work Chunking is one of the most important because it makes many of the other principles possible.
Chunking is conceptualizing and pushing through your work in pieces. No matter what kind of work you do, it is chunkable, however, the type of chunks may vary. If your work is project based, you might have chunks that are task oriented(e.g. write 4 pages). If your work is transaction work, or “line work” you might chunk based on time or quantity (e.g. 2 hours, 20 calls, 30 email, etc.). Most of us will find time to be the easiest divisor. This is particularly true if your work, like most office workers, is a mix of a variety of activities. You may also find that what you start with is inadequate and you need to adjust. That is also fine. What is not fine, is not having a plan with regard to when you have completed a chunk.
Breathe. Seriously. Breathe.
Those of you that know me, know that I am definitely not into mysticism of any kind. This is not a criticism of those readers who are, it is just an qualifier that this concept is a healthy principle for everyone.
When you complete a chunk, you need to breathe. This can actually be taking a minute or two to just clear your head and focus exclusively on nice deep breathing. The science on this is pretty clear. Clearing your head and your lungs will go a long way to help you regain perspective. If you have an Apple watch, it has a great app, named Breathe (clever folks down there in Cupertino). Try it out. It is pretty helpful.
However, this step can be substituted with sitting on the porch rocking, watching the birds in the bird feeder, etc. Just a minute or two of separation from mental stimuli is all that is necessary. It is giving the brain, and your emotions a rest. I actually love to pray for a bit. It helps me reorient and let go of things beyond my control.
Catching up on Facebook, the news, or TV does not qualify. Usually listening to music does not qualify either because music is intended to move your emotions and your goal here is to avoid external stimuli that causes strong reactions. You are looking for inactivity that is calming.
Normally you have the opportunity to transition from work while you commute. When you are working from home, there is no commute so you need to transition almost instantly. That means you need set two kinds of boundaries and communicate them with your family.
Set Work Day Boundaries
With work being at home, it is too easy to jump back into work and leave your family hanging. Keep in mind that they likely need your time during this crisis as well. For me, it was easier to create family hours, then working hours. That means that outside of an emergency the family has me from dinner until the children are in bed. This means I shut off my notifications and don’t check my smart device during that time. I belong to the family. My team knows that if they have an emergency, they can call and I am ready to roll. Short of that, they can email me and I will get back to it after family time is over.
Set Family Boundaries
One of the benefits of working from home is you are able to see your family throughout the day. One of the challenges of working from home is you are able to see your family throughout the day.
As you probably discovered by now, it is both a blessing and a challenge to have family this accessible during the work day.
Setting up boundaries will help them know when you need to focus and when your work is interruptible. For us, it is the office door. We have a community office. The entire family shares my office (there are 4 desks in here) and I love it. However, there are times when I need to give every firing synapse to a difficult problem. For those moments, the office is emptied and the door is closed. Everyone in the family knows that means “stay out or you may not survive the encounter.” Fear not, none of my family members have expired yet.
This technique allows you benefit from both the presence of the family and the distraction free environment you can create at home.
Share the Load
If you have a significant other at home, they may likely be working as well. In our case, my wife is running our household and a non-profit therapy farm while I sit in my comfortable chair and pluck away at my keyboard. Sometimes, she needs help, or just needs to be free to get something done herself.
This is where work chunking is really important. If you chunk your work, you can transition between chunks to help mind the little one, or the dog, or goldfish, or whatever you may have at your home. This enables you to plan ahead, coordinate with your work team and be helpful without causing additional stress to yourself and your coworkers.
This will lengthen your work day if you have to take time out to share the load, but this will also enable you to help your household weather the storm as well.
Don’t forget the Chocolate
You need to ensure you indulge a bit in what takes you to your happy place. The breathing part is about resting. This is about moving toward happiness. For me it is chocolate. So much so, that we have a chocolate lab, and her name is….Hershey. I also like to build things or dig up weeds (funny, I used to hate that). Whatever it is, make sure you include it in your routine.
The point is to pursue happiness that is apart from your work routine. While my work makes me happy, a person also needs to diversify a bit to stay balanced.
Don’t Forget to Date
While our favorite date places (like Tractor Supply and Home Depot – only partially kidding here) are now off the list, you can still take time to spend with your significant other. Give the kids a game or a chore and go sit on the front porch and watch the sun set or sit on the back deck and listen to the crickets. For those still in colder weather, you might escape to another room and just visit about the day.
The important point here is to ensure that you are still making time to spend with your favorite person. This will fill both of your emotional fuel tanks like nothing else.
You can work from home and do it successfully. Just like your work communication has likely had to change, so will your other habits. If you are diligent about the suggestions above, you, your family and your coworkers will thrive, not just survive.