From Surviving To Thriving: How To Work From Home
Welcome to “From Surviving To Thriving: How To Work From Home.” My name is Jordan Thibodeau, and along with my friend and colleague Joe Ternasky, we will be your instructors for this course. I’m a full-time tech employee that works from home, and I’m the community manager of Silicon Valley Investors Club, a free investment community for STEM employees. As for Joe, while working from home, Joe has managed many large teams of employees at multiple leading Fortune 500 companies.
A common refrain among people who don’t work from home is that those who do have it easy. In some ways, that’s true: simply eliminating the stress of a commute is a victory! However, working from home comes with unique challenges. When your work and home lives take place in one location, you must maintain a careful balancing act to ensure that your lifestyle remains sustainable and healthy, while you continue to perform your job as effectively as you would if you were at the office.
In this course, you will learn the following skills:
• How to set boundaries between your work life and your home life
• How to set up a schedule that keeps you busy and happy
• How to build rituals that will keep you working and living well
• How to utilize asynchronous communication to make you more effective
• How to avoid the time-wasting of “work theater”
• How to stay connected with co-workers and the rest of the world
• How to let yourself take breaks effectively
• How to avoid distractions
• How to stay social when you never seem to go anywhere
• How to stay on top of useful technology trends
Without any further delay, let’s get started!
Lesson 1. Setting Boundaries for Managing Work From Home
“If you work at home, you’re always on call…”—John Connolly
In our first lesson, let’s discuss how and why you set physical boundaries in your living space and mental boundaries in your headspace. Setting boundaries will let you keep your work sphere separate from your personal sphere. Otherwise, your work will crowd out your personal life, and your personal life will seep into your work life. This is bad because you will never feel relaxed at home and you will always be “on” 24/7.
Your Work Space
Your goal when picking a workspace is to find where you do your best and most focused work. Ultimately, you are the only person who can choose this for yourself. There are a few details you’ll want to consider in order to make the best choice for you. Ask yourself if your chosen workspace has the following qualities that will help improve your workflow in the long run:
• Strong, reliable internet access. Your ability to work remotely depends on this. Even if you do your work offline, at some point you’ll have to show it to someone or have a videoconference.
• A flat surface. You want your space to have a flat work surface so that you can safely use your equipment without being crowded by other things.
• A reliable power supply. Check for nearby outlets and invest in extension cords if you need to.
• An area with minimal distractions. Heavily trafficked areas or a seat with a great view of the TV screen won’t help you hone your focus.
• Comfortable furniture. Invest in the furniture you need to maintain good posture. Your body will thank you, and your productivity will reflect the results.
• Appropriate lighting. Consider the lighting in your workspace and invest in a new lighting solution if your eyes will have to strain to see your project. Remember that you may be engaging in video conferencing, so consider the impact of your lighting on that task.
Your “Working Zone”
If possible, your workspace should be your workspace alone, not the place where you also go to pay bills, play Settlers of Catan and stream The Witcher. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a way to close yourself off from outside distractions. We call this area the Working Zone, which is a place reserved just for work. A physical barrier can go a long way to helping you keep your work and home lives separate. If you do not have an extra space that you can dedicate to a Working Zone, you may consider the following strategies.
Close distracting apps and devices. Close or shut off anything that would distract you from your work. This includes the news, television, music, podcasts, idle games, and, depending on your job, your email, and messaging apps. Focus on apps such as the Pomodoro app or Forest App can be a great help.
Employ a special indicator that “work is in session.” Some elementary school teachers employ the method of the stop sign in their classrooms. When they expect their students to work quietly at their tables, they unfold a paper print-out of a stop sign that’s taped to their desks. Their students are taught to recognize that this means “don’t approach the teacher unless something is on fire,” so they save their questions for later. If you share a living space with others, consider establishing your own “stop sign.” It can be as simple as “when I’m wearing my team’s cap, I’m working,” or “when I have my headphones on, I’m working.” The trick is to drill down and reinforce that there are no exceptions! Unless there is a fire consuming your home, your work indicator must be considered sacred. Remember, life will distract you exactly as much as you let it.
Wear your company badge and/or attire when you work. Sure, you’re not going to the office; but dressing for success can help you set up the mental cue that it’s time to work. When work is over, take your badge off. This signals to your unconscious that the working day is over and it can stop thinking about projects and schedules until tomorrow.
Establishing boundaries in your home is great, but not always easy, especially if you live with a family or in a smaller place where you can’t really separate yourself from others. Therefore, time is a boundary that you can use to your advantage too.
Arrange for uninterrupted time. Having set stretches of time throughout your workday when you can guarantee that you won’t suffer any outside distractions will greatly improve your productivity. Consider the compromise of saying, “I am definitely off-limits from 2 pm to 5 pm” rather than the more general, “Don’t bother me this afternoon.” Note that by telling this to others, you’re also telling yourself: This is strictly working time.
Consider when to tackle different types of work. Schedule your most challenging tasks for when you know you’re at your best and brightest. Less important, less challenging work can be saved for times when interruptions are more likely, or you know you’ll be getting tired.
Find your best working time. When do you naturally do your best work? Maybe it is a certain time of the day (or night!), or maybe it is after you have done other specific things (slept well, taken a shower, had coffee, etc.). Don’t worry too much about why this time of day is best for you, just arrange your schedule so you can make the best use of this time.
Make sure everyone else knows that this is your work time. If you consistently work on the same days and times and let your family and friends know that these are your working hours, they will try not to distract you during this time. This can take a little getting used to since you are in the same place. Be patient but consistent. If you make too many exceptions, people won’t think you are serious about your work time.
Mentally detaching goes hand-in-hand with establishing a working zone. When your brain goes to work and is productive there, all the correct synapses are firing. Have you ever come home from work but found yourself still mulling a problem, unable to focus on what anyone else is saying? You are still in your mental workspace.
This is another reason that having a working zone is so important. If your mind learns that work happens at a certain desk, then your mind can also learn that leaving that desk means work is done for the day. Your thoughts are now your own again. Moving your work area around the house, like traveling room to room with a laptop, will leave you with no means of escape from the “work zone.”
Mentally detaching, however, can mean more than just training your brain that “This chair and this laptop means work time.” It can also mean training yourself that 9 am to 5 pm is work time, and after that, you are off the clock. Having your working zone always in sight, always readily available, can make it difficult to excuse yourself from doing the work right then and there. Suddenly 9 am to 5 pm starts to include 7 pm to midnight and you’re working thirteen-hour days, mentally exhausting yourself. Sure, there are times when a thirteen-hour day might be necessary—any job can have an emergency deadline. The point here is that, in the normal course of business, you are not obligated to work that thirteen-hour day simply because it’s possible.
Allow yourself to stop working. Just because “going home” amounts to moving three feet to the left, it doesn’t mean you’re still on duty. Remember to end your workday and give yourself a private life. That “stop sign” technique works well as a reminder for yourself as well. If you can’t take your mind off work, then acknowledge those thoughts, but then picture that “stop sign” and remind yourself that work will still be there tomorrow.
Make Your Intentions Clear
If you live with others, let them know what you expect from this change in your work situation, and what you expect from them in response. Remember that you are bringing your “public world” into their “private world” and show the proper respect for this. If your housemates have concerns or questions, address them, and if they have suggestions on how to make everything work better, by all means, listen! Later in this course, we’ll elaborate on how to deal with specific family situations. For now, just be certain that you’re on the same page with everyone who will be affected by your work from home situation.
Task #1: Analyze your current WFH workspace and determine if it has the following:
1. Strong, reliable internet access.
2. A flat surface.
3. A reliable power supply.
4. An area with minimal distractions.
5. Comfortable furniture.
6. Appropriate lighting.
Task #2: Convert your workspace to a Working Zone where only work will be done in this area. A working zone should have the following rules.
1. Close distracting apps and devices on your cell phone.
2. Employ a special indicator that “work is in session.” It should be a stop sign or a work in progress sign. Something to indicate to others you are working.
3. Wear your company badge and/or attire when you work.
That’s a wrap for this lesson. We look forward to having you join us for our next lesson.
Jordan and Joe
Work From Home Teachers
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