I'd be lying if I said the past week and a half hasn't felt completely crazy...and honestly...eerie. I certainly didn't expect the Coronavirus to hit like it has - especially given the fact that I live 45 minutes away from patient zero in the US! Super strange times we are in: school is closed for six weeks, restaurants and bars closed, and companies are scrambling to figure out how to have a remote workforce.
If you are a new convert to working from home, have no fear...it is actually quite awesome! I've worked remotely for most of my career as a designer and business owner, and I have quite a bit of experience managing a remote team. In my day job at M Agency, we hire for talent and not location...and that means our team members live across the country (& globe with one from Canada and one in Germany!)
People have always told me how envious they are of the freelance, work-from-home lifestyle...but as I am sure many of you are currently experiencing, it has its own set of unique challenges. Over the years, I have figured out rhythms and tools that help me stay balanced and productive. I hope that these tips are helpful for you in finding what works best for your job and workflow!
Become a planner & make systems
Constantly worrying about tasks, due dates, and reactively responding to every email you receive is ineffective and anxiety inducing. You will go crazy within two days of working from home if you just sit on the couch and watch your email inbox.
The first thing I recommend is to make yourself a system for working, and use the system to hold details. I use several systems for Dapplebay and at M Agency, but my favorite system of all is my planner that I write in every morning. As a creative person, I resist any sort of framework or structure. For me, having a place to physically write out and plan my days has been an essential key to success. I actually enjoy doing it every morning, and I use it to help me plan ahead and remember details.
Every Sunday, I review my week so that I have an idea of what meetings I have scheduled, and I make a rough plan of what the week will look like - penciling in items for each day of the week. Then, each morning, I spend about fifteen minutes filling out the day and adding details through the week as needed. Each day has a spot for me to write in my appointments, my to-do list, a separate list for my health to-do's, but most importantly - it has a spot for reaching out to someone on my heart, and a space for my 3 main priorities. My planner has an added bonus of a spot to journal & a daily devotional verse which really helps me to stay grounded.
Prioritize & "eat the frog"
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from a manager was the concept of "eating the frog". Essentially what that means is that in order to have a productive day, you should start with your most annoying, most difficult task. Once that has been accomplished, everything else on the list will feel easy.
I like to use the 3 priorities to tackle my daily "frog" tasks. For me, the hardest things are 1) responding to emails promptly 2) completing linear tasks like writing proposals, sending estimates, or typing up notes. I am not always successful with this, and sometimes the day gets crazy and things have to shift...but I always feel best when I can get the difficult tasks crossed off first, and then save the rest of my day for creativity, collaborating with the team, or the strategy work that I love the most.
Learn your work flow state & schedule around it
One of the best things you can do to optimize your productivity is to tune into your best workflow state. What does it look like when you are most productive and effective? Do you get a second wind at 2pm? Or do you always do your best work first thing in the morning? Try to understand your natural rhythms and build your schedule around that.
For me personally, I am most productive with linear, executional tasks (which are also the most difficult for me) in the morning. After about 2pm, it becomes harder and harder for me to focus on things I don't enjoy doing. I tend to get very distracted and just start working on other, more "interesting" things that are not the thing on my list.
Time blocking is a very effective strategy to stack your days with types of work. A typical day for me starts with a morning meeting, and then diving into my hardest tasks from 9:30-11am. Then, I take a break, and come back to my more collaborative, creative tasks in the afternoon.
Design your ideal workspace
You will likely read lots of blogs that talk about cleaning your workspace and setting it up for efficiency, which I am sure is very effective for some people. However, I have actually found the opposite is true for me, and I like to move around from workspace to workspace. When most of my work was as a designer, I would go to a new coffee shop every week for a change of scenery and inspiration.
Maybe a clean desk inspires you, but it might also be a source of anxiety. I encourage you to lean in to your natural inclinations. If it feels good to sit at the dining room table and write a blog post, go for it! And then sit on the couch to check your emails. That's what I did today, and it was great.
This is a big one, especially during this COVID-19 crisis. The news is relentless and it will suck hours out of your day if you let it. So will chatting with your co-workers, randomly checking emails, scrolling on IG, and buying things for your horse...all of these things are huge time stealers that you have to become super aware of if you want to be an effective remote worker.
Of course I'm guilty on all accounts, I literally bought these yesterday after seeing a post on Facebook in the middle of working on something else. They say you teach what you need to learn, so here I am, telling you not to do the exact thing that I did yesterday. There are a bunch of awesome browser plugins that can help reduce your social media breaks - I currently have this one installed and it is awesome for when I am on the struggle bus.
Your schedule should also support you to reduce distractions, and I recommend setting times to check your email, your phone, slack, etc. You could spend your entire day sitting waiting for notifications and responding to them immediately, so instead, schedule times to check your devices and respond to messages.
Have boundaries & take breaks
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about "working from home" or "freelancing" is that there is no work actually involved, and you are just sending funny gifs to your coworkers all day. While I do hope you spend at least five minutes a day partaking in silliness, it will be super helpful for you to be serious about your work from home. That means having a schedule, getting ready for work, being at work, taking breaks from work, and being off of work.
If you allow yourself to blur those boundaries, your work from home will quickly start to feel like a 24/7 job instead of one that requires 8 hours a day. I recommend setting times to be "off" and "on" during the day, building in breaks, and coming "home" after the day is over. This is ESPECIALLY important if you have a significant other or children - you need to be clear about what is "work time" and what is "home time". Blurring those lines will cause a lot of strife for others in your household, especially when we are living in a quasi state of quarantine.
Lastly - you need to be taking breaks. This is honestly the one I struggle with the most. Breaks can (and should) include making yourself a nice cup of coffee or tea and taking a stroll around the house...taking the dog for a walk, or going for a run on your lunch break because the sun is out...staying hydrated, and making yourself something to eat throughout the day. Schedule in your breaks and your workouts, and you will be amazed how staying fueled and making time for exercise increases your productivity.
I hope these tips were helpful for you! If you are struggling with something I didn't go over, shoot me an email or DM me over on IG. I would love to chat with you! All my love... XOXO/Leah.