“We need to get you working from somewhere other than your couch,” says my trainer as we go through our early routine stretches. I look around my apartment and think about how there is no room for a desk or even an ergonomic chair. The space is already tight. As I started to tap the breaks on my own defensive and justified thoughts, I realized how working exclusively from home changes the context altogether.
I’ve been working remotely since the summer of 2018, therefore when March 2020 hit and the stay at home orders were announced…there wasn’t much of an impact on my work structures. Like many, after waking up, making coffee, and checking my email – my pajamas and I roll right into the workday uninterrupted. Usually, the only time I make a point to change clothes is if there is a scheduled Zoom call or I’m working out. But why all of the sudden am I more distracted, less productive, and antsy than ever?
There is peace of mind in having options. I’m not talking about going gangbusters here, but think about it? One of the biggest obstacles for people right now is the experience of not having a say, no choice in the matter of the circumstances.
Options give a sense of agency, even if one chooses not to act. It is like getting invited to a dinner party by that one friend you intentionally only see on a limited basis. You know you aren’t going to go, but still want to be invited. This might sound silly, however, if you map it on I think you’ll discover that you too agree with what I am pointing to here.
As we enter into the fall, life tends to speed up a little bit, and effectively navigating a busier schedule within the COVID-19 restrictions will require deliberate planning, thinking, and intentionality. So I’d like you to try on the following tips to set yourself up for success:
STRUCTURE EVERYTHING OUT & BE REALISTIC
If you have kids, you are already well aware that the schedule has changed with your little ones being back at (virtual) school. Historically, the fall is strategic planning season for most businesses. That means that there are emails, more meetings, more project roll-outs, more newly implemented initiatives. All the unique variables of life right now happening simultaneously with each member of the household present at the same time – could be a recipe for disaster.
Before the opportunity is missed, take this time to sit your keester down and do some planning. While you are designing your structures, organizing your calendar, and articulating your goals, make sure that you also include breakdown or interruption time. I’d recommend at least one to two hours a day of interruption time. Why? Because you will set yourself up to win. I don’t care how organized, effective, or successful you think you are, even the CEOs of top Fortune 500 companies with personal assistants factor in interruption time.
Furthermore, none of us have ever been here before! I’ve never run two companies, led 100+ person seminars by Zoom, and lived the rest of my life being quarantined in my apartment. I really had to give up my attachment to what I already knew about how things “are”. Being anchored in my pictures about how things should be going left me more frustrated, upset, and ultimately ineffective during my workday. This doesn’t mean that I threw caution to the wind and am now “winging it” because that wouldn’t have integrity either. But I am being very diligent about doing the critical thinking about what will serve my goals and my performance – both personally and professionally.
SCHEDULE IN BREAKS
Once upon a time, I was working 12 hour days and horrible at taking breaks. I would forget to eat or talk myself out of taking breaks because whatever I was working on was just so urgent. Fortunately, I was able to alter my work habits before I started working remotely. Now that the majority of the American workforce is working from home, you have an advantage available to you – flexibility. Regardless of however it might seem, you’ve got more room to be creative and design how you work.
During the summer months, we all tried to get outside as much as possible. As the temperatures change with the fall and winter months, do not stop this practice. Utilize the outdoors as much as possible. If you have the option of working, eating, or exercising outside or from your porch or backyard – do it. Changing up the physical environment and moving your body will actually support you in being more productive during the day.
This will also ensure that when the time comes to close your laptop and be with your family, you are actually present and available to be with them. Imagine the difference it would make to end your day feeling accomplished and satisfied. Those days I experience being far more playful, loving, and open during dinner with my husband. I’m not saying that you will always get everything accomplished that you intended to or expected. However, your experience of the day will be distinct. Thus impacting the quality of life as a whole.
STOP SELF CRITICISM
The reality is that life has not gone the way any of us had expected or planned for this year. You know this. Our responsibilities have changed, our schedules have changed, we have changed. There is a laundry list of things you are now managing that you didn’t have to do (personally) before. Whether it is helping your kids with virtual schooling or ensuring your older parents have groceries or cleaning the bathroom – you have more on your plate now. I get it!
The most effective people I know understand that some days are more productive than others.
Yes, you have a goal to be as productive as possible at all times. But that is unrealistic. I don’t mean to give up your commitment to operating that way. However, you will be less likely to be productive and efficient if you are criticizing yourself for the way it didn’t go but should’ve gone. All the time you spend dwelling in it or beating yourself up about it could be spent on something else. So I invite you to accept right off the bat that you are never going to get it all done, there are only 24 hours in the day and yes – you still need to have downtime and rest.
You will be far more effective and efficient if you plan out what there is to accomplish and work that plan. Each day, start with making a list of what the top priority items are. Then include how much time you are spending on planning, strategy, and/or research and development projects. Some aspects of our jobs are critical to the day while others need to be tended to over time.
Sometimes despite what we might want or think, some things need to be put on your “not now” list. As an Executive for two start-ups, I have new ideas all the time. And they are usually great ideas! But the reality is that we have limited bandwidth and that is just what is so. Each week I work out for myself what I am saying will get accomplished with each initiative I’m at work on. I plan out how that weaves into the other responsibilities I have on my plate. Most of the time I find I’m spot on with how things are structured in my calendar. But sometimes, whatever I planned got royally interrupted by a breakdown (usually involving a client matter) or I discover my planning was really “hopeful thinking”. The moment I realize I’m not going to get done what I said I would, I stop, I communicate to everyone on my team what’s so, and I look to see what new promise I can make. Now I’m dealing with the breakdown in partnership with my team versus talking to myself about it and feeling bad. Sound familiar?
The whole point here is that you are human.
Ultimately, you are a lot smarter and more resourceful when you are taking care of yourself. You know when you are not on your game and you know when you stopped paying attention to what supports you. The changes the pandemic has brought on are not going to end any time soon. The fall and winter months will include more shifts to our lives and our schedules.
Therefore make sure you create realistic schedules, take breaks, get outside, and remember to breathe. We are all in this together.