Last year when I transitioned to working primarily from home, I found myself facing quite a learning curve related to time management. Not only were the non-work-related distractions many, but I was drawn to being able to handle emails in my pajamas, which spoke to the side of me that is most prone to entering a cycle of procrastination that always leads to anxiety and stress. To be completely honest, it is the side of me that dominated my college life, though at the time I didn’t see it that way. Back then, I let myself believe that I did my best work under pressure. Rather than using my time wisely to plan, research and get started, I would let due dates loom over my head and continually renegotiate with myself about how much time I truly needed to get a project done.
When there is not a second to spare I can always eke something out. Is it my best work? Never. Is it good enough or sometimes even pretty darn good? Sure. But who I am in those last, painful and chaotic seconds before I hit save and submit is far inferior to the person I aspire to be as a colleague and a leader.
When I started my public service career right after college, the inherent expectations about fully showing up – being on time, efficient and consistently delivering superior work products – were a welcome requirement for me. The routine and structure of government work motivated me to stay focused and productive, and I thrived.
Armed with this knowledge of self, during the first week of my first-ever foray into virtual work, I committed myself to maintaining my in-person work schedule. By the end of week one, however, I realized that a big mental shift was going to have to happen, or I would end up right back in the cycle of staying up all night, being miserable every morning and throwing shoddy work together – basically my college experience on steroids.
With the maturity that life and the ugly consequences that bad decisions can serve up on my mind, I dove into understanding what the most successful teleworkers do to stay focused and productive. Some of the biggest takeaways I immediately gleaned were that working from home requires respect on both ends and that it takes honest dedication by the worker. Managers should be able to trust their employees to work hard, but workers need to hold themselves accountable and reign in poor behaviors that autonomy can allow to creep up.
Here are five work from home tips I put into practice in week two of my telework experience that have enabled me to organize my time best.
1. Create a schedule that includes things you enjoy
Every night I plan what I am going to do the next day. For example, I might schedule myself to respond to emails from 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. During my lunch break, I then schedule a few minutes to play with my dog from 12:05 p.m. to 12:15 p.m. This breaks up the day and gives us both something to look forward to.
2. Follow a “clock-in” routine
This might mean that you make yourself a cup of coffee, light a scented candle or blast your favorite song. Whatever it is, you need to do it every day because it will start telling your brain that it is time to get to work.
3. Designate a specific workspace
I don’t have an office with a door. My designated workspace is at my dining room table. When I sit there with my laptop, I am devoting my brain to work. The routine of sitting in the same spot is a reminder to myself and my family that I am in a block of time that is dedicated to working.
4. Take a break and change your scenery
When I start to lose focus, I use the Pomodoro Technique. It is a time management method in which work is broken down into intervals and separated by shorter breaks. During my breaks, I get away from my workspace and even go outside a take a deep breath of fresh air.
5. Turn off notifications
Apps on your smart devices can be a big distraction. Turn the notifications off during designated work time and schedule time to check your Facebook or Twitter feeds as something you enjoy during a break time.
Following just one of these tips will help you to reduce stress, increase productivity and enable you to maintain your professional reputation – three things we should all be striving for.
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Kelly Brown is the Special Assistant to the Director of a public safety agency in Washington, D.C. In her 22 years in government, she has served in senior advisory roles within the executive offices of mayors and city administrators. Her career achievements include drafting the District of Columbia government’s first set of published customer service standards and conceptualizing engagement and culture pivot programs for upward of 40,000 employees. Kelly spends her spare time working on a collection of personal essays that she hopes to have published soon. She is passionate about language and about helping others find and cultivate their distinct voices, too.