Working From Home
Whether you've been working from home for some time now or have just gotten thrown into your dining room, there is always room for improving your WFH capacity.
This post focuses more on the mindset and approach to this way of living. I firmly believe there is no one way to live this kind of lifestyle and I hope this does not come across as some kind of prescription.
My goal is to mention my experience and ask enough questions to stoke you thinking about your approach to the WFH life in ways you've never considered before.
Make sure you're honest with yourself right now. You may be feeling some type of way about working from home. You've got to embrace and focus on the fact that the most important thing is your level of productivity. We all have a boss or a manager of some sense, and maybe you are a manager. In tough times, you must continue to stay productive to justify your salary, your paycheck, and your current position.
The harsh reality is the fundamental fact that regardless of your relationship with your current employer when tough times come to pass, tough decisions must be made. You must never take your position for granted and focus on adding as much value to the bottom line of your employer as you can. Your goal is to make it most difficult for them to include you on the firing or laying off list. Become indispensable.
- Get real with yourself and your situation
- Take stock of the resources you have available to you
- Grab a large piece of paper or mindmap
- Define how to manage employer's, client's and your expectations
- APP – Xmind 2020
Everything starts to change when you learn to manage expectations. Make sure you understand the expectations of your employer and make sure you know your expectations of yourself.
Mindset, fear, control, and stress can all easily crush you, but when fully understood, can be used to make you stronger.
Mindset – Abundance vs. scarcity, offensive vs. defensive, critical versus curious. Sometimes it feels like you don't have a choice about how you feel or see the world. The most important thing to remember is that nothing is permanent; your perspective can change if you try.
- BOOK RECC – A New Earth
Fear – Fear of overworking, fear of getting fired or laid off, fear of not making the sale, fear of pissing someone off, fear of making a mistake, fear of wasting time, fear of “falling behind”
- BOOK RECC – The 50th Law
Control – controlling your schedule, managing your diet, controlling your screen exposure, your money input and output (expenses/revenue), monitoring your team, controlling your attitude, and your habits
- BOOK RECC – Principles
Stress – can be used against you, can be harnessed, use it as a compass, is not something to be avoided but instead managed.
- Take stock of your language and approach to team members and customers. Are you presenting fear or confidence?
- Check to see if you're more focused on reasons “it won't work” vs. reasons “it could work”
- Realize that control of people and circumstances is an illusion. The only thing you can control is your attitude.
- Consider the idea that stress is not here to hurt you; it is your body communicating with you
- Watch this TED and learn how to use STRESS to power you through.
- BOOK RECC – Man's Search for Meaning
How to Measure the Day?
“What gets measured, gets managed” – Peter Drucker
Even with the best mindset, a sailor who cannot read the stars will be lost at sea.
You must learn to measure your life. Measure progress, measure productivity, measure growth. The outcome will be different for every single person; what is most important is how you do it for yourself.
How you measure personal growth may be different than how you measure career growth versus how you measure progress in a given day or how you measure progress in a new relationship.
Below are a few examples from different roles in a company and how you might measure productivity in this role:
- Business Development – (Number of) Emails, Tasks, Phonecalls made, Proposals sent, Leads collected, Linkedin connections made
- Customer Service – (Number of) Phonecalls made, tickets solved, ticket first replies made, lowered time to resolution
- Creative – (Number of) Deliverables presented, rough drafts flushed out, Client Meetings, Proposal sent, Checks cashed
- Manager – (Number of) Meetings attended, employee complaints addressed, reports reviewed
- Teacher – (Number of) Tests graded, classes taught, parent-teacher conferences/phone calls
- Human – (Number of) Supportive texts sent to friends, phone calls made to family and team members
Make a list of..
- all the steps that are required to close a ticket, sale or task
- how many items you need to close in a week/day.
- all the self-care activities you want to accomplish in a week/day.
Then, build a schedule around personal and professional task based on your new measurement of progress
It's one thing to know what to do, and it's an entirely different thing to do what you know, Sometimes all it takes is one small habit and a little bit of courage.
You may have trouble scheduling individual tasks on any given day, sometimes your calendar block simply says, inbox, and customer needs. Setting a schedule for the morning, afternoon, and evening can help you compartmentalize and shift your focus ahead of time. Knowing what's coming can give you a sense of empowerment and control.
- APP – Fabulous
“The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup” – Folgers Coffee Company
- Ref. Folgers – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folgers
Remember that commercial? The brilliance of it is the connection Folgers made with a morning routine paired with a stimulant that created a habitual, almost pavlovian response to simply smelling coffee and feeling alive.
Your morning routine can knock you down or set you up for everything you're capable of doing that day. Routines will be quite different for each individual. I have found the one thing that does not work is trying to copy someone else's method. You've got to find what works for you.
There are a few key areas that I think are critical:
Exercise Routine – There are so many routines/combinations and plans you can find online and try to follow. The most important thing to focus on is movement and that there are absolutely zero excuses. Even if it's ten air squats, ten jumping jacks, and ten lunges.
Let go of the idea that there is no time (while you wait for the water to heat up in the shower).
Meditation – Meditation is also very different for many people. You don't have to sit leg-crossed-style and hum to yourself for many hours. It can simply be a minute or two of focused breathing, giving yourself a chance to be still even if just for a moment.
If you can spare 20 minutes, you can harness the power of Stillness and take complete control of your day. As your days are littered with unexpected circumstances, you will be better prepared to respond vs. react.
To eat or not to eat (breakfast) – there are also many schools of thought on whether you should or should not eat breakfast. I have been practicing intermittent fasting for some time now. Whether you believe a hearty breakfast is most effective or you would instead have a grapefruit and beverage, I would focus on finding what works best for you. Try not to oversubscribe to the latest trend and listen to how your body responds.
- APP – intermittent fasting timer
The key here is to focus and stick to a simple plan, try not to care too much about various foods and exposure to flavors.
Keep your meals consistent and straightforward. Breakfast should not take up your entire morning, nor should you spend too much energy trying to figure out what you're going to do each morning. (meal planning or meal prepping are huge for saving time, money and extra calories on snacks)
Caffeine – You may or may not drink caffeine, coffee, or tea. I have gone years with and without and have found benefits to both. It is known but essential to note the importance of not drinking it too late.
Understand the half-life of caffeine in your body; even though you don't feel high or stimulated, it still may be in your system. This process can significantly affect your circadian rhythms in your ability to fall asleep at night.
Late ingestion of caffeine and prolonged screen exposure is a perfect cocktail for restless sleep and anxiety. Drink responsibly, my friends.
- MATCHA – Four Sigmatic
Taking breaks can be one of the most challenging parts of working from home. Whether you're on the lazy/lacking motivation or the workaholic/obsessed side of the spectrum, taking breaks can make you or break you.
Like everything else, different strategies work for different people. I have found that the best way is the one that addresses the way your brain already functions.
Research has shown that multitasking is not actually a thing, rather task-switching. It takes a certain amount of time for your prefrontal cortex to find its way into deep work on whatever it is you are focused on. Consider the idea that when you are “multitasking” that the quality of your work and creative output is suffering, the wider you stretch your attention. So how are you supposed to change this habit?
- Ref. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/creativity-without-borders/201405/the-myth-multitasking
One way is to limit your exposure to attention-grabbing distractions. Since you're all alone in your house and no one around to tell you to get off of Facebook, I use this app called Freedom, which allows you to block certain websites at specific times of the day. Its a game-changer.
- APP – Freedom
Another way I have successfully addressed this is by using what's called a Pomodoro Timer. It is a simple timer that allows you to create increments both for work and break sessions. It may seem very simple, but the magic is in the timer.
Imagine you could forget about taking a break. Like, literally, forget about it.
While you're focused on deep, creative work, the timer is going to take care and tell you when it's time for a break or to switch to the next task. It's like freeing up mental resources so you can completely dive in.
- APP – Pomodoro Timer
Snacks – Snacking comes in two forms, boredom and lack of energy. When working from home, it can get boring. If you're not moving enough, you can get physically and mentally fatigued. Try to keep these as healthy as possible, fruit sugars do the job and are much cleaner than unnatural sugars (processed).
Food Intake – It can be challenging to keep track of how much you're eating, especially if you fall into the boredom category. Also, if you are the hyper work-obsessed type, you may find yourself snacking more out of anxiety. My guilty pleasure has always been crunchy pretzels. To help keep track of your intake, an app that I have used called Lifesum has been beneficial in creating a bird's eye view.
- APP – LifeSum
Blood Flow – blood flow is not something to be forgotten. If you find yourself on a phone call or a training video, grab those Bluetooth headphones and get going on some air squats.
Pro trick is to schedule your calls into a block of time, and then go for a walk while you take those calls. There's no reason to be sitting in a chair on the phone all day if you don't need to be at your desk. (get those steps in!)
Ergonomics – WFH may be causing you to sit at your desk more than you would at the office; ergonomics is a thing. If you're struggling at the dining room table or worst case sitting on your couch, do everything you can to make your monitor eye level.
Looking down at a laptop is not sustainable. If you can get a separate keyboard and mouse and put the computer on a stack of books, you will last a lot longer and have a lot fewer headaches/neck aches.
(trust me, I have two bulging discs and a herniated disc in my neck to prove it, don't fall victim to nerd-neck)
If you do not have a spare monitor, you can consider trying to use your TV if that makes sense. Or if you have an iPad lying around, some apps allow you to use it as an extra screen.
No break is too short. A simply 2-minute walk around the house or stretching your chest open from leaning over your keyboard. Try using a doorway or a broomstick. It may not seem like much at the time, but if you try this and stick to it for just one day, you will feel yourself less exhausted at the end of the day and even more willing to step away and get some rest.
Sunshine – Vitamin D is definitely a thing. On tough days, I will, at the very least, take my lunch out into the driveway and eat it from the front steps or just stand in the sun somewhere. Plenty of research to show the benefits of 15 minutes a day.
Take your lunch break outside, let the sun on your face and your back. It may not seem like much at the time, but this habit with others compounded together will bring you to a more fulfilled end of the day.
Socializing – socializing is critical; it helps to alleviate loneliness and the feeling of isolation.
When it comes to working from home, it is ultimately up to you to create and maintain social connections. I find having one or two friends that I have set up at least one call per week to kind of just check in with each other, has been very helpful in staying accountable in setting many goals.
Be very mindful of whom you expose yourself to while working from home and feeling isolated.
You just got off the phone with one toxic individual. Now, what are you going to do? If you're used to working in the office, you might find yourself reactively walking down to a friend's cubicle or office and having a quick chat to blow some steam. Working from home doesn't give you that. Yes, you have the internet and chat tools, but it may be harder to shake the negative vibes off as you make your way to these chat tools as there is no shortage of negative stimuli on the.
Now is the time to be hyper-vigilant about your relationships. Being alone exposes you and can make you more sensitive to positive or negative influences.
And if all else fails, find a Facebook group where you can talk to other humans who are open-minded and sensitive to feeling alone and isolated.
- FB GROUP – My Niche is Human Community
Shutdown / Evening Routine
Kind of like how your computer requires a proper shutdown sequence to store all of its work in process. Your brain needs the same thing. Working too late could be one of the critical reasons why you are not able to get a restful night's sleep. Your brain is racing, and it has no chance to shut down properly.
Set the alarm – A great way to make sure you feel fulfilled and useful at the end of your day is to set an alarm or event for personal and professional tasks. Create limits, create constraints.
Parkinson's law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Creating constraints forces you to be more creative with your time and resources. Remember Cortez? He burned his ships and forced his men to support him; there weren't too many options.
Rather than actually burning your ships, setting alarms and keeping schedules puts your back against the wall and can stoke your creative mind on doing more, with less.
Close the laptop / shut off the computer – Don't make going back to your work any more accessible than it already is. (because you now work in the dining room)
Completely shut down your workstation so that as you walk away and have that “one more idea or one more thing you gotta do”, it might take one second longer and give you a chance to catch yourself.
Consider instead to take a note. I end up with paper lists on my desk in the morning because I thought of something the night before and refused to do it then. Wait until morning, give your brain a chance to cool down. You will find yourself brushing through these tasks quicker the next morning had you dove back in the night before. Better yet, with a clear head the following morning, you might realize a task was not even necessary.
This “late night, one more thing” trap has caused me to set a hard limit for getting off the workstation by 6 pm. You may be the late-night flow type, appealed by having fewer distractions like emails and phone calls. If this is how you operate best, just make sure you're leaving enough time for a proper shutdown.
Use a screen dimmer – Studies have shown that the blue light emitted from your computer screens and phone screens can activate the sympathetic nervous system. You may have noticed somewhat of a buzz or a high when staring at your screen for a long time; this could be why. The nervous system activation is a contributing factor to the “sucked in” feeling you have when you can't escape your work or your phone.
This app has been a game-changer for me since it removes the blue light from your screen without having to wear those blue light blocking glasses you've seen online. This app works well, as you do not need to wear the glasses to experience the benefits. iPhone also has a setting for dark mode, to remove the blue light from your screen, and a black and white screen setting.
- APP – FLUX
B&W your phone screen – This is probably my favorite tip and trick. There is a way to make your phone screen black and white.
Consider this: Why are all of the app notification bubbles red? It's because our brain responds to Red color; it's stimulating. Our brain also responds to high contrast and bright, vivid colors.
I challenge you to turn your phone screen to black and white and experience the boredom that comes from staring at these little app squares. You will find yourself opening your phone, not for entertainment, or a dopamine drip, but instead to use it as a tool and get something accomplished.
When you've completed the task, you will find yourself bored and swiping/looking for the red bubble trigger/dopamine drip.
- Ref. iPhone – https://lifehacker.com/change-your-screen-to-grayscale-to-combat-phone-addicti-1795821843
- Ref. android – https://android.gadgethacks.com/how-to/enable-hidden-grayscale-mode-your-pixel-nexus-no-root-needed-0178857/
End of Day Assessment – Having an end-of-day assessment can make the difference between feeling accomplished and having a tossing / turning sleepless night of anxiety.
Now that you have determined how you measure productivity, you can perform a simple end of day assessment. The assessment can be a mental or quick written list (that you keep or throw away):
“I sent five emails, reviewed two quotes, solved five tickets, did my laundry, cleaned the kitchen, drank one more glass of water than I did yesterday, cleaned my desk, went for a walk, chose to cook instead of buying takeout,…”
Every day you are growing, it is all a matter of in which direction. Even ingrown toenails count as growth, but I'm not sure anyone loves them. Celebrate your small wins, be the source of your own hope, and provide yourself with the motivation and courage to keep going.
Burnout happens to the best of us, and unfortunately, in my case, it took a couple of years of getting beaten up to get “good at it”. Here are a few signs that you may be flirting with disaster.
Recognize the signs – There are signs to identify you are leading up to a burnout phase, and there are signs that you've already hit one. Be mindful of burning the candle at both ends. Be aware of “feeling the flow and being hyper-focused” at the cost of a proper diet and adequate sleep.
If you find yourself sleeping 5 hours a night and feeling like it's all of a sudden “okay”, you're most likely running on adrenaline and you are certainly on track for a burnout. Do not trade your health for productivity, no matter how good it feels at the moment.
If you do hit burnout, it can take weeks to recover. The risk to benefit ratio is too high and not worth the price. If you have a deadline, prioritize, and get creative.
Feeling Like MUD – Feels like you're crawling through mud. No matter how much sleep you get, how much you plan, or caffeine you drink, it's a mud-life for you.
Congratulations, you're burnt-out. So how do you get out of it?
There is research to describe burnout as adrenal fatigue. As in you have been running on adrenaline for so long that the adrenal glands have become exhausted. When the body runs out of adrenaline, it instead feeds on cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone. Once your body starts to feed on it, it's hard to avoid stressing yourself out, let me explain.
Once your body starts feeding off cortisol, it starts to depend on it. So it kind of makes sense for your body to move you into situations that will trigger the release of more cortisol. It sounds like a trap. Ever meet people who seem to be addicted to stress? They're called work-o-holics.
- Ref. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-adrenal-fatigue-real-2018022813344
- Ref. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-workaholics/201112/understanding-the-dynamics-workaholism
I have found that when all else fails, you must take a day off completely, even if it means taking an afternoon nap or sitting in bed watching Netflix all day. And YES, this is absolutely the last thing you want to be doing when the rest of your brain and system are drunk on cortisol and what's left of your adrenaline, geared up and ready to WORK. The longer you stretch this out, the longer it will take to recover.
This is why it is so essential to understand how you measure progress and growth. Sometimes taking a nap is productive, sometimes going for a walk without your phone, is productive.
If you're looking to dive in more to BURNOUT, check out this article I wrote.
- Know that even if you cannot control your environment, you can manage your experience of it
- To create powerful habits, you must first understand what you are trying to accomplish. And identify your current patterns that are not serving your conscious goals
- Manage how you measure growth, progress, and productivity
- Build a routine to support these metrics
- Use technology to assist you instead of control you
- Be hypercritical of the kind of people you actively expose yourself to (aside from customers)
- Give yourself time to shut down a couple of hours before you try to sleep
- Log your accomplishments at the end of the day, no matter how small or personal.
- Listen to soothing podcasts about emotional intelligence
To connect with me on this topic or any others, feel free to send me a message in any of the social links below, or join my mailing list to keep in touch on ideas, book reviews and the newest episodes from the show.