Tales from the home office

Get your ass out of bed, stagger tiredly to the kitchen, grab a cup of ‘pick me up’, grab your internet machine, slouch down into your comfiest chair and now you’re ready to get to work! Sound inspiring? Oh and the episode doesn’t end there. Your house will never be cleaner, your dishes will never be washed so many times, clothes and closets will be organized and reorganized, pets will get a whole lot of attention (even if they are your neighbours pets) for anyone that ever finds themselves working from home this might be a more familiar story than you think. You are not alone, many people all across Canada and the globe are choosing (forced) to work from home, some more productive than others. Some of these home workers are graduate students doing research, entrepreneurs, or telecommuters.

For all those working at home who are suffering from ‘anythingotherthanworkitis’ I have some tips. Some tips that have helped me, and tips that have helped those I work with.

  1. Wake up and GET out of the house. Go for a walk, grab a newspaper, meet people. Yes, even in the winter if you live where it is cold, get the hell out of your house. I have found this to be the thing that wakes me up in the morning, gets my brain moving, and allows me to get out of my pajamas and into some clothes that may be more conducive to looking like you might do some work today.
  2. Trick time. One thing that I have found to be super helpful while learning how to work from home (or period) has been to break things down into the smallest amounts of time as possible. For instance instead of completing a WHOLE chapter in one day, challenge yourself to finish just 2 sentences. You will find that as you sit down to just finish 2 sentences you will get into the ‘groove’ and you will work longer. The hardest part to most tasks is getting them started.
  3. Write it down. Yes, simple but effective. If you can’t see it glaring at you in the face then it is just that much easier to avoid.
  4. Share it. Even better than writing it down share it with someone. This helps to make yourself accountable. I have done this with several of the athletes I work with. If  they have papers to write and they want to make the deadline a week earlier than when it is due they will arrange to send it to me. Otherwise, they will just not be able to trick themselves into completing the paper before the real deadline.
  5. Rewards! I use a Smarties/M&M/Skittles system. Incredibly sophisticated as it is this system allows me to reward myself in little jolts of excitement. Pretty much weekly there are 2 bowls on my desk, 1 bowl is filled with some form of sugar rewarding rush while the other is empty. Every time I deem something that I have done as productive I take one candy and place it in the other bowl. When the bowl that was empty is full I know I have done lots of productive things, I get to eat the candy, and I take a day off. So how will your reward system work? Will it be as sophisticated as mine?
  6. Rest. When you work from home it can be all encompassing. There is no such thing as taking work home-it’s all around you all the time. Just because it is readily available doesn’t mean you have to work ALL the time.
  7. Take notes. My home office is filled with books, has a wall that is painted in white board paint, and has hundreds of sticky notes in it. There are a million things you could be doing and should be doing. You will get phones calls and emails galore, people will decide that since you work at home they can connect with you at any time. For those people they get nothing more than a courteous ‘I will take a note of that and get back to you tomorrow’. Not only will other people barge in on your time but your frigging brain will always be bombarded by messages from everywhere. Now that you are at home you can turn on the TV, the radio, people are walking outside, you can freely surf the internet. All of these things can lead to hundreds of hours of time flying by. When I’m watching TV show X at 6pm I might have a brilliant world changing idea. Do I jump up and get working on it? I write a note ‘start working on world changing idea tomorrow.’
  8. Find your time to work. All of the above stated, you work at home so your hours don’t have to be 9 to 5 (most of the time). I love this about my work. I am an early riser and I love working in the hours when every one else is not. I get a whole lot of work done with almost no interruptions. I mean facebook statuses are rarely being updated at 5:30am at the feverish pace that they are at say 10am (less distraction). Find the hours you work well in and make those your core hours.

Now for all you folk who actually go to a place of work that is not your home do not think for a second that we home office workers are fooled by what your schedule can look like as well.

So what are some of your tips? How do you work from your home office? I would love to hear some ideas and suggestions.

Forget about the kids: I declare naps and recess for adults

So my last post was about how we manage our time and the relationship we have with time. I have often thought about this and is something that I think kids get right (ok so maybe we get it right for them, good old forced nap time). I mean when you’re younger, full of energy, and don’t even really have a concept about time (other than you want everything NOW) you get nap time and recess. To this end I have always asked what the HELL do they need nap time for? Oh right they might get cranky if they don’t get nap time. Well guess what folks adults get cranky too when they don’t get enough sleep and I say that any culture who has implemented the Siesta has got things right.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing cultural relationships with time that I have seen while traveling and observing work cultures all over the world has been the Flinstone (if you don’t know what this is then we can’t be friends) complete shut down. I once had the pleasure of working in an extremely small community where everyone and everything shut down when the clock struck noon. I mean it was absolutely amazing to watch as people poured out of the work place between 12pm and 1pm to join their families. They had lunch, they talked, they played games, the whole community was involved and for that 1 hour no one was thinking about work. This was essentially the community recess. People were let out to play, to be themselves, to not be consumed by the work they were doing. It was absolutely beautiful.

The community had a beautiful ebb and flow and really taught me a lot more about life. We as worker bees making this planet spin round and round need to really take time for ourselves. It is so easy for us to get wrapped up and to truly believe that we are so damn important and that this piece of paper or that contract or that whatever the hell it is so friggin’ pressing that it can’t wait for 2 minutes. Our world is speeding up faster and faster and I wonder when fast will become too fast for everyone. Can we increase production infinitely? can we speed up our lives any more?

What happens when you are in your car and you are driving faster and faster, the scenery around you becomes more blurry. Well living life is really not that much different. We say it all the time but we don’t do anything to make it happen, we need to slow ourselves down, we need to appreciate where we are and appreciate what is around us. Because if we don’t slow down there is always a higher chance that we might just crash!

So this is what I want to know, what slows you down?

Getting your groove back

What happens when you are sitting at a desk or in an office and all of a sudden you begin to feel the energy drain from you? You are stuck at work and the clock just isn’t ticking awey fast enough.

If you’re an entrepreneur it’s simple, get up, get outside and go for a walk, go to the gym, play a game, spend time with your kids. Getting your mind off a task while doing something else is always the easiest way to regain some energy. I mean how many times have so many of us lost something (anything) then spent almost 10 minutes (or more) searching for them before deciding to just go ahead and do something else. Then 5 or 10 seconds pass while you are doing something else and seemingly by magic your brain all of a sudden becomes clear, you retrace all of your steps and BOOM there are the keys, the tickets to the show, or whatever else you might have been looking for. The power of distraction is quite useful and often quite underutilized. If you think real hard I know that you can think of many times when distractions have been very useful in your life.

So what happens when we are at work and we just don’t seem to be getting any work done? What happens when we lose our inspiration to move forward? Why do we all treat work like it is different? We have to get things done, even if we are drained, we have to clock in and clock out.

I won’t pretend to have the answer to everyone’s situation about their relationship with time and losing energy at work but what I do know about all of this is that for me I have developed a whole lot of respect for someone like Stefan Sagmeister. Stefan is someone who I think has figured “it” out.

How many of you are counting down the days until retirement? Well Stefan (and me by association) would say what the heck are you waiting for? Retire today. Retire again in 7 years. Then repeat that until you are ready to retire forever. Stefan has discovered the greatest distraction of all-an entire year free of work away from all things. Stefan’s argument (and yes I know he is self employed and obviously doing well for himself so it might be easier to say for him but I agree with the premise) is that if we could just step away for a while then our batteries will be refreshed. His case is specific to design in that he says his designs begin to merge together after 7 years of constant work (of course this happens without him even knowing). He noted that when his designs got too similar that it was time for him to simply shut down the shop and walk away. He needed to walk away for his brain to percolate, to grow new ideas, to become fresh once again. Watch what else he has to say about how we work and energize ourselves:

We are trained our whole lives to value time, that time is the most precious thing any of us have. Being on time is important, getting things done is important. But if time is really important to us then we must not ever forget that we are owed time as well. Time can be your friend or time can be your enemy.

How do you treat time? How does your work treat time? Is this a discussion we need to have more vigorously with those that we work with and those we work for?