Hey, you’re not alone at all. The fact is, most people need structure in order to feel secure and enable them to effectively focus and perform consistently. Not having a familiar structure, like going into work every day at the office, can feel like not having a sturdy floor to stand on. And this then shifts focus from fully performing tasks to trying to maintain balance and not fall down. The result can be that less gets done and what does get done may not be done as well.
Even though working from home affords significantly more time saved by not commuting to and from the office, the results may not meet expectations and can lead to more stress. What is needed here is structure and realistic expectations. But unlike structure solely defined by outside organizations, structure for working at home also needs some self defined structure. Hey is what we call freedom, but like any other new experience it takes some time to become skilled at it.
So what are some common elements of structure needed to work remotely? Here are the most important:
- Stick To A Routine That Works For You. There are stories on TV and online about people who never get around to eating breakfast until 3PM and have no time to take a shower… Woah! The fact is that if you used to get up and follow a routine getting ready for work, then you can and should still follow this routine now. You even have more time not commuting. Yes, it was easier to drop off the kids at school and pick up breakfast along the way or at work, but with some planning you can figure out how much time is needed to make and eat breakfast and then plan in when you need to do this in order to make the morning meeting or whatever is needed at the beginning of the work day. And don’t forget to include other routines you had, like exercising or meditating or going for a walk at lunch. This may be your old routine but it may have to be a new adjusted routine. The point is have a routine and stick with it. Familiarity builds a sense of control and security and provides the foundation needed to reduce stress and regain focus.
- Make Daily Motivational To Do Lists. Making lists of tasks to complete is a very effective way to stay on track. Having this visual road map of milestones to achieve enables focus and helps to prevent getting distracted. One of the best ways to set up a task list is to first just think of why these tasks are important to get done, and then second, break down the tasks into doable actions.
- In the first step, do not focus on trying to have all the answers to how these will get done, this will get you overwhelmed really fast for sure and will result in agonizing over whether you can do something. If it seems important then write it down.
- In the next step, do not question why something was put on the list in the first step. The job here is to break down the high level tasks into actionable steps that you can complete within a set timeframe, like within a day or an hour or whatever you define. For example, build a new facility or hire a new staff is an overwhelming task to complete in a short time, but setting up intermediate tasks like calling an architect, developing 5 job descriptions, etc. are actions that can be completed in a short duration to support the long range goal.
- Motivational task lists are set up to ensure you have the best chance of ongoing short term successes. You can complete each action and check it off the list. This is key because when you can see that you have accomplished something, then you are motivated to keep working on it, rather than seeing it still isn’t done and then getting overwhelmed and stressed out.
- Prioritize Tasks. You can’t do everything, not at once anyway. Multitasking is a myth and no one can do it effectively. It takes the average person 5-6 minutes minimum to switch gears from being focused on one task to changing to focus on another and be totally engaged in it. Even computers can’t really multitask, they just process stuff so fast it seems like they can. But you try asking the computer to do something while it is busy installing updates or pulling videos for ads, and it makes you wait until it finishes whatever it is distracted with. Multitasking is a myth and it is not the most efficient way to get things done well or quickly. So the most effective way to get the most done is always to set priorities. Do the important stuff first, do it well, check it off the list and then move on to the next thing on the list. And don't forget to prioritize taking care of yourself (take breaks, eat well, exercise, relax, stay in touch with people).
- Utilize Calendars and Automated Tools To Stay On Track. There are so many tools around these days to help us stay organized and keep track of stuff, so make the best use of them. Use a calendar (paper or online) to keep track of all your tasks and appointments. You can have separate work and personal calendars, but for each category, keep one calendar and list of tasks. Notes scribbled and stuck on monitors and refrigerators and books tend to get lost and/or forgotten.
- Keep In Touch With Coworkers and Friends. Being remote doesn't mean being isolated. Make some time and effort to communicate with folks who are important to you. Family, friends, coworkers. Send someone a note who you haven’t kept in touch with in a while and ask them how they are doing. Trade ideas about how to best work remotely or what tools work for them, you might learn a lot of things you didn’t think about before. You could keep an ongoing dialog to motivate each other on a regular basis. Hey this may even become a new routine. Set up a time to talk to a friend or family member. Put this into your calendar.
- Schedule Time For Yourself. Very important as noted above. You must spend some time taking care of yourself or you will burn out. There are many stories of people working all the time and never being unplugged or off the clock. And yes there are times when you may need to put in extra effort to get work done, but this needs to be workable and that means you also need time to unwind and destress. So make sure you plan some of this time in to play a game or read a book or cook, play music or whatever helps you to destress, block out this time and make it part of your routine.
- Prepare Tomorrow’s To Do List At The End Of The Workday Today. At the conclusion of the work day is a great time to look over your progress in completing tasks for that day, feel good about how much you accomplished, evaluate what you might have learned, and use this information to plan out the tasks for the next day. This keeps things moving in a logical progression and you won’t feel like each morning you are starting over.
- Compartmentalize Your Time. Kind of alluded to this one before but it is important to set some boundaries where work and home life sit so they do not overlap and become one unfocused zone of conflicting tasks. This is a sure way to get stressed and burn out. Determine when and where you will work and set up start and end times and a work location and stick to this schedule unless absolutely necessary to do otherwise. When you are working, focus on work and when not working focus on personal time. Sounds logical but not easy to do. Practice makes it easier and reduces stress as this becomes a routine. Making task lists at the beginning and end of the work day helps a lot because it leaves a parking lot to park the work issues until you start up the next work day, rather than constantly thinking about them and fearing you might forget something or not get it done in time. If you have a workable plan and routine for getting things done then you don't need to worry about them all the time. Everything has its proper time and place.
- Set Realistic Goals Based On Your Past And Present Results. This goes back to a motivational to do list. As you move along this path of working remotely, you will get a better and better sense of what is possible and realistic to achieve in how much time. Use this very valuable learning to drive the goals and objectives you set for yourself each and every day so that you have the best chances of succeeding consistently. This keeps the motivational momentum moving forward to the finish lines.
- Keep A Running List Of Everything You Have Accomplished. Closely related to the last point, Keep a list of everything you have accomplished, it’s very likely a lot more than you realize. When you see all that you have done in writing, this provides a sense of confidence that you are in control of things and can manage very well. You probably already know the things you haven’t done, so no need to knock yourself down, as you are confident these too will get done. But don’t drop things off the list once they are done, definitely write down and review what you have done and what you have done well!
You deserve to feel good about yourself and how well you have managed all the changes and uncertainties and unfamiliar routines. You are on top of things and you will succeed!!