Welcome to the world of remote working!
For many of us, the last few weeks have seen an unprecedented shift in the way that we not only work, but also function as individuals, families and society as a whole. Some of us are struggling to maintain momentum during this period of uncertainty and change (see my previous article about cheese).
Others are trying to adapt to working at home whilst also home-schooling their children. Some are feeling overwhelmed with the sheer volume of work. Sadly, some have already lost their jobs as a result of Covd-19. As well as extremely serious implications for people’s health, there is clearly a big impact on mental health as we move into lockdown.
Whichever above category you fall into, we are all adjusting to being at home (or “Working from the Home Office” as the phrase I like to use), doing our best to have a productive day. Here are some handy tips to ensure that you can effectively navigate our new ways of working and living;
- Dedicated area to work | A desk or table is important, ideally with some natural light and enough space to work comfortably. You have to work with what you have, but I highly recommend a desk, or a small table you can use as a desk, if possible. Sure, I’ve done some very productive work from my favorite cuddle-chair, but I feel more like I’m “at work” when I’m sitting at my desk.
- Get ready for the day | Always a great way to start the day! Some homeworkers find it helpful to dress as though they were going into the office (shoes included!), but personally I find it’s enough to put me in a more useful frame of mind if I just wear something that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen outside in. The inclusion of video calling has raised the stakes with this. It may be tempting to skip showering and work in your pjs, but I encourage you not to do that. Feeling somewhat put together makes me feel more like the day has officially begun.
- Have a routine | If you don’t set a daily routine, you might end up finding yourself either feeling like you’re not getting anything done or like you never stop working. Have a time when you start work and end work. Build in breaks at times that work for your family. Be willing to be flexible as things come up (like virtual meetings). This schedule will also be helpful for your kids if they’re at home with you. You can plan what they’re going to work on while you’re working whether that’s educational programming, some worksheets or a book to read.
- Break it up | Don’t skip your lunch break. Get up and get coffee. If you have trouble remembering to take breaks, set an alarm on your phone, computer or fitness tracker to remind you to get up stretch your legs.
- Make a To-Do list |This goes along with the point above. How do you know when your work day is done? If you don’t have a to-do list, you may not. Think of your list as your goals for the day. You may not get everything checked off every day, but it will help you stay on track as you check things off your list.
- Get some exercise | Depending on your situation, you could go for a walk or do an online exercise class. Just doing some stretches at set points in the day is really helpful. There’s a future article on how to maintain activity when in lockdown coming soon!
- Think about your visibility | When you’re working from home it’s easy to ‘slip off the radar’. Think about which senior people would benefit from knowing about what you’re working on and send them a brief update. Ask if you can dial into another team’s meeting so you can keep up to date with their activities and concerns.
- Maximise the human moments| Focus on the 4 C’s now more so than ever before; being caring, collaborative, curious, creative…. Just because you’re working remotely doesn’t have to mean that you can’t talk to your co-workers. We live in a modern age where there are multiple ways to chat, conduct meetings and share documents from anywhere. Use Teams, Skype, text, webinars, etc. to stay connected.
- Try to limit distractions | This is a big one. Being home can be very distracting, once again, especially if your kids are home too. This is one reason that it’s important to have a dedicated place to work. When you’re in your office or at your desk, it’s a clue to your family that they should avoid interrupting you. You may see the housework that needs to get done and feel tempted to do that instead of working. You might be tempted to jump on social media instead of focusing on your to-do list. Resist the temptation. Don’t look at the housework. You can get to that later. Close your social media apps. Focus on your to-do list.
- Most importantly: Look after your mental health | Stay in touch with colleagues, friends and family. Celebrate birthdays, give public praise for goals reached and projects completed. Make time for casual conversations and ‘water cooler’ chat. Make sure you take time to look after yourself in the evenings, i.e. by practicing relaxation techniques, reading a book or watching a film. Keep active and eat a balanced diet. Please refer to WHO guidance on Magellan.
In order to make best use of your working day and to maintain a positive and healthy mindset during this current lockdown, I think it is important to structure your day appropriately.
Let’s think back here to the horrendous Chilean Mining incident of 2010, where a collapse resulted in 33 men trapped some 700 meters underground for 69 days. Thankfully and quite miraculously, all men lived to tell the tale.
Some lessons learned from this include maintaining a positive attitude in the face of adversity, making sure everyone has a role within the situation, keeping calm, working together as a team and maintaining structure (You can find out more about collaborating with your team ‘on the fly’ via a Ted X Talk here – Amy Edmondson: How to turn a group of strangers into a team).
Effective Time Management
This is is essential if you want to continue hitting your deadlines when you’re working from home. So, here are some tips and different methods for managing your day;
- Flip-reverse it | Flip the day and plan it backwards. Create a plan and/or a to-do list the night before. Get up early and attack your plan. Start the day as you mean to go on!
- Categorising your to-do list | sort your to do list by task type. Categorising enables you to think about the type of tasks you need to complete and which activities can be done together. You can also ‘mix it up; spend an hour doing job-work, take a break and then spend an hour doing house-work if that is how you make best use of your time. Just make sure you get done everything you need to by checking off your to-do list as you go. I have separate to-do lists for different categories such as ‘personal’ and ‘work’. I also have a short-term to-do list and highlight any critical tasks, as well as a longer-term to-do list (usually involving some type of house re-decoration or DIY!).
- Manage Your Time | Organize and prioritize key tasks on your To-Do List via numbering or highlighting. This will help you to avoid procrastinating, or losing focus by continually switching tasks, and add an extra layer of structure to your day. Make activities time bound. Set specific times, not fluid measures of time e.g. not 45 minutes but 9.00-9.45am.
- The in-betweeners | It’s also a good idea to have a list of “in between” tasks. These are relatively minor jobs that should take 10 minutes or less to complete, and which you can fit into your day when a gap opens. And don’t forget to take breaks regularly.
- The 5-30-30 technique | Five days a week, invest 30 minutes in learning and 30 minutes in movement. Easy to remember, completely doable, wildly flexible (more here).
- The 21-chunk rule | There are 21 “chunks” of time in the week – morning, afternoon and evening for 7 days. Plan ahead how you could make best use of this time. Use the categorising method (see point 2) and allocate a category to a chunk.
- Creating an online calendar that can be shared with the rest of your household is a great way to make sure your time is allocated and used efficiently, but also an easy way to communicate with others in your house what you are doing and when. Different categories and colours could be helpful here; for example, red could mean do not disturb and green could mean I’m working but available.
- It’s more important than ever to schedule in calls whether that be work or personal. I’m making sure everything is in my calendar with a reminder, otherwise things have the tendency to just drift.
- The MIT Method | The Most Important Task Method asks the question “What’s the ONE Thing you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?”. Once you determine your 1-3 most important tasks, they are scheduled first in your day. You then make progress on essential items before you get bombarded by distractions. You can use this in conjunction with the time blocking method, saving your initial hours for the most important tasks. Email, phone calls, and meetings come later, after you’ve completed your essential tasks.
- The Pomodoro Method | Work in short, massively productive, intensely focused bursts, and then giving yourself a brief break. Here’s how it works: choose a task, set your timer for 25 minutes, work on the task until the timer ends, take a short break (around 5 minutes) and every 4 Pomodoro sessions, take a longer break (15-30 minutes).
The above suggestions can clearly be applied to the world of Project Management and PMO. I’m sure that a lot of our practitioners are already aware of, and probably using, some of these methods. This isn’t a defined list by any means. I would recommend that you use a blend of the above suggestions; try out different methods and find out what works for you. If you’ve come across these methods before, I hope that this article serves as a reminder of some effective ways to manage your time. If you have found a certain method particularly helpful when working with your team, I’d love to know so please get in touch.
Wishing you the best of luck for your journey to productive and effective remote working!