How to Survive Working at Home

Transcript: When you work for yourself, Casual Friday is just another day when pants are optional. Of course, that's pretty much every day.

Howdy! It took a global pandemic for me to start blogging again, so there’s that. Over the last two years of not blogging, I’ve been doing a deep-dive in lead organizing Fort Collins Comic Con and Fort Collins Startup Week, along with a lot of course building for small businesses on Skillshare.

This week I’m going to be writing you more often than you’re used to because times are weird and I’ve learned some helpful things during my time in the event-marketing-wilderness that should help serve you well.

Today’s post is all about how to survive working from home when you haven’t had to do it before (or for an extended period). Tomorrow’s post will have resources on some things you can do to bring your business online if you’re mostly focused on face-to-face interactions.

A quick note before we dive in: you will see links to products I like. These are not affiliate links and I make no commission on recommending them to you – I just like the products because they work for my workflow. You might have your own favs, please let me know in the comments.

#1: Be Human

Support structures like coffee breaks and coworkers and morning meetings help us mark time throughout the day. At home, these things seem less important vs the more “urgent” work you can tackle. It’s a trap.

Urgent things will never stop. There are always new inputs. You will never hit a satisfying “done” point. You. are. not. a. robot. Stop working like one.

I struggle with this daily. It’s no joke.

Distractions from shiny, fun, new projects crop up with each email and make it difficult to commit to maintenance tasks or longer-term projects where the hard work has surfaced. Here’s how I cope:

Newbie:

  • Be Human. Make sure you do basic human tasks like shower, shave, brush your teeth, get dressed, etc.
  • Get Dressed. In Real Clothes. Actually get dressed in attire your boss, coworkers, or clients would expect to see you in. Do I wear sport coats at home? Hell yes, especially when I need to be in badass business mode.
  • Pause For Meals. Do not eat at your desk. Especially when things are stressful, you need to give yourself time.
  • Sleep. It’s tempting to binge-watch all the things. And it’s easy to lose control on video games or whatever else when work is “done”, especially if you haven’t done the previous step of making sure work is “done”.

Advanced:

  • Prep Your Space. A physical workplace is important – ideally, this should be a space away from children and loud noises, where you can sit ergonomically (that is, not sprawled out on the couch), not be distracted by television or other nonsense, and where you can spread out your work materials to suit your flow. Having just ONE spot is probably not a good bet; I vary my workspaces depending on what season it is.
  • Teach Your Kids To Raise Their Hands. Parentpreneurs, this is probably the best gift you can ever give yourself. I’m making some pretty heavy assumptions here that you either have childcare or a supportive partner who can watch the kiddos while you get business done. Interruptions are killer, especially if they occur in the middle of your fifth Zoom meeting of the day, so instead, teach your kiddos to raise their hands politely and wait their turn until you can mute yourself. If you figure out how to train your cat to do the same thing, congrats, you’ve just figured out how to become a billionaire.
  • Exercise and Get Outside. Why is this in the moderate category? Because in the face of client calls, urgent projects, or playing email tag, convincing yourself that it’s OK to step away to go look at a tree and breathe for thirty minutes seems really silly. I really appreciate my Apple Watch because it gives me a visual indicator if I’m being a lazy ass.
  • Group Your Meetings. It’s stupidly easy to get caught in a never-ending chain of meetings, calls, etc. I use Calendly to bunch/group my meetings around specific days and times.

Pro:

  • Check-In With Yourself At Regular Intervals. This is in the pro category because it’s really hard to do unless you physically set a timer to go off every 2 hours or so. Mindfulness resources abound, so pick your favorite and study up – but whenever I find myself task-switching more than 2-3 times in an hour, I know I’m off-track.
  • Connect with Friends and Family. Yes, even now, in the age of social distancing. Make time for calls with friends and family, make sure they know you’re still here. This is hard because other things always seem important. Maybe even virtual co-working via Zoom, not talking, just… present.

#2: Arm Yourself With Software

Newbie:

  • Build a To-Do List Grouped by Client and Projects. The one part of the GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology that I love is getting complex projects boiled down to actionable steps and out of your head. My current favorite deceptively simple ToDo list manager is ToDoist.
  • Chunk Your Workflow. Use the Pomodoro Technique (or my recommended mod: The Stargate Technique) to chunk productive tasks together around a common project or app.
  • Get To Know Virtual Meeting Software. All of Them. Also: Virtual meetings make it easy to turn off your camera and/or forget your facial expressions/body language/tone of voice. Practice being intentional with how you show up, what you look like, and how you show you’re listening during these meetings.
  • Get Your Docs Synced With Dropbox. Google Drive is a good alternative, but Dropbox syncs locally across multiple computers and makes things easy to share.

Advanced:

  • Track Your Time. Use RescueTime to map out how you’re spending your day/week. This is not a one-and-done thing, you have to invest a bit of time into setup (especially if you’re in marketing and/or spend time on social apps for work).
  • Track Your Work. If you don’t have yourself set up in Airtable or Monday.com or something similar that can give you an at-a-glance dashboard that you can easily keep up-to-date on your own projects, you’re doing your business a major disservice, especially if you have coworkers or sub-contractors.
  • Find and Use Software That Builds Leverage. Google Analytics is great, but if you have to check it individually for 50 different clients, that’s a lot of overhead time. Give yourself leverage by finding tools that give you leverage (a unified stats dashboard, for instance – there are too many to link to). Scheduling social media posts can be fun, but doing them natively is a recipe for a slog. CoSchedule, Hootsuite, or other social media management tools can help you accelerate your workflow. Whatever your day-to-day looks like, it’s almost guaranteed someone has found a way to make it easier to do.

Pro:

  • When Required – Shut Off Everything. Everything. WiFi, texts, calls, whatever. If the work can be done offline, do it offline.
  • Be Picky About Devices/Software with Multitasking. Switch devices to a minimalized work surface (e.g. iPad or something else with JUST the basics or Word’s focus features). Using RescueTime’s FocusTime functionality can help with this as well.

#3: Consistency Is Critical

Newbie:

  • Regularly Check-In with Clients. Building a methodology and regularly scheduled time to connect with your clients and/or boss is essential. Make it a habit and do more with the meeting than just talk deliverables – make the first 5-10 minutes a social call.
  • Regularly Check-In with Your Team and Partners. They need love, too. You might discover you’re working on the same or similar things, or that resources are being duplicated, or that there’s a gap that you didn’t know about that you can solve.

Advanced:

  • Review Goals and Progress Quarterly (at a minimum). Airtable, Monday.com, or the unified stats dashboard make this pretty easy. I like to break things into SMART goals for clients and then review them to see if we hit the mark (or if we need to adjust).
  • Celebrate Small Wins. Seriously, reward yourself with a victory lap and/or celebrate team wins – never, ever underestimate the power of a kind word or virtual high-five.
  • Make Time To Learn. Skillshare, Udemy, MIT Online, your local library – so many places have amazing classes right now. Be open to learning new skills, especially those that tangentially or even totally do not relate to your work. Having a swath of new skills at the ready makes you more creative and useful.

Pro:

  • Send Isolation Gifts, Birthday/Work Anniversary Reminders. Gift cards are great for the local economy right now, but also – they can serve to remind your clients that you appreciate them for more than the paycheck – especially if you remembered that one time during a call your client mentioned their favorite restaurant and/or coffee shop.
  • Understand the Perception of Information. Big, nebulous, scary things are easily imagined when there’s confusion, misinformation, or a feeling that unknowns outnumber knowns. Timely sharing of information with clients to pre-load conversations with options, artificially limiting choices, or even doing a deep-dive on subjects of interest to your client/company can keep you two steps ahead of the game. Be the resource in the room, not the person who has to look it up (but if you are the person who has to look it up, having done it in advance is far superior to not!)
  • Do Not Outsource Overhead To Other People. Some things are OK to outsource – overhead is not one of them. The best people I’ve ever worked with are those people who take the time to try things out for themselves before they ask for help (and only once they REALLY get stuck and have Googled for at least 5-10 minutes do they ping me). Add to that group of awesome people those that understand the overhead of their request and pre-load some of the work for me (that is: “I need an edit on this page to say this…” is a fine request, but it’s even better when they link me directly to the page and/or paragraph, take a screenshot, or whatever else).

    Don’t make other people incur overhead for your requests – that’s called an externality. I’ll rephrase, because it’s the. most. important. business. lesson. I. know:

    When asking a client, co-worker, or boss for something, every minute of overhead you make them do makes them dislike you for an equal number of days.

    Overhead that takes 30 minutes? You’re in the doghouse for a month.

    Everyone is busy. Don’t discount the importance of the things that are making other people busy.

A Final Note About Honest Intent

When stress is high, it’s best to assume honest intent. The little things can very quickly escalate into big things when you’re dodging a virus. The normal day-to-day stress folks normally carry is multiplied.

As an expert, a business owner, a leader, or even just someone who may have a bit more capacity to handle the state of things, you can lead by having grace with others when they don’t have that capacity.

You can and should be very, very intentional about how you show up for people (even on Zoom). Give yourself 5 minutes to breathe and start fresh with each interaction.

Finally, be kind to yourself. This is a crazy-ass time, but that doesn’t mean we have to rush through everything or beat ourselves up for not adapting quickly enough. Take the time to focus on what’s important and give yourself both the space and grace to adapt.

If your business is struggling during this time, I’m scheduling no-cost strategy and listening sessions. Please let me know how I can help.

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