10 tips for staying sane and productive while telecommuting.
During the Coronavirus pandemic everyone at CD Baby is telecommuting. Our business is fully functional and we can keep all our usual services and artist support going from home. But over the next few weeks everyone is going to have to find new rhythms to their workflow.
Are you suddenly in that WFH situation too? I’m one of the few people at CD Baby who ALWAYS works from home, so I have some ready-made advice if you’re telecommuting for the first time:
1. Don’t check your phone when you get out of bed
This is good advice in general. Don’t start your brain buzzing right from the first moment you’re awake. Get up. Drink coffee or tea. Talk to the other sentient beings in your home. Have a ritual that requires no electronics.
2. You still have a (short) commute
Similar to avoiding your phone, NEVER roll out of bed and turn your computer on for work purposes. It’s really easy to fall into that trap when you work from home. Since there’s no difference between where you live and work, work can bleed into life in ways you barely notice at first.
In your everyday workweek, your mind and body have some adjustment time while traveling to and from the office in a car or by public transit. You might spend that time with podcasts, listening to the radio, reading the paper, or playing a game on your phone.
Try to mimic some of that adjustment phase in your telecommuting routine, and make a clear distinction between BEFORE and DURING work. Whether you’re preparing your kids for the day or just enjoying your own breakfast, PUT OFF WORK until it’s time to officially “clock in.”
Up until that moment, keep your time sacred and use it on behalf of yourself or your family. Then make your commute an intentional transition — across the house, upstairs, or even to another part of the room. Think to yourself, “Now I’m going to work.”
Got self-respect? Put on a shirt and tie beforehand.
Scoundrel musician? Stay in your PJs. But…
3. “Don’t work where you sleep”
Sounds like another saying, doesn’t it? That other saying is advice worth heeding too.
If you can, make a place in your home that is dedicated to your work even if that means just moving from one chair to another at your kitchen table.
Again, work can easily bleed into the rest of your life when telecommuting. You don’t want work worries following you to bed, or to the couch where you usually relax and watch TV, or to the bathroom (seriously, keep your laptop out of the bathroom, you nasty nasty person).
So segment a little corner of your home where your mind can focus exclusively on work, and then leave that work behind when you’re elsewhere in your home.
4. Schedule harder, not more
You won’t have the impromptu conversations you get to have at the office. No more fun in-person brainstorms or silly team-building jibber-jabber. So it’s going to come down to scheduling to find the right balance between team interaction and protected time for individual work.
5. Be ruthlessly protective of your time: SAY NO
I said it above, but it’s worth repeating: Scheduling does NOT mean filling up your day with a bunch of virtual meetings. It means being intentional with how you plan to spend your time. Often that can mean scheduling time where you FORBID meetings so you can focus on projects.
You can say NO to things. You can suggest that longer meetings be shortened before you commit to attending. And you should also be protective of…
6. Breaks, snacks, stretching, lunch
It’s easy to roll right through breaks when stresses mount. You want to prove you’re working hard at a time when your bosses can’t see you. You want to show the team you’re connected to them and helping them reach their goals.
But your long-term health and productivity is tied to your overall well-being. Stretch throughout the day, especially if you don’t have an ergonomic setup at home. Put your computer down and make lunch. Listen to music. Go for a walk. Your brain and body need a break.
Anyone who telecommutes knows how strange meetings can feel on Zoom or Skype or Ring Central. It’s tough to know when to pipe into the conversation because you’ve got the mute button on, there’s latency in the live stream, or you’re worried everyone is looking at the weird wrinkle on your forehead.
The natural tendency in this situation is to be quiet and deferential, so you won’t be seen as interrupting. But you have to resist that tendency. Force yourself to speak up, even if it means you’re talking over someone for a second. They’ll understand that latency accounts for most of your poor timing (either that or you’re a jerk — in which case, please ignore this particular item on the list).
Also, when you’re not in the office, you’re going to need to speak more often during conference calls to compensate for your lack of physical presence with the rest of the team. At least now you can take some small comfort in knowing EVERYONE is in the same boat. Bad lighting. Messy rooms. Awkward pauses.
8. Don’t check your email for the first few hours of work
This might sound crazy, especially if email is an important form of communication on your team.
But here’s the thing: When you open email early in the day, you start responding to OTHER people’s priorities. You’re not shaping your day according to YOUR work needs.
Chances are that half of your email is junk anyway. So commit to a few sacred hours where you get straight to work on the things that matter most. Then you can save the second half of the day to go into emergency mode. By then a few of the emergencies will have miraculously resolved themselves without you.
9. Accept that life is crazy right now
Here’s the truth: You’re probably not going to deliver your absolute best over the next few weeks or months. At least not at the volume you’re used to. Forgive yourself in advance. You might have a child whose school was canceled, a family member who is ill and needs care, or just a whole lot of extra domestic challenges due to food and supply shortages.
This isn’t justification for slacking off or developing bad habits. Instead, the realities of the current moment mean it’s time to communicate clearly with your team or managers about expectations. If your schedule needs to change to accommodate other factors, make sure everyone is on the same page so they know when they can reliably reach you. If you have paid-time-off or family leave, don’t be afraid to use it. If ever there was an occasion!
10. It’s okay, your kids can watch TV and eat frozen pizza
If you have kids, they’re probably home with you right now. And poor you, you have “standards” for your perfect little children.
Maybe you’re used to feeding them non-GMO organic chichi something-or-others from the local farmers market. Maybe you’d like them to read Shakespeare and Audre Lorde quietly while you work in the next room.
Umm,… they’re kids. And you have work to do.
Standards are healthy up until the point those standards become unmanageable. Give yourself a little slack. Try to find the right balance between structure and chaos.
Your kids don’t need to be acting out Lord of the Flies in order for you to get work done, but you don’t have to swoop in to curate their every delicate moment either. Reward them for longer durations of solo play or self-guided learning. And remember a few weeks of slightly more screen-time than usual won’t turn them into sociopaths.
They’re ALREADY sociopaths. They’re kids!
The most important thing: CLOCK OUT
At the end of the workday, put work away. Trust me: If you don’t, work is going to follow you to dinner, to bed, to your dreams (terrifying!) Instead, use that time to focus on yourself, your partner, or your family. Try you best to stay safe and sane while you work and live out of the same place.