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Daily performance reviews and clearing the clutter: 15 tips for those working from home

Having left a secure executive position with IBM for the insecurity of starting my own business, I sometimes struggled in a home office before expanding into ‘real’ commercial office space to accommodate staff.

Now, like many others, I find myself back working from home, so here are some tips, gleaned over many years, to those experiencing this for the first time; thankfully with benefits of technology that weren’t available 25 years ago.  

Discipline

Self-discipline is vital, especially when you’re accountable to no one but yourself and your clients, or less accountable to a remote boss.

Ironically, you go into your own business for the flexibility of working independently, but without the healthy discipline to show up and put the time in, you won’t last long.

Time is your main finite currency and can’t be wasted on TV, social media or endlessly tidying cupboards. 

Routine

Flexibility is indeed a bonus of working from home, but for maximum productivity, you need some routine in place — not the one imposed by others, but the self-imposed schedule that you stick to most workdays.

It may not be 9-5, but set that alarm for a regular start. 

For example, my day starts at 7am with a hot lemon drink and listening to the news as I skim emails from overseas that arrive overnight. Urgent ones are answered and the rest prioritised, before putting on laundry, and going for swim, followed by quick, healthy breakfast. ‘Real’ work may not start until 10am when I sit down at PC to fully focus. 

Boundaries

Tell friends and family you’re there for them in an emergency, but that you need to limit social chit chat to certain times of the day, before or after your working hours (whatever they may be).

When I started working from home, I had to remind friends that I was self-employed-not unemployed! And even if you are unemployed, it may be part of your daily ‘job’ to actively seek a job.

Devote the discipline, focus and time to do so. Endless hours on the phone complaining about things won’t help.

Focus and prioritise

If you need to concentrate on a big project, put your phone on silent in another room with a recorded message of when you’ll return calls. Obviously that won’t work for all occupations, but most of us don’t really need to be in response mode 24/7. 

Visible goals, purpose and outcomes

To avoid being easily distracted, have your important goals, outcomes and purpose clearly visible.

These will serve as a constant reminder that all tasks should contribute to those ends, and that it’s not necessary to reply to every email or read every article that comes across your virtual desk.

Daily to-do list

As well as the big picture plan, have a daily to-do list. Commit a certain number of hours per day to your key big goal and other tasks that require completion. Maybe three key things that must be done that day and five more you’d like to do.

Rather than chance it to memory, you’ll not only achieve more but have a sense of satisfaction as you tick things off.

Outsource

As much as possible, focus on your big goals and outsource more mundane tasks, those you don’t like doing or ones that others can do better than you. Think cleaning, database, bookkeeper accountant, IT specialist, virtual PA, et cetera.

Play to your strengths and get help with your weaknesses.

Batch tedious tasks and calls

For greater productivity, ask yourself: ‘What will be my best use of time today? Tomorrow? This week? This month?’

For example, I have a ‘finance Friday’ to handle all things financial, rather than deal with bills and invoices as they arrive.  

Deadlines

At business school, I vividly remember reading The Peter Principle, in which, among other things, author Laurence Peters postulates that most tasks expand to fill the available time. 

Nothing happens without a deadline; or very little does. As a writer and professional speaker, nothing focuses my mind and my work activity more sharply than a deadline from a publisher or approaching conference, when the luxury of creative thinking vanishes to give way to completion.

So, it’s necessary to set self-imposed deadlines for important tasks.

And by the way, there is never enough time for entrepreneurial thinking people to do all the things they’d like to do. 

Clear the clutter

It’s an old habit from my IBM career, because the company insisted on a clean desk policy before employees left the office. It’s served me well even when I’m the only person who might ever see that messy desk.

Messy desk equals messy mind, so my home workspace is clear at the end of each day (whenever the end of that day may be) with my to-do list ready for the next day to start afresh with a clean slate.  

Maintain high standards

Don’t let standards slip. OK, so there were times the laptop balanced on knees while I sat in my Qantas pyjamas. But avoid this. It’s easy to slip into the groove of hanging around the house like a total slob.

I know one person who walks around the block and back into his home office at 8.30am every morning, and another who still dons lipstick while home alone, even if they have no zoom calls that day. Do whatever works to help you work in this new environment. 

Personally, I’m looking for time delay lock on the fridge, but the best I can do is to physically shut the door to the home office and set a timer that I won’t even think of leaving the chair even a second before. Yes, more discipline.  

Practice a healthy lifestyle

People often ask me how I find time to exercise. It has always been an essential activity for me. It is not a waste of time and an integral part of my daily routine regardless of what work pressures may loom.

We can’t take care of our clients or family if we don’t take care of ourselves!

This may sound somewhat obsessive, but I actually have it at the top of my daily to-do list, and the mere fact of checking it off gives me a strange sense of achieving at least one of my goals for the day. 

I also have ‘stretch’ on my daily list as a reminder to occasionally give those shoulders and neck a break. 

Performance review

At the end of each day, have a 60-second review as you brush your teeth and honestly assess those last 24 hours.

We’re all prone to beat ourselves up for what we haven’t achieved because of some frustration (often a result of technology and/or bureaucracy glitches beyond our control).

Take the time to reflect, and possibly journal, all the things you have achieved and everything that you’re grateful for, even if it hasn’t been a perfect day.

Time out

While a focus on discipline is essential, sometimes we do indeed need to be a little gentler with ourselves.   

When enough is enough?

Admittedly, that’s a lesson I’m still working on, but most self-employed people and self-starters always have a steady stream of new ideas, which means their to-do list is never completely done.

So do take some time to smell the roses or appreciate that view.

Rewards

Apart from the obvious financial rewards of working productively from home, set your own rewards when you reach certain goals. It may be an annual dream vacation (when travel resumes), a monthly manicure (when that resumes), a weekly TV binge or a daily treat.

This article was originally published on SmartCompany. Reproduced with permission from the author.

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Peering into the Murky Crystal Ball – Part 3

In the final part of this special three-part series, Part 3 – The Imponderables, Executive Coach and freelance blogger for The Slade Report, David Simpson, offers some observations on the factors at play in determining the new normal. Catch up or recap here on Part 1 – The Inevitables and Part 2 – The Inconclusives.

The Imponderables

  1. Civic Unity or Selfish Disunity

Since the 50s we have seen a radical shift in attitudes about community. The reasons are many: changes in the nuclear family, urbanisation, greater media transparency, higher levels of education, multiculturalism and globalisation. “Shared values” have fragmented and once trusted institutions – government, the law, medicine, banking and church – have all come under fire. The meaning of good citizenship has changed. With the work day expanding and dual income families becoming the norm, time available for community involvement has evaporated. An obvious example is the membership decline of service clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions.

It could be argued that human behaviour has been modified by technology (attention span, inward focus, susceptibility to web influence). It is hard to say if less human person to person contact leads to less empathy, but the time spent with individual handheld screens has certainly promulgated a first person/me first mentality.

One would hope that the COVID-19 crisis reminds us that we are all in this “humanity thing” together. It should have a bearing on how we manage the challenges of unemployment and what is deemed fair as the digital divide widens the gap between the haves and the have nots. The answer lies somewhere between full blown Socialism and Social Darwinism. Hopefully, enlightenment prevails over self-interest.

In the short term, I believe that we need to re-emphasise the subject of civics in our education system to teach what citizenship involves and why it is important.

  1. Environmental Action or On-going Inertia

The vast majority of the world’s inhabitants support more initiative on climate change. Whether most fully appreciate the cost or the effort required of real action is another matter. Powerful interests such as oil, auto and fast consumables wield significant influence in resistance. Putin’s oligarchs, the Saudi Royal Family and the likes of the Koch brothers are not going down without a fight. However, the collective action that has been required to get a significant percent of the global population to self-isolate for self-preservation may spur on a surge of activism in the sustainability movement.

Interestingly, the pandemic’s impact of virtualisation with downward pressure on petroleum use and overall consumption could be an unexpected first step in lowering of the global carbon footprint.

  1. Decline of America/Ascendancy of China

Trump has certainly done a good job burning off the goodwill the US has built up with its allies since 1945. America’s moral authority as crusader for democracy and guardian of the free world has been eroded in three and a half short years with poor statesmanship and bullying America First protectionism. It is hard to believe that the damage is irreparable if there is a return to more sane foreign policy and respected leadership. On the other hand, an extended Trump presidency could lead to a permanent loss of credibility as well as worldwide instability.

Despite being initially cast as the COVID-19 pariah, China is filling the foreign aid void left by America and is providing economic and technical assistance to the third world. Hey, they are even donating medical essentials to the US! Even if major trading partners push to repatriate some production, China will remain the global manufacturing and export powerhouse. If stoking of domestic consumption starts in earnest, it is only a matter of time before their GNP rivals the US. At the same time, the Chinese continue to build up military capability to offset the US as the international police force.

US sponsored democratic capitalism has always espoused the philosophy that a rising tide lifts all boats. It would be naïve to think that the People’s Republic has quite the same “win-win” attitude. China has shown they will follow their own path that is decidedly Chinese in its focus. If you dislike American hegemony, you will like the Chinese version even less.

  1. Globality or Nationalism

Have we reached the peak of globalisation or just a momentary pause? Given that we will undoubtedly be working through a recession at best, recovery not expansion will be the priority. The problems of supply chain and vulnerability to offshoring will stall any further plans to outsource overseas and the call to bring back jobs to address unemployment will be strong. The larger questions about consumerism – “Is it sustainable?” and “Can there be prosperity without growth?” – are likely to get more attention than they might have otherwise.

On the political side of globalism, does the lack of a coordinated approach to tackling the pandemic signal the need for greater cross border collaboration? Alternatively, do countries now conclude that they have no choice but to shut their borders and tend to their own backyard?

I hope it is a combination of both. Building redundancy into a worldwide health response capability must surely happen. The WHO or some repurposed alternative will have to be funded and provided the requisite authority to mitigate a disaster re-occurrence. It will require worldwide agreement (or at least consensus with the UN Security Council) to achieve it. Having something vitally serious to talk about in terms of collaboration is a real opportunity.

On the national level, I hope that this will finally get us discussing more seriously how oppositional politics have gone too far. Representing one’s supporters is a commitment, but not the exclusive one. In the most basic terms, elected officials are responsible to all citizens, not just the ones who voted for them. Building back the muscle memory of bipartisan cooperation
– at least in areas of general public interest (disaster relief, infrastructure)
– can only translate to better preparedness when crisis hits again. Here’s to the positive side of nationalism: We stand as nation together, but also as a willing member of the world family when necessary.

The fact that WFH has given me occasion to reflect on these matters encourages me to believe that better minds than mine are also thinking them through. It is said that you should never waste a good crisis.

 
I certainly hope that is true.

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A playlist just for us, right now!

It’s 11.30am and you’ve checked your news feed one too many times this morning already. We feel your pain, away from work, under financial duress, trying to work out HR and OHS logistics around #WFH (working from home), realising perhaps there is a limit to how much family time we really want…

This week we’ve had some lighter moments pulling together our Isolationist’s Playlist. The titles alone will give you a smile. ‘All by Myself’ by Celine Dion, ‘School’s Out’ by Alice Cooper, ‘Dancing with Myself’ by Generation X, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ by the Clash… Sure, not every song will be your preferred genre, but from an amazing list of 100 titles, you’re sure to find a few that will have you limbo-ing under the kitchen broom, singing into your mouse, or just sighing nostalgically as you recall your life last month.

So, without further spluttering, presenting our Spotify playlist Just for Us, Right Now.

And the good news it’s a public playlist so feel free to add your own bright ideas – just keep it clean and not to morbid please!

Keep singing and keep well.

The team at Slade Group and the Interchange Bench.

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WFH!? How to beat the bogeys on working from home…

For those of us who haven’t been regularly working from home (WFH) until now, the prospect can be a bit daunting. Whilst the nature of my job means I’m fortunate to be able to work effectively in a digital environment, I also like a bit of separation between my living room and the office. I’ve found WFH perfect for intense periods of concentration – planning, creating, writing pitches, proposals and reports. Collaborating on projects, getting feedback on drafts and quick decision-making? It’s often a lot easier in person.

As we move towards WFH in the longer term, I thought I’d share a few tips from my personal experience on how to beat some of the bogeys you encounter when working from home.

  1. Prepare first – Decide which tasks you will be working on and take home any hard copy files you cannot access electronically or material that is easier to work from in print. Test your internet connection and remote access via the company’s Citrix or VPN.
  2. Map out a schedule – Your WFH schedule may not be the same as your office hours. Give yourself a start and finish time, allowing for breaks. This helps manage the temptation to procrastinate or work until you drop.
  3. Present yourself – If you’re not face-timing customers or colleagues, it might be tempting to spend all day in your pyjamas. You will feel more motivated and it’s easier to slot into work zone, if you get up out of bed, have a shower and get dressed – business casual or not.
  4. Go to work in your home office – Whether it’s the kitchen table, a separate room or a study nook, clear a space, follow the WFS OHS protocols and go there to work. Leave it too, when you’re taking a break.
  5. Let others know you’re at work – Partners, flatmates, kids and pets… we love them, but they can be pests at times! Forewarn your household and try to work around their schedules to minimise the impact on each other as far as you can.
  6. Remove other distractions – Pausing your personal social media and other apps while you’re working is good professional practice whether WFH or in the office.
  7. Multitasking is a myth – It’s ok to put on a load of washing, but don’t get distracted by deep cleaning the house. A few chores while taking a break can help return your focus on work.
  8. Reward yourself – Go for a walk at lunchtime, get a proper coffee or food from a café. There are lots of activities you can fit into 30 minutes to an hour when your close to home.
  9. Check-in – Maintain your usual contact with colleagues via phone, email and other messaging or collaborating apps, and check-in with your team leader or manager on your progress through or at the end of day.

What works for you when you’re working from home?

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