Stay Safe, Stay Sane, Stay Productive

The world as we know it has changed. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a little over 3% of the U.S. workforce worked remotely. Now it feels like we’re all working from home. And realistically, this might just be the "new normal" – either because we’re proving that work from home actually works, or because it will be months before we’re back to our pre-pandemic workplaces.

As a consultant, I've worked out of a home office for 25 years. Some of us may be doing so for the first time, or juggling caregiving and homeschooling. But we're 8 weeks into shelter-at-home routines, and we may be here for a while yet. I'll use this post to share a few things I've learned about working from home successfully.

1) Embrace your inner introvert.
Introverts are going to have an easier time managing shelter-at-home orders. We tend to enjoy silence and the time to think and craft. But introverts and extroverts alike need to connect and collaborate. I recommend putting together a mental “go-bag” for the lulls between email and Zoom calls to create structure and purpose:

  • Stay sharp by attending conferences and events – virtually for the time being.

  • Learn new skills or extend the ones you’ve got through webinars, online learning, or set up time with an expert.

  • Leverage opportunities to expand and refine what you are learning by blogging and posting.

    2) Focus on goals.

    It’s all about the Big Picture.

    There are as many goal-tracking systems as there are people with goals. Here’s what I’ve learned: whether you work for yourself or you are a remote employee, you need to keep yourself on track. Yes, create project goals and a daily to-do list (I happen to use OmniFocus and the GTD model to track to-do’s for work, life, and home).

    But I have found that it's more important, at the end of every project or win, to reflect. Is what you did “portfolio worthy?” What’s the broader context? What did you learn from this project, what can you build on? Without these pauses, work life becomes an endless to-do list.

    I maintain an Airtable literally called Big Picture. I use it to curate thought leaders in my industry, key resources, and learning paths on topics relevant to my work. I also write a narrative summary during or after big projects. That way, five years from now, I will be able to go beyond facts and figures to describe how I invested my professional time, and why it mattered.

    3) Stay organized.

    Design your home office for productivity. If you are used to working wherever your laptop takes you, whether in your open plan office, a conference room, or a coffee shop, then working from home during the COVID crisis will be a cinch (unless you’re dueling for internet bandwidth with others working or learning from home). If you are a paper person, get a printer, along with a filing cabinet and a shredder. If you are a visual thinker, get a whiteboard. If you do a lot of video conferencing, by all means learn how to look and sound your best on video calls. The point is, whatever tools you need and use in your company office, include in your home office.

    4) Capture your thinking.

    Between email, Slack, Teams, G-Suite, One Drive, LinkedIn, news, e-books, and web-based research, it’s easy for our digital lives to get out of hand. Organize resources so you can easily find what you need. I use Pocket to capture and categorize articles, web pages, and other digital content as I go, though others will swear by Evernote. The key is to pick one and consolidate reference materials into one place as much as possible.

    5) Set boundaries and manage transitions.

    I learned early on that a 30-second commute from your home life to your home office isn’t long enough. And a home office at your dining room table isn’t a home office. Even if work-from-home is temporary due to COVID-19, carve out a place where work is bounded, and everything you need is in reach. Going to the next room because you need a pencil is a sure way to get out of the flow. At the end of the day, build in “commute time" to de-compress from the day, whether it’s a walk around the block, a Zoom yoga class, or a virtual chat with a friend.

    These are just a few ideas for making the most out of work at home. And perhaps the most important idea: as we all grapple with uncertainty during this COVID crisis, we can't expect ourselves to be at the top of our game all the time. It's okay to put down your tools and take care of yourself. Get outside. And if you're lucky enough, like I am, to have a place to do it safely, take a swim. Stay well.

    Written By: Martha Olsen, President and Founder of The Leap Group

    The Leap Group empowers technology marketers and product teams to focus on the right target audiences, create customer-centric messaging, and accelerate sales through relevant and compelling content.
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