If you work from home or another remote location, you know what a huge blessing it is. For me, few things are more valuable than my time, and the decision to work from home has added years to my life. Literally, years.
The truth is, most of us waste hours every day; acting as though we have an endless supply of them. Nothing is more finite than our time, yet we squander it in traffic, in meetings and other settings that eat away our lives.
Until I began working from home, I never realised how thoughtlessly I’d been operating all those years. Today, I walk around my neighbourhood after dropping my son at school, and I see people rushing out of their driveways to join the slow-moving carpark called the morning commute. It doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t feel… human.
Oh, I’m sure it’s fine for some people. Perhaps they find morning traffic relaxing. Maybe they love their office and all the people in it. Monday sales meetings are probably fun for them. And yes, I know we can’t all work from home or else everything would fall apart. But many of us can.
So, if you’re one of those who do (or can, but haven’t crossed over, yet), here are my top three habits that make working remotely more productive and enjoyable.
One till done.
I’ve been a list-maker for as long as I can remember. I had a Filofax when they were hip; I bought my first PDA before Palm Pilots were a thing. I make lists. And the most important thing on any list I make is the number I assign to each item. Yes, I number them in order of importance (not ‘urgency’ – although sometimes they’re the same).
But here’s the important part: I don’t look at number two, three or four until I’ve finished number one. I stick with #1 till it’s done, and here’s why: if I can’t finish it that way, how the hell can I finish it while dabbling in the others?
If you want to power through your work (and do a better job of it, too), start with your number one job and focus on it till it’s done.
I recognise that ‘done’ might mean completing a specific component of a job (E.g. you can’t build a whole website before noon). The point is, define the job, stay on it, and knock that sucker over before tackling the next one.
Oh, one more thing. Create your list for tomorrow today. Keep it simple and set the order based on importance. Do this every day and see what happens. Bottom line: if you can’t finish everything this way, you’ll never finish it another way.
Ignore (almost) everything.
Everyone tells you to minimise distractions. Turn off your social alerts, that kind of thing. I go a few steps further because I’ve found the switching cost of stopping work to look at my phone (and then back again to the job I was doing) is too high. Think of how many times a ‘bing’ sent you down a rabbit hole for half an hour. You didn’t need that pair of heels you just saw on Instagram, yet here you are – distracted, a little poorer and slightly ashamed…
So, I don’t have ANY social media alerts on my phone ever. I also don’t receive email on my phone ever. And I’ll go you one further: often, I won’t even answer my phone or respond to a text unless it relates to the job I’m working on.
If a job is really difficult, I’ll even put my phone on silent and place it face-down for an hour. That’s rare, though, because I’m paranoid it’ll be the only time my kids get caught up in a terrorist plot and I won’t see their text in time to save them. I know you parents get me on this.
So, bottom line: your brain is a supercomputer capable of remarkable acts of creativity and problem-solving. If you distract it with stupid ‘bings’ all the time, it becomes no better than a Filofax.
Kick email in the b*lls.
Email is the most widely used productivity tool on the planet. It’s also the biggest drain on productivity on the planet (although social media is getting right up there).
If you’re not careful – and most of us aren’t – your inbox will demolish all hope of being a productivity powerhouse.
Here’s how I’ve mastered my Inbox. When I check my mail, I sort them first by Subject. That way, the crap is easy to spot and delete. See-ya! Then, I sort them by Sender. Important people (clients, readers and suppliers – in that order) get my attention first. With each email I either:
- Respond and file
- Delegate, schedule a follow-up, and file
- Forward, schedule a follow-up, and file
With those I delegate or forward, I schedule a follow-up so the interested parties aren’t left hanging. As for filing, I’ve created a set of folders and sub-folders where everything I’ve dealt with lives. Nothing stays in my inbox. I deal with it, then I file it.
Finally, I sort the remaining items by Date Sent so I can address them in the order they left the sender’s keyboard. I deal with these the same way as the others – respond, delegate, forward or delete. Once they’re done, my inbox is empty.
Okay, now onto the big one. My email app doesn’t check for new mail until I tell it to, and I only tell it three times a day. I have alerts on my phone that remind me to hit the Send/Receive button at 9:30, 2:30 and 4:30, and that’s it!
This is how I get more done than most of my colleagues. I control the distractions, I decide where my attention goes and I never abdicate it to others. After all, I’ll never get my last 10 minutes back.
I realise some of these things might be difficult at first, even if you want to do them. Inertia can be a heavy rock to budge. New habits take time to develop. But your life is just a series of habits; each one moving you towards or away from the life you want.
The best book I’ve ever read on this topic is Atomic Habits, by James Clear. I heard him do an interview with Corbett Barr on The Fizzle Show podcast, and his ideas made brilliant, crystal clear sense to me. If change is hard for you, I recommend you get the book – it could easily change your life.
(By the way that’s an affiliate link up there, so yes, when you buy the book, James will send me a new Ferrari. Probably.)
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