Stell: Three Organizational Skills for Work from Home Success
While there are many benefits to working remotely, one risk is that work life blurs into home life with no differentiator.
Here are three habits I have developed to maximize my results and success.
1. Routines are Key
Consistency and routine are more important than ever when your office commute is a flight of stairs.
While many of us start the workday with online news or immediately digging into email, I suggest you ditch the habit. What starts out harmlessly as a few minutes catching up can often turn into hours down a rabbit hole. A 2019 annual email usage study by Adobe found that the average person spends more than five hours per weekday on email.
If you must start with email, make it a quick skim to ensure you aren’t missing an important message from a boss or client then get on with your work.
I typically start my day with a three to five item priority list that I created the day before. This is not my entire “to do” list. But the priority list reflects those things that absolutely must get done.
My favorite way to start work is with a writing project for a client or an article or book I’m working on. While my mind feels fresh, and the day is full of possibilities the writing seems to flow. After writing for an hour or two, I need to stretch, get water, and walk for a few minutes to get the blood flowing. Then I return to the writing project or at this point in my day, use a scheduled amount of time to return calls or emails.
While I don’t follow my routine every day, on the days that I do, I am more productive. The productive morning then sets the tone for the rest of the day.
I first got the idea of a wind-down routine from my writing coach, Daphne Gray-Grant. Daphne is a believer in the discipline needed for writing, but I find many of her suggestions work for anyone who needs discipline to be successful in their careers. I find the wind-down routine helps me clear my brain for the remainder of my evening – which is particularly important when working from home.
I make sure that I leave my desk neat, that I’ve checked items off my priority list, and that I have created my priority list for the following day. This sense of satisfaction I gain during the wind-down routine is important for me to separate the workday from my personal time.
Daphne agrees that many experts suggest using an end-of-day ritual to plan for the next day, but she says, “I’ve never been drawn to that. Besides, I find it invigorating to plan my day in the morning so I can get excited about what I’m going to accomplish that day.”
While I appreciate her approach to planning in the morning, Daphne is an admitted “morning lark”. For me, I prefer to set my priorities the day before so there is a plan in place when I sit down at the computer. With experimentation, you will find the system that works best for you.
I start my wind-down routine about 30-45 minutes before the end of my day. While your routine will be different, here’s a look at mine:
- Final review of email
- Review and check off today’s priority list
- Create tomorrow’s priority list
- Shut down computer
- Leave work behind and focus on family,
friends, and self
2. Trade Your To-Do List for Your Calendar
Peter Bregman, the author of Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Replace Counter-Productive Habits with Ones that Really Work, suggests rather than working from a to-do list, that instead we put the tasks on a calendar which serves as our blueprint for the day.
“The reason we’re always left with unfinished items on our to-do lists is because those lists are the wrong tool to drive our accomplishments. Decide when and where you will do something, and the likelihood that you’ll follow through increases dramatically,” he writes.
Calendars help you prioritize, says Bregman. “A calendar is finite; there are only a certain number of hours in a day. That fact becomes clear the instant we try to cram an unrealistic number of things into a finite space.”
Daphne finds structuring your day is essential. “My productivity took a huge leap as soon as I started using time-blocking. Each morning I take five minutes to plan. First, I decide my three to five priorities for that day. Then, I schedule when I’m going to do them by entering my tasks (not just meetings, but tasks) into a daily calendar, that’s divided into 30-minute chunks. This is one of my best tips for writing from home.”
Daphne and I both love the Pomodoro method as a productivity tool. Pomodoro is the practice of devoting 25 minutes to a task. It’s perfect for writing, I’m using my Pomodoro app as I’m writing this article. It’s also a great way to manage email. Most productive people only check their email a few times a day. Schedule email management on your calendar and use a Pomodoro timer to guide you quickly through the process.
3. Practice Wellness and Self-Care
Much has been written about the importance of getting enough sleep. During the pandemic, I have slept more than usual. In talking with my doctor about it, she assured me it was healthy. During sleep our bodies rest, rejuvenate, and heal. For most people, living through the pandemic has taken an emotional, mental, and physical toll and getting plenty of rest is key to well-being.
Exercise is another key component of wellness and self-care. Because I have not been going to the gym during the pandemic, I bought a small set of weights to keep in my home office. I use the weights, as well as floor exercises and stretching in five-to-ten-minute increments three times a day. I use my Fitbit to provide reminders every 50 minutes to get up and move around. Sometimes, I just head downstairs for water or a snack, other times, I’ll run out to check the mail. But at least three times a day, I perform my at-home exercise routine to keep me moving and my head clear.
Whether you add these skills to your routine, or you establish your own, organizational habits and schedules will improve your efficiency and productivity.
Camille Stell is the President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services and helps lawyers build modern law firms. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at [email protected] or 800.662.8843 or visit www.lawyersmutualconsulting.com.