Working from Home Effectively

Some of us have been lucky enough to have already been working from home (WFH) prior to the world events.  This has allowed most of us the ability to easily ready our homes to fit our needs.  For those that have suddenly been plunged into the working from home lifestyle, here are some tips that I’ve learned over the last 2.5 years being home 100% of the time.   I blogged about this a few years ago when I started with Denny Cherry & Associates Consulting so some of these are updates.

Keep a Schedule & Routine

This is still probably one of the most important aspects of working from home.  Prior to coming into the WFH realm I worked a normal 8-5 job. It required me to be in the office before 8, so I decided when I switched I would keep to the same schedule. I continue to wake up at the same time and report to my desk at the same time ready to tackle the day every day.  Now, depending on what I have going on, it’s nice to be able  to wake up earlier  (like 5:30AM) so that I have some extra time to focus on things.   If I have my sons with me (for those that might be co-parenting), that also allows me to focus without having to tend to their needs. My advice is to keep whatever schedule best works for you and your employer.  Thankfully, my employer allows me to set my own schedule and manage my own time which is helpful.  Having that flexibility makes things easier on me as a work from home employee.

Beyond keeping a consistent schedule, keep a consistent routine as well.  As I mentioned, I get up about the same time.  While I *could* wear pajamas or whatever I wanted to work, I choose not to.  I get up, get showered, shave, brush teeth, etc and get fully dressed so that I’m ready for the day.  I find this makes me more productive. Once ready, I go downstairs for my coffee and usually for some breakfast.  Sometimes I’ll take food to my desk but usually I sit at my kitchen table and watch the world wake up while I enjoy my first cup of coffee.  Then it’s time to go to the “office”.  Warning the commute can be horrible so watch out for traffic jams (kids or pets) in the hallways and stairwell.  13 seconds later, I’m at my desk ready to get started.  Once there, I’ll start on any daily tasks that I need to get done and then continue on any project work I might have on my plate.

Fast forward to lunch. It’s a 50/50 chance that I’ll eat lunch at my desk.  Some days I do, others I don’t.  It’s important to take breaks away from your desk as it’s really easy to get sucked into working all the time.  My advice is to make sure to take a break for lunch and try to disconnect as much as possible.  Some days, for me, I’ll make lunch and play Xbox (Titan Fall 2), or  go for a walk, or just read a book while eating.

Come evening time, I wrap things up somewhere between 4-5PM.   Some days it’s later and some days it’s earlier usually because of kid responsibilities.  Some Due to the nature of my job some evenings I must work later due to time zones and sometimes even on the weekends due to system availability.  I recognize that it is all part of the job, however, I’m able to find a balance that works for me while maintain any responsibilities I might have.

Workspace

When I joined with Denny Cherry & Associates Consulting (DCAC), I invested some cash into my workspace.  I tend to like a clean and clutter free desk, so I invested in a good quality standing desk from Uplift Desk.  I started out with 2-27” monitors and operated with that for quite a long time.  Within the past 6 months I further invested in an additional 27” monitor so now I have three.  I have found that having three monitors (actually 4 if I used the laptop itself) allows me to have a better workflow in my daily tasks.  You might have to play with configurations or ideas, but don’t be afraid to invest (if you can) in things that help you work from home.

Of course, you can invest a lot of money into your workspace.  I know people have to walls of monitors, expensive desk chairs, extreme web camera setups, and the list goes on.  Do what you can to make it your space.  At times I’ll even work on my secondary machine standing at my kitchen bar because it works.  You don’t have to drop a ton of money and there are ways to make it work with minimal amounts of money.

Here I am just using a laptop tray that I bought off of Amazon to allow me to have a “mobile standing point” on just about any flat surface.  I find that mixing up my location from time to time help to get my mind focused on the task at hand.

Communications

Maintaining communication with your colleagues as well as your family is important, especially during this time of chaos. Without it the self-isolation feeling can be overwhelming. For me this means I check up on my family (they all live at least 6 hours away) on a semi-weekly basis to ensure that they are healthy and are doing as best as possible. Having peace of mind that they are doing well helps me better focus on work, and keeps me from getting distracted by worrying about them. Thankfully with my work I am able to take breaks and have a phone conversation, or I’ll even have a video call with them via Skype or FaceTime.

Beyond just family, make sure to have open dialogs with your managers on your status.  If you are struggling with things, let them know.  They cannot help resolve any issues if they don’t know they even exist.  I have a check-in with Denny once or twice a month just to see how things are going.  Now, at DCAC, we chat constantly via Teams.  During the day, evenings, weekends, or even holidays usually someone on the team is talking.  This makes is much easier to have some interaction and feel connected to the team.

Distractions

Working from home comes with a whole new set of distractions, namely the television.  I have found that, thankfully, the television remains off during my working time (I have a TV in my office) and I can count on one hand the number of times it’s been on while I’m working.  When I first started working from home, I had a real feeling that TV would be a huge distraction for me.  Turns out that wasn’t my distraction.  My distraction normally is the internet.  Twitter, social media, blogs, news, etc.  For me, it can be a quicksand place to get lost in and the next thing you know 3 hours have gone by.

Here are some things I use to help keep those in check:

  • Focus Assist – For Windows users, try the Focus assist. You can adjust the focus to only show certain alerts or none.  This helps me to block out any unwanted alerts for a period.  I don’t know if Apple products have something similar.
  • Internet Traffic – For Chrome (or Edge) users – StayFocusd will provide allotment of time to browse certain websites, like YouTube for example. Once you have burned through you allotted amount of time, it blocks that site until the next day.  Of course, there are way around this, but it helps to keep you in check.
  • Set Do Not Disturb (DND) – These days we are inundated with communication tools. Slack, Teams, Skype, Hangouts, pick one.   If you need time to focus, don’t be afraid to set your status on all these tools to “Do Not Disturb”.  This will let your teammates know to not bug you or just send you an email.  Respect that DND and don’t answer things unless they are critical.  I’ll even set my iPhone to DND so that I won’t get text messages or phone calls during that time.
  • Close Your Email –Really, it is ok to close your email client and not have it open. There have been studies done about the amount of time that gets wasted when you address an email and try to resume what you were focused on.  It’ll be Okay to close your email, trust me.  The messages will be there for when you get back to it.  If it’s an emergency most likely the person will call you and then you can handle it.

Summary

The way in which you work has probably shifted.  It takes time to adapt and get used to the new “normal.  I know that was the case when I shifted to working from home 100% of the time.  Now that you’ve been working from home for a bit, what has been your experience so far?  What distractions do you have to contend with and how do you handle them?  Let me know by leaving comments!

© 2020, John Morehouse. All rights reserved.

One Reply to “Working from Home Effectively”

  1. I love that setup, I have the same thing but just wondering what is the connection setup for the three monitors when using the laptop as the fourth screen?
    Whenever I try to use the laptop screen as another one – it turns off one of the big monitors
    My laptop is a Lenovo T470s on a dock with two connected to displayport and the final monitor connected via separate usb-c adapter, my feeling it is the usb-c adapter that is causing this issue.

    Thanks,

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