Today no commuting. More time for myself. Right?
Thanks to the advances of technology, the growth of the service industry and the change in paradigm and perspective that many employers are having, for many working from home has become a real possibility.
Sometimes it is just a perk that you’ve earned, that allows you to spend more time with your family or to work with more flexible hours. Sometimes it is forced upon you by events and circumstances: let it be a global pandemic (let’s hope we don’t get many of those) or the fact that you are starting a new adventure and cannot yet afford an office or a co-working desk.
Whatever the reason to work from home, there are two kinds of people in this type of situation:
- the Sucker inhabits a place called Perdition. It is that person who thinks something like
‘Cool, I can work from home. This means nobody looking over my shoulder, checking on me. I can take all the breaks I want, work the minimum, be all the time on social media and, why not, work in my underwear. I will have soooo much time to binge-watch the new season of…’
Did I make myself clear? Do you know someone like that? It can’t be you, otherwise you would not have been attracted to the title of this article.
If it is you and you clicked by mistake on the link to this page, don’t worry.
Just stop reading. It could be risky: What I’m going to write may make you change your mind and attitude.
Jokes aside, no one wants to be a Sucker, but everyone is at risk, and most people become one for a short time (for someone it is 1 hour, for others it is days or weeks). Reality is that being a bit lazy and letting yourself go is very tempting. As human beings there is a lazy part of us that will want to surface when faced with such an opportunity. It is also true though that living life the Sucker style doesn’t lead you to the results you want. Ever.
- the Winner inhabits a place called Excellence. The Winner thinks differently: as a Winner, you realise that you are blessed with more time (i.e. less commuting) and less office-related distractions (i.e. colleagues stopping by to say hi or to ask opinions and suggestions that they should ask someone else, background noise, etc).
Knowing this, you are able to organise your days in order to be as productive as you’d be at the office, if not even more. You can afford to exploit the time you save to improve your skills, learn new concepts and grow on both a professional and a personal level. That’s why you are a Winner.
Day by day, you learn a language that others don’t know, you read a book that others haven’t read, you improve a skill that makes you more valuable on the market.
If you are a Winner, you probably have one very cool goal: becoming better than you were when you chose (or were forced) to work from home. All of this while achieving all your work-related targets.
It’s like a see-saw: Perdition at one end, Excellence at the other one. And then there is you: a Winner-to-be.
As a Winner-to-be, you are in a delicate situation: in the middle of the see-saw. You have to decide which side to lean towards. You are torn between giving in to laziness (tempting in the short term, but ineffective in the medium and long term) and setting yourself the same goal that winners have: getting to excel in those extra skills that will make you unique and extremely valuable.
It would be a simple choice if it was just a matter of taking a step towards Excellence where Winners strive or Perdition where Suckers exist, but there is one impediment: Perdition will be much heavier than Excellence until you choose to move towards Excellence. If you don’t do anything, as soon as you lose balance, you will find yourself rolling down to Perdition.
The only option you have is to pull all your strength and take a decisive step uphill, toward the Winner side, to re-balance the see-saw and get to Excellence.
This is what I have done. Thanks to my work, I can organise myself to work almost always from wherever I want. And I do. I am addicted to working from out of the office, I love the freedom, and I find that the variety of environments helps my creativity and productivity.
However, working in an environment that is not your office brings a lot of freedom that needs to be well utilised. I have been through the phase of adjusting to this new style of working, and I’ve learned a lot in the process.
Recently I even had to start working solely from home (no office and cafés anymore, for a while!), and I have been through the decision that every Winner-to-be needs to make between laziness and excellence, so believe me if I tell you that I know what I’m talking about.
Let’s start with one important concept:
working from home has immense advantages
you are able to tame your laziness and keep your focus high.
Working from home you don’t have many of the office-related distractions (let me be crystal clear, many of them don’t go away: phone and emails can reach you wherever you have a phone and the colleagues that normally stop by your office will call or email you instead, maybe only 50% of the times, but they still will), but you have potential private ones. Distractions and triggers connected to your personal life surround you the whole time. At the end of the day you can easily feel like if you worked many more hours than you would have at the office. With less to show for it.
The discipline and organisation that you so proudly showed off at the office seem to have stayed there. You let yourself take a break whenever you feel like. You answer private messages and emails that normally would have to wait until your lunch break. You push items on your calendar. And so on.
You miss the camaraderie of the office: meeting your colleagues at the coffee machine, going out for lunch together, but also working together on projects and tasks, interacting face to face. Sometimes you start missing also the contact with customers and suppliers, seeing people, talking to people, at points even just the background chatter and noise that you always found so annoying at the office would be welcome.
In a few words, working from home can lead you to be less energetic and productive, to have less discipline and motivation and to miss human interaction.
With these conditions, it is much easier to go from Winner-to-be to Sucker, than to become a Winner. That is, of course, if you don’t have the right tools.
Well, it’s your lucky day! I’m writing this article exactly for that. I want there to be more Winners-to-be that become Winners, than the opposite! I believe in constant growth and giving to help others, so for the sake of the first I am here to do the second.
Survival vs. Excellence
Whereas the Sucker relates working from home with the idea of working in a pijama, relaxing and enjoying only, if you want to survive this kind of commitment you might need more rules than are set in your office.
By surviving I mean not getting to the point where you hate your work, you don’t want to see your own home anymore and you regret the choice (if you had any) of working remotely.
Although surviving may sound good enough for some, where does it fall on the Winner to Sucker see-saw? As a Winner-to-be you are at the top of the see-saw and when you aim at merely surviving, you will start leaning your weight slightly towards the Sucker side. Until you will be sucked into that life.
So I don’t believe in surviving. Well, I don’t believe in barely surviving. And also Winners-to-be shouldn’t. The goal you have set for yourself requires a different kind of attitude: finding an opportunity in every challenge (let’s face it, working from home is a challenge). You need to master the use of your focus and energy, to go beyond surviving into the field of excelling. You have to rock remote working. And I’m here to help you set foot in the right direction.
Before getting to the individual techniques (you can name them as you want: tips, tricks, methods, strategies, hacks – this last one is really in fashion now) I think it is important to point out some principles to guide your choices. Once you make these principles yours, taking decisions in specific situations will become much easier and you will be able to create your own hacks on the spot.
I believe there are many parallelisms between studying from home and working from home. I don’t know how long it has been for you since the last time you studied as a profession, but if you keep reading you will probably also recognise a lot of common points.
Distractions, discipline, connection to others and energy levels are the most important elements to take into consideration when you are not in a classroom surrounded by your peers. The same goes for remote working, except that you have more responsibilities and that more depends on you not failing (not only your future, but your company, colleagues and customers).
If as a Winner you decide to exploit the extra time you have and study a new language, learn a new skill, take a refresher course, it is even more difficult. Indeed, you have probably lost the habits you had built as a student, you have many more situations to handle, maybe you have a family to provide for and to spend time with.
If you don’t master the essential principles of remote working, it will take you a very long time to finish what you need to get done. Provided you do manage at one point.
Then, of course, there are techniques and hacks that apply both to studying and to remote working. I should know, since teaching them and helping my students (both professional students and studying professionals) to apply them successfully is my core activity.
But let’s start from the principles.
Be your best enemy. You have to become the spy that rats on you, to yourself. Your own watchdog.
It should go without saying, but I decided to tell you anyway. Better hear it once more than once too little.
This applies to everything you plan: if you plan to work, work. If you plan a break, take a break. Stick to your decisions and to your schedules.
Also when it is about personal time. Very often, if you commit some time to a personal goal that is important to you but not urgent (like for example learning a language that you like but do not need in the next future) you are ready to postpone these activities whenever something that seems more urgent comes along.
Unless it is an emergency, both urgent and important, whatever it is will still be there in one hour, when you have time for it. Basically you should treat the time you commit to personal activities like a business appointment. You don’t postpone it unless it is really impossible or extremely urgent and important.
And for sure you don’t postpone it because it’s easier to sit on the sofa and watch something on Netflix!
Separate work and private life
This is something you do automatically when you go to the office. Some do it better, some worse, but in general it happens quite simply and instinctively. If you get a private phone call when you are at the office, you don’t have to think about it: you either don’t answer or you do but only to tell the caller that you will get back to them. You don’t check your private email, you don’t waste time on social media, you don’t chat with coworkers. If you are not on a break, of course.
It works also the other way around. You don’t check your work email or phone when you are home. Or you shouldn’t. There are quite many studies showing that people are often on duty also after they get home, but the same studies show that those are the people going quickly in the direction of a burnout. So don’t!
This way of mixing work and private life gets unluckily amplified if you are working from home. Obviously. You don’t even have the barrier of commuting, that magical moment between home and work and between work and home. Be it 5 minutes (for a few lucky ones) or an hour, it helps you separate those two parts of your life.
No, when you are working at home you can go from being in a pijama to an important business call in a matter of seconds and meters.
So it is important that you find every possible way to separate work and private life: timewise, spacewise, techwise.
As – distant – as – possible.
Keep your energy high
Your energy is maybe your most valuable asset. It’s what moves you. With the right energy and motivation you can set yourself goals that many don’t even believe achievable.
It is even more essential and important if you are alone. At home. Where nobody can see you, check on you, evaluate you, motivate you, help you focus.
Think about it. How easy is it to just let go, if nobody is watching? Just a little delay here, a little procrastination there. ‘Today I don’t have any video conference, maybe I’ll stay in training clothes, they are more comfy. Work from the sofa (do you ever do that at the office?). Tonight I couldn’t stop binging the last Netflix series, maybe tomorrow I can sleep an hour longer, who’s to know?’
These little concessions stem from the fact that your energy levels are low. You might think of them as exceptions, but the problem is that they are destined to turn into downward spirals.
Find ways to keep your energy and your motivation high.
Be social in any possible way
Loneliness can be hard, I know. So find ways not to be alone. Meet people for both professional and personal reasons. If you are in a situation where you cannot meet people in person, there are tons of online tools at your disposal to help you keep in touch: social media, chats, collaborative tools, conf calls, project management tools, etc.
Of course, we have to learn how to use the right ones with different people, for different goals, in different contexts, in different moments. Some tools are mixed, like Slack, where you have a room for communication not inherent to the project, but others are – or should be – clearly either for work or for personal communication.
As you know, if handled unwisely these tools can become double-edged swords, distracting us and sinking our productivity, so take care.
There’s one more thing about relationships at the time of digital communication. Be intense. What I mean is that often (always) intensity and quality are more important than quantity.
Do you know those phone calls where you don’t really know what to say but you feel compelled to stay on the line? Or those moments when you don’t know what to tell your partner at the end of the day because you have already written everything to them on Whatsapp?
Avoid that! Keep your relationships intense, don’t be always connected. It will help you waste less time and enjoy more the moments you spend together.
And yes, that works also for business relationships.
Keep up the good habits
Unless you have flexible working times, when you go to the office you probably wake up relatively early, maybe have a morning routine to help you be active and productive, possibly check your personal emails and social media accounts before getting out of your home.
When you are at the office you probably put your personal phone on silent mode, have a break mid morning, ban any kind of social media and so on.
These are great habits that you should keep up even if you are working from home. It might not be easy to resist the temptation of sleeping longer or avoiding the morning sports, pushing it to the afternoon or yet checking your Facebook account just quickly.
But if you can do it when going to the office, you can also do it at home. There’s no excuse.
This consistency will help you with the level of energy you can count on and it will make the transition to the home office smoother.
Additionally, should you go back to the office, thanks to this choice it will be much easier.
If you follow these principles when having to make a decision during home office hours, you will find that they help you with the typical issues of working remotely.
For example keeping your energy high and separating in an almost dictatorial way your work and private life will definitely give a boost to your productivity.
Keeping up your routines with a good energy and motivation will surely help you maintaining your discipline.
Being focused, intense and energetic will lead you to create great new relationships and to keep and improve existing ones.