When I first learned that I was moving to Philly and that I would be working from home, I’m not going to lie, I thought a little bit of me was going to die.
It’s not as though I hadn’t “worked from home” before. I was homeschooled from seventh grade through high school, and like most people, relished the occasional opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of the office to work from home.
But I never imagined myself as a full-time, work-from-home professional.
Especially not as an extrovert.
Given that I’ve been working remotely for the better part of five months, I thought I would share some takeaways and tips from my time doing remote work—especially since so many people are having to work from home now due to coronavirus.
1. Segment Your Day.
One was not meant to do a single thing all day long. And, more importantly, one cannot be good at doing a single task all day long.
I read Cal Newport’s phenomenal book “Deep Work” last year. His observation that people can engage in so-called deep work for a maximum of four hours each day informs how I prioritize work tasks and when I undertake each task.
To be clear, Newport is not saying that you only work for four hours, but that you safeguard vigilantly a four-hour chunk in your workday to do deep work as opposed to the other work required by your job.
This concept forces you to identify your greatest value-adds to your job, in my case, knowledge acquisition and distilling that knowledge into digestible formats (usually written, but sometimes oral). Then, it requires you to decide when you work best (i.e. morning vs. afternoon).
Once you answer these questions, you can fit the rest of your tasks around these priorities.
How does this work in practice for me?
Typically, I prioritize my writing and research for the morning. That means, I try not to schedule phone calls or meetings from the hours of 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. or 1 p.m. I also respond to any emails that are urgent and may have come in the night before, but I do not respond to all of them unless I have decided that clearing my inbox is a priority for the day.
As an extrovert, I gain energy from being around people, so working remotely and in a city where I have fewer friends, I workout over the lunch break. Pure Barre for life! (Given coronavirus, where I workout may change, but when I workout probably will not. I may do a separate post on recommendations for good workouts at home.)
After my workout, I grab a quick bite to eat, answer pertinent emails from the morning, and then transition to phone meetings (advising prospective job-seekers, coordinating for future speaking engagements/events, etc.), and then I set aside time to read.
Which leads me to my next point.
2. You Have Extra Time When You Work From Home So You Can Use It Differently.
Because my greatest value-add to my field is knowledge acquisition and my ability to communicate that knowledge to others, I have added reading books into my daily routine. I have already opined (often) on the benefits of reading and on my reading renaissance of sorts that has taken place over the last year.
It is no different in my work.
There have been so many books that I’ve wanted to read in my field that I am now able to read because I am working from home. I’ve read books on foreign policy, conservatism, several on North Korea (of course), and just finished reading Nikki Haley’s autobiography.
This has really enriched my work and thought life professionally and I’m hoping to carry this habit forward when I return to the office context. Fingers crossed.
For you, it may not be reading. It may be networking (if you’re in an area where the network for your work is great), it may be freeing yourself from the bondage of constant email response, it may be writing more because you have the time to—whatever it is, make sure that it is enhancing the thing you’ve identified as your greatest value add.
Also, a friendly reminder, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice on social distancing does not mean social isolation (unless, of course, you’re in an at-risk group). This means that grabbing coffee with a professional contact or dropping by the library to pick up a book is fully within the allowable activities even during this unique time period.
3. Find ‘Your Place’ to Work.
As an extrovert, working exclusively from home without anyone else around is the literal worst. So, pre-coronavirus, I identified a few coffee shops that are usually full of people but are also conducive to being productive.
My personal favorites in Philly are Square One Coffee and Social House. In D.C., everyone knows that my most cherished coffee shop is Ebenezers Coffeehouse.
For me, going to a place other than home to work helps me to separate my place of work from my personal life. But that may not be possible for you, especially during COVID-19 social distancing. Even so, the notion behind this concept remains the same.
Select a place in your house where when you sit down to work, you know it means business. Preferably, this would be apart from your living room or places where you engage in relaxation.
Having a place to call yours where you can leave your books, research, computer, or other essential items for work will help you to create a clear separation between work time and personal time.
The temptation to never put a stop to your work when you are at home is very strong, and it is crucial to put in place habits that place clear boundaries on when you work and when you do not.
(This latter point is one expounded on by Newport. He strongly emphasizes that there should be a clear separation between work time and time off. You are actually more productive when you place limits on the amount of time you spend working because you come back the next day refreshed and with a much-needed perspective on your tasks.)
I hope that these tips are helpful whether you are just starting to work from home due to coronavirus or whether you are a full-time, work-from-home professional.
It can be hard to know how to be a helpful and loving neighbor at a time when we are being urged to separate ourselves from others, but hopefully, this piece gives some good recommendations that will help you as you work from a place other than the office.