Put Down the Remote: Being Productive While Quarantined

We are in a unique time and life today seems a lot different than it did just a few short weeks or months ago. One of those changes is that the entire country – almost overnight – made a push for folks to work from home.

While I normally work from home throughout the week, also having my wife at home was a glimpse into what many are going through right now – trying to work from home for the first time. This can be a difficult transition and it is not made easier when people may also have to take care of kids or other factors that take up their time.

However, this ‘new normal’ will likely be here to stay throughout the rest of March, April, and likely May – at least. Since we all have to figure out how to make it work, I thought about what we can do to make the most of our time. There are alternatives to solely focusing on watching every video on the internet…

  • Education: There are a number of free resources for taking classes online – even more within the last week. This is a great opportunity to learn something new. Anyone want to go to Harvard?
  • Certifications: This could also be a way to look into something that will give you the edge. It could be a great opportunity to find the right certification for you.
  • Resume: Even if you are not currently looking for a job or think you will be in the near future, there is no downside to having an up-to-date resume. The same goes for making sure your LinkedIn profile is in top-notch shape.
  • Fitness: Take care of yourself! I will try not to get on a soapbox here, but nothing is stopping (most) anyone from taking a walk or run outside. Can’t get to the gym? You Are Your Own Gym is the way to go.
  • Spirituality: This will mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. However you view spirituality, take a moment to get centered, be thankful for what you have, and focus on what is most important.
  • Friends: We can all take the time to email, text, call, video call, FaceTime, group chat, online hangout, or whatever your flavor may be. This will be just as fulfilling to you as the person or people you connect with.

It is time to put down the remote and get some work done…

What are some ways you have tried to be productive during the quarantine?

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blue-1845901_1920Motivation is a topic that is constantly on my mind. For the past few weeks, my motivation has not been at its normally high level.  It could be from getting over not feeling well, returning from a long trip, the holidays, a few work items not coming together or some combination of multiple factors. Either way, I must find a way to get back into my normal grove of high productivity though consistent motivation.

I know I am not the only one who struggles with motivation, so I compiled the top three actions that work for me to help get and stay motivated. Hopefully these can help others do the same.

  • Start with a routine: For me, part of motivation is about staying on track and reducing the amount of mental energy needed to get “in the zone.” This means creating a routine that allows me to auto-pilot certain activities. The easiest one is right when I get up; get dressed, eat breakfast, read the news and check for any important personal emails. This takes about thirty minutes, but allows me to feel ready to go and helps to knock out the small items that can usually distract me. After that, I can usually get several hours of work done without missing a beat. The fact that I work remotely presents additional distractions, but that is a different topic.
  • Finding a reset: After those few focused hours, my mental cup begins to overflow a little and I need to find a way to reset to get back on track. Working from home, I will often do something small around the house; dishes, laundry, a snack, work on a personal project, etc. Once I accomplish that small item, I am ready to return my focus back on work with a fresh set of eyes. There are also times that I need a larger reset, such as after a big call or meeting and writing the follow-up notes. For this, I often go to the gym, have lunch, call a friend or family member, etc. Then I get the drive back to finish off the day. The important aspect of this is doing a singular task that makes it easy to immediately go back to work.
  • Accomplishing a goal: One of my greatest keys to staying motivated is setting goals and achieving them. These will range from small to large. The small ones can simply be getting through all of my emails in the first hour of work or checking off my scheduled activities throughout the day. The large ones could be completing a project by the end of the week. Once I accomplish a goal, I feel better about what I am doing and am able to keep my focus until the next accomplishment.

Finally, as an additional element, I believe that time management and heavy involvement help keep me on track. Besides what I wrote above, keeping myself busy with different endeavors (work, volunteering, hobbies, exercise, community involvement, etc.) keeps my mind focused. By having multiple types of responsibilities, I am able to stay motivated and manage my time well because I am not having to focus my motivation in the same direction all the time. I regularly have fresh items that need my attention. I have to make sure I don’t over extend myself, but that is just a matter of finding the right balance.

Please share what helps you stay motivated in a comment below.

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Work/Life/School Balance

Blue-Sky-CloudsAs I sit here writing this blog post, I look outside to see a beautiful Sunday afternoon, with a few perfectly formed white clouds in the sky and a temperature of 86 degrees. Why am I inside? Because I am attempting to balance a job, school, and life. Now, I will first say that I am not slaving away without a moment for myself. Not too long ago, I stopped to watch John Oliver discuss sports stadiums in the United States. However, working on these three items, simultaneously, comes with its own set of unique challenges.

On the work side, I am very fortunate to have a tremendous amount of autonomy that allows me to mostly work when I want and where I want. Just this morning I revised a future newspaper article and sent it off for approval; all from the comfort of my desk at home. Starting tomorrow, and going through Thursday, I will get to the office a little early in order to take Friday off. As I mentioned in a previous post about working remotely, this puts me in a position to be successful because I am not boxed into parameters that limit my productivity.

For school, the setup is also quite nice. All of my classes are in the evening, so there are generally no conflicts with work commitments. While there are social events I occasionally miss, I make the time to spend with family and friends. However, going to class isn’t as much of the difficulty as the work required once off-campus. While I absolutely love my program, there seems to be an endless amount of knowledge to absorb that can take up all of my time – if I allow it to.

Now, the issue arises with balance between the three because of the very things that make work and school great; autonomy and loving my program. For work, I am constantly thinking about what else I can do to help a client, coworker or my office; there is always more work that can be done. That also comes into play with school. Because I like what I am doing so much, I find there is always more information to look at, read about and analyze. That has put a damper on my ability to truly relax. It has come to the point where I often feel bad for taking a few moments to myself; feeling like it is wasted time. And, I have found this only to be an issue when school is in session. None of this is overwhelming, but definitely creates an imbalance in the system.

Traditionally, going to the movies has been my escape. Off-hand, I would say that I have seen fewer movies in the last year than I have since I was not able to drive on my own. The reason for not going to the movies is not necessarily that I can’t make the time, but because I feel bad for going when I know there is work waiting to be finished. To rebalance my mental system, I have to find a way to allow myself to understand that by taking the few hours to go see a movie, I am putting myself in a better position to be efficient for the time I have my eyes on the computer screen looking at business plans or in a book reading about leadership.

Movies are my mental escape to refresh the batteries, but what are yours? Please post in a comment below.

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BYOD: Bring Your Own Device

laptop-phone-BYODFor a class project in the spring, I was part of a team that looked at bringing your own devices to work, instead of a company providing them. We reviewed the pros and cons of both phones and laptops. I use my personal laptop in the office and have remote access to our network, which means I can work from anywhere. The only time I am on my work desktop is when I need to print. I am also using my own phone. By doing this, I am able to be more productive through increased flexibility. Our findings were interesting and provided me new insights.

Cell phones were the first item we reviewed. The benefit of having a work phone with you at all times is that customers and coworkers can contact you, via phone, email and/or text, at all times. This can greatly increase efficiency, as well as customer service. When a company provides a separate work phone, we found that this requires many individuals to have two phones with them at any given time. That often leads to work phones not being taken from work or left at home when it is not during regular business hours, which defeats the purpose.

By allowing individuals to use their personal phone, the benefits can be seen through only needing to have a single phone. Call forwarding can be used so the employee’s phone number is not being given out or used by mistake if he or she leaves the company. There are also services that pay a stipend directly to the cell phone provider to ensure employees are not taxed on the money through a regular paycheck. Specific security measures are also available, at low-cost, which protects company information. Overall, we found the greatly reduced costs through allowing employees to use their own cell phone for work outweighed any risks.

Laptops were also reviewed as part of the project, but the outcome was quite different. In first looking at potential cost savings, there was certainly money to be saved. However, we found the savings, in this case, did not outweigh the potential risks. The security issues, theft/loss, viruses, repair, intellectual property, and commingling of data were too substantial to overlook. The main concern for any firm would be the potential loss of sensitive company data. The small percentage of dollars saved could not overcome the clear issues that were presented.

By undertaking this project, I certainly learned a lot about these different ideas and what benefits and risks arise with each. I certainly enjoy using my personal cellphone and laptop for work, but as a graduate assistant, both were my own choice. When outside of the university setting, I will certainly use this information when presented with the question of bringing your own device to work.

If you have seen specific risks or benefits that weren’t mentioned here, please let me know through a comment below.

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Working Remotely: Creating Your Own Office

computer-desk-homeofficeFor my third post on the topic of working remotely, I am going to discuss the most important aspect – actually getting work done. Getting out of the office is a unique feeling with endless opportunities. For me, the ideal was taking my laptop down to the beach and being able to watch the waves crash whenever I look up from the screen. After reality hit, I had to think about what was going to be most effective for day-to-day work. My process came together over years of trial and error. It still isn’t perfect, but neither is being in the office. Start with a plan: For some, it can be tough to get into the workday and just start going at it. It is important to remember that you must create your own ritual to follow. I like to get up, check the news, have breakfast, take a short walk (usually to the beach) and then take a look at my to-do list; all happening before 8am. Not being a coffee drinker, that is one step I never added that many others do. Scheduling time for specific items: Something I do, and even did today, is put together a full schedule of how I would spend my time; 8am – 9am emails, 9am – 10am blog, 10am – 2pm grant writing, etc. By doing this, I give myself small goals and little wins to knock off my checklist. This also helps to keep me focused on what is most important for that day through reviewing my entire to-do list. Work when you are most efficient: If you are an early riser and can knock out four hours’ worth of work between 6:30am and 8:30am, then use that time for the most difficult tasks for the day. The time I would otherwise spend on a commute is when I am able to be the most productive. If afternoons are when you start to slow down, then schedule meetings or do research; whatever requires less creativity. Working remotely isn’t always for home: There is a wide spectrum where I do my work. From the beach to my kitchen table, airports, coffee shops, bars and libraries in between, sometimes we don’t get to choose where we work. On any given day, I enjoy getting work down at a high level in the morning, and then going for a walk to a coffee shop or library to get out of the house. Some fresh air and new scenery helps me get a different perspective on whatever I am working on. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where it is, only that it works for you. These ideas really are for any work environment, but especially when working remotely. Sometimes moving your laptop to the conference room of the office can be just the change you need. Working remotely is all about finding your own rhythm. I am constantly working to perfect mine. Please let me know your favorite place to work, either in the office or anywhere else, in a comment below. Related posts: Working Remotely: Friend or Foe? Working Remotely: Maximize the Benefits Image Credit

Working Remotely: Maximizing the Benefits

home-office-laptopI am a big fan of working remotely, and there are many pros and cons. My previous post focused on those. Here I will discuss what I feel allows me to be successful and productive when working outside of the normal office environment.

  1. Set alarms: They are not just for waking up, but for when to start and stop projects, break for lunch and end for the day. Over time, they may no longer be needed, but they can help keep you on track as you get started – especially not over working.
  2. Use Your Commute Time: By not having to drive, that can add anywhere between ten minutes and three hours to your available productive time each day. The average American spends 6 hours and 18 minutes commuting per week. That is almost an entire extra day of work. This means you can work almost one full day less per week, or you can look at it as time to be more productive. If you are a salaried employee, think about the massive amount of extra work you could get done and stand out among your peers. At 50 weeks a year, an extra 6 hours per week is 300 hours that could be used for being an all-star; at home and for work.
  3. Run Errands More Efficiently: My goal with working remotely is to minimize wasted time. Run errands during the middle of the day when traffic and lines will be shorter, if there at all, is another way to do this. I am a big proponent of waking up early and taking breaks as needed. By running personal and business errands in the middle of the day, you are saving time that can be better spent with family or accomplishing more objectives. A work/life balance is extremely important. Even if this only saves you an hour a week, that is an extra hour that you wouldn’t have otherwise had.
  4. Distractions: This is one of the toughest parts of working remotely. They come in all shapes, colors, sizes and ages. Everyone has their own items that will pull them away from work, so there is no point in trying to list them out. However, they fall into a few categories that I will discuss. If it is a spouse or roommate, then let them know what you need to get done and when; keep them in the loop and set boundaries. Sometimes that is easier said than done, but it is a great test on relationships. If it is little people – children – then I am truly unqualified to make any recommendations. If this issue is TV, food, or nice weather, then find ways to focus on work. Perhaps spending the few minutes to put on business attire will get you in the mindset of work; this can certainly be a helpful tool when you first start working remotely. Tracking exactly how many hours you worked in a day by writing it down will let you know if there is a distraction or focus problem.
  5. Work Station: It is easy to sit on the couch, or in bed, when working remotely, but that may not be your most productive location. Find a place where you can focus – the kitchen table, an actual desk, etc. Like distractions, when you first get started, it is easier to transition from a work desk to a desk at home.

Working remotely is an opportunity to work on your own terms. I have found it is the chance to maximize the amount of work that can be accomplished, as well as the amount of extra time dedicated to your personal life. For some, it needs to be eased into because it is a big step and there are many potential distractions. However, I have always looked at working remotely as the opportunity to get ahead while having more personal time to keep the batteries charged.

Please share your own helpful hints for staying focused or maximizing your time while working remotely in a comment below.

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