Get a cue. In Charles Duigg’s landmark book, “The Power of Habit”, he writes about an aspect of creating new habits that often gets overlooked – the cue. No, not the pool cue, the actor’s cue. Meaning, when do you step on stage to deliver your lines? It turns out if you take a physical act the night before (or really any time before) your intended start time of the new habit, you’re significantly more likely to take action on the desired act. For example, if you plug your phone in at your desk instead of at your nightstand the act of going to plug it in somewhere else tells your brain “we mean it this time buddy” and you’re a lot more likely to start work on time.
While you’re at it, set an alarm. I know I just told you to plug your phone in at your desk, so you might have to get one of those old school alarm clocks – but set an alarm. If you live in a house with other humans, that’s a good thing (see below), but get rolling before they do. I usually get up by six and can chew through a lot of emails, follow-up, and other items before it’s cheesy eggs and bacon time for my eight-year-old.
What time is it? Game time. You need a schedule. You need to know what you are doing when, even more so than when you were at the office. I time block EVERYTHING. If it’s not in the calendar, it won’t happen. I schedule follow-up time, writing time, reading time (news and otherwise), lunch, and some breaks. Sure, if I have a gap I run around the house giving kisses to anyone who will let me (don’t schedule that… that’s super weird), but pretty much schedule everything else.
Call your shot, pick your spot. Have a dedicated work location in your home, and if at all possible, don’t make it your dining room table. Even if you have to order a really small desk, with the ridiculous directions that drive you to want to smash the whole thing, and put it in a hallway if you have to. It’s crucial to have a specialized place for “work” and also, just as importantly, a place for “home.”
Anti-social (media). There’s a good chance you found out about this piece on social media, so I am for sure biting the hand that feeds me, but here is the deal: social media is a time suck. Like big time, so turn it off. Delete the app from your phone for the day if you need to (you can always download it again later). If you have a lot of work to get done, definitely don’t open it up on your computer at your desk. Log in if you need to check-in, promote something, find that awesome meme, but then shut it back down.
Telephone… tell-a-friend. Get an accountability buddy. Someone you can call first thing in the morning and share your goals and accomplishments for the day. Have that person keep you accountable for what you said you wanted to do that day. It’s better if you pick someone with an MMA background that induces some level of fear. Okay, that’s just what I did, doesn’t mean you have to. You get the point!
Video killed the radio star… but saves conference calls. Zoom. Google Hangouts. GoToMeeting. Whatever you pick, pick one. Personally, I like Zoom for small groups or things I want to share on Facebook Live (amazing feature). For more dense material, I like GoToMeeting. We use both depending on the topic, need, and audience. Two people having a face-to-face conversation for two minutes or longer is 13 times more powerful than a mass email. Ninety-three percent of communication is nonverbal, you need to take advantage of face-to-face platforms to truly communicate.
Schedule “you” time. That sounds so spa day and avocado toast to me, I know. However, it’s ok to say to yourself, “today I am taking a long walk” or “I’m going to watch Frozen 2 (aaaaagain) this afternoon with my eight-year-old and crush the sing-along of ‘into the unknown’.” The beauty of working from home is you can do those things. Don’t abuse them or you will fail, but don’t do them out of guilt either. You deserve a break in your day. Don’t feel bad about it.
Go find a human. We’re pack animals, tribal creatures, having spent more of our evolutionary life around a campfire than we have in front of a computer screen. Go interact with the people in your home (schedule it if you have to). Even if it’s just a quick hug, a coffee refill or a “whatcha doin’” chat while getting water, you need those interactions to keep you going.
White noise, but the right noise. Personally, I need something playing in the background for some “noise.” Usually, it’s Bloomberg financial (super nerdy I know). Sometimes though, it’s music, and I want my music to match my mood. If it’s 6:00 a.m and I am just settling into the seat, to start it’s some kind of country playlist. As the day progresses, so does my aggression, as I move towards some good ol’ hip hop and R&B.
Bonus Tip: 10,000 hours. Malcolm Gladwell seems pretty smart, and he says it takes 10,000 hours to master something. I don’t know about that, but I know you have to do something a lot to get good at it and it takes time. There are no shortcuts to getting good. It takes time, effort, and work. Accept the reality that if you just started working from home, you’re not going to be as good at it as you will be in a week, compared to a month, compared to a year. No shortcuts, just progress. Give yourself some grace. Start it now and get better today and into the future.