Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tips for Working Remotely: Reflections from the Past Year

I've just finished up the first academic year of working remotely. It was quite the experience. I thought if I made a plan with a set schedule I'd be good to go, it would be just like working in the office - right?! Wrong, in general it's not an easy thing to do. Don't get me wrong, I am so beyond blessed that I was allowed to keep my job when we moved for law school, but I've definitely learned a few things this year about how to do this semi-successfully I wish I knew ahead of time.

I think it's really important you feel like your home is a safe and relaxing place to be, and when you work in your home it can easily turn into a reminder of your never-ending to-do list or your work deadlines. I've put together a few tips to remind myself for next year and to potentially help anyone else out there who may be transitioning to work remotely. Everyone works differently, so these might be very specific to my work-habits. I still wanted to share.

1. Seasonal Schedule
First tip: don't create a year-round schedule, try to change it with the season (if you're allowed to do this). After this year, I have now reflectively found that a seasonal schedule makes much more sense. When I say seasonal schedule, I mean maybe just an hour or two adjustment throughout the week.  Looking back I would have adjusted my schedule during the winter so that I would have been able to go outside or enjoy a bit of sunlight. Maybe worked from 11-7 three days a week and had a few mornings to get out and run errands. Working during the sunlight hours and then concluding when it's dark is one thing if you're in an office, but if you attempt to do this in your home it can be a bit depressing if you're like me and don't really like to go out or run errands when it's dark out.

2. Field Trips
Find somewhere outside of your home at least once a week, if not more. This isn't possible for everyone, but I work out of the law school library 1-2 times a week. This has done wonders! I'm relieved when I walk in the door in the evening to be home - that's not something you feel often when you work from home. It can be a bit sad that after all of the energy you put into building a home, you just can't wait to escape it because you've been working in it all day. So, find a chance to get out and allow yourself to be relieved to come home at least once a week!

3. Schedule Chores
Working from home can be distracting, I think people mostly have one of two situations - they are either completely distracted by things going on in the home and end up not working as much as they should, or they are too busy during their work hours to tend to anything around the house but it stresses them out to look around at the household chores that need to get done. I'm the latter. When you normally leave to go to an office in the morning you can leave the dishes in the sink and not think about them until you come home. If you work from your home, you are reminded that things are left un-done. I created a very detailed google calendar, one has the hours that I am online working and another with my personal life. I sometimes will schedule these down to the 15 minutes (I'm not crazy, my entire calendar is not in 15 minutes, I'm just saying that if something only takes 15 minutes I schedule it for 15 minutes, I don't milk it out and put an hour that only makes the problem worse!). I put in a 15 minute break 2-3 times a day with a specific task like laundry, dishes or whatever else is relevant at the time. This is great for two reasons: first, if your work is challenging that day and things just aren't coming off of the to-do list, this is a great way to feel like you accomplished something and to re-energize you; second, you can do both things at once while being very mindful of your work schedule. The key here is to force yourself to be ok to do one chore at a time. I used to want a two hour block to clean, do laundry, run errands, all at once, but that just wasn't compatible with when I needed to be online for work. Breaking these down into smaller tasks throughout my day makes me more efficient in all areas.

4. Look Good
Even if you know you are staying home for the day and you'll be in front of your computer all of the time, more often than not, try to put on an outfit you'd be ok with in public - and if you can, something nice! Now, when I first moved out here I was beyond thrilled to wear yoga pants every day with my new handmade tank tops from old-tshirts. However, after awhile this can wear you down! I'm not sure what it is that makes me feel better and work better when I am dressed up - but it works. No way do I do this every day, but I try to at least 3 of the 5 work days. I also realized that my husband would come home from school lookin' fly, open the door with a look of excitement to see me, and surprise! Here I would come looking like a swamp creature. So I figured we all benefit if I take a few extra minutes to brush my hair and put on matching socks. (HA, who has matching socks?!)

5. Take Charge of Your Health
Working from home provides an amazing advantage to increase your health. You are not constrained to an office chair 8 hours a day and instead you can be very purposeful about where and how you are sitting. I break my day into three time chunks. I spend the first chunk in one particular chair, the next chunk at the office table and the third chunk on the floor. Think about what is good for your circulation and health and take advantage of the fact that you can do this. I'm sure individuals who work 9-5 in an office chair would earnestly encourage you to do this, as they can't! Figure out what works for your posture, your circulation, your energy and change it up. I've seen a lot of articles about making a designated office so you aren't distracted and I certainly see the merits of that. However moving around throughout the day (with a purpose and schedule) can really help.

So what do you think? Have any tips? These tips might make it seem like I've got it all figured out, but this is still a constant struggle for me. I find I over-work, my house isn't always relaxing, and household chores stress me out much more as in my mind I clump them together with work tasks. However, it's getting better day by day. Please do comment if you have other suggestions or modifications to the above, I'm interested!

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