When I first started my home-based stress management business, the only way my wife and I could make ends meet, was if she continued working outside the home. So that meant I had to look after our young son and try to start a business, too. For the first couple of years, I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. (I was stressed out!) I tried to churn out a lot of work during his nap time and then felt guilty afterwards, when I plugged him into the television or a DVD.
Back then, nobody worked from home. When clients I’d be talking to over the phone would hear my son in the background they’d often say in a sort of condescending tone: “Oh, you must be working from home.” I’d get frustrated by this lack of empathy and sometimes would get annoyed with my son when he desperately NEEDED something while I was on the phone. It was embarrassing for me because there was no tolerance for it at the other end. It felt like a no-win situation.
Even though this was enormously challenging at first, over the years I learned a lot about how to make the best out of working from home. With the pandemic now causing a lot more people to work from home and take care of kids, I thought I’d share some of what I learned in this two-part blog for parents AND non-parents. Part 1 will focus on five things I learned about working from home (for both parents and non-parents). Part 2 will focus on five more tips for dealing with the stress of working from home and taking care of kids at the same time (specifically for parents).
Here are the five tips for working from home more effectively for everyone:
Time shifting. When I first started my home business, I figured I better work after dinner since my wife could look after the kids during that time. But I was always tired after dinner and it was hard to focus and get anything done. Many times, I’d just give up and either waste that time playing solitaire or spend it watching TV until eleven or even twelve. Then one day it dawned on me: Why don’t I go to bed at 9PM and get up a lot earlier? That gave me a full 7- 8 hours of sleep and more importantly, 2-3 hours of productive time when there were NO interruptions in the early morning. Over the years, I’ve continued doing this and I’ve been able to use this highly focused time to educate myself for work, to write a book, to get exercise, and do yoga. It’s 630 AM right now and I’ve been working on this blog since 5 AM (What do you think of it so far?)
Make lists. There are so many distractions while working from home you absolutely MUST work from a list. I have lists for everything. I have a list for what I want to do this week, this month and this year. I have separate lists for what I want from the supermarket, Staples and Home Depot. When I suddenly realize that I need a tool from Home Depot, I don’t want to make that trip without getting the picture hooks my wife has asking me to get for weeks. I even make a list of what I want to cover, before placing an important phone call. Every Sunday, I throw out old lists and consolidate (or eliminate) what I haven’t done onto new lists.
Checking things off the list. Whenever you get interrupted or distracted, which happens frequently when working from home, go right back to your list. Look to see what still needs to be done and – no matter how much time has elapsed - you are right back to where you left off before you got interrupted. I used to prioritize the list and insist on doing things in the order of importance. Now I find that sometimes I want to knock off an easy task first, just to give myself a sense of accomplishment. So that flexibility keeps me more productive. Whether the task is easy or hard, there’s still nothing more satisfying than crossing things off your to-do list! Don’t forget to create a little celebration each time you complete a task. (Even a simple “YES!” combined with a double fist pump will do.)
Wasting time has its purpose. Facebook, Instagram, junk emails, gaming, not to mention the pile of laundry on the floor next to you; It’s so easy to get distracted by other things, when you are working from home. We all KNOW when we are wasting time, and yet we get hooked into some online or mobile phone distraction, and before you know it 10, 15, 20, 30, even 60 minutes have gone by before you fully realize exactly how much time you’ve wasted. But these distractions actually can act as an outlet for stress if you use them wisely when you need a short break from an overly hectic day. So I suggest participating in your distractions consciously. Give yourself a time limit (5-10 minutes) and thoroughly enjoy your pleasant but planned diversion while it lasts.
Watch how your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day. I learned about the following three energy states studying yoga and this understanding has changed my life! In yoga, the words describing these three energy states are: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Sattva is a focused, balanced and calm energy state. Rajas is a slightly agitated and anxious state where it’s hard to focus but you still have plenty of energy. Tamas is when you’re feeling tired and lethargic and it’s hard to get anything done. Once you become aware of how your body naturally moves in and out of these three states throughout your day, I guarantee that you will be amazed to see how you can use this knowledge to become WAY more productive.
This morning (and most mornings) shortly after I’ve been awake for a short while, I’m in Sattva. So I do my writing first thing in the morning. Today I worked productively for three hours straight. When I noticed I was yawning, and my eyelids were starting to close involuntarily, I took a short nap. (So easy to do when working from home.) I woke up after 10 minutes and I was right back in Sattva (and am writing these words now, feeling calm and focused.) Usually by the afternoon, I’m a bit wired and sometimes feeling distracted or even frazzled. I have energy but no ability to focus, so that’s the perfect time to do some physical work like vacuuming, mowing the lawn or running errands. It’s also a good time to exercise or do some Yoga.
Most people don’t know how to work with these energy states and try to self-medicate them away with caffeinated beverages (to move out of Tamas) or by eating carbs and high fat foods (to move out of Rajas). I can’t tell you how many yoga classes I’ve been to, where I arrive in Rajas, (restless, and anxious to get moving) but by the end of class, I’ve burned off that excess energy and I occasionally fall asleep during the final resting pose. (Tamas). When I wake up (just a few minutes later) I’m now in Sattva, ready to jump back into my day with renewed focus and energy.
Next week I will write about five more tips for working from home for parents.