Work from home or "wfh' [ duhb-uhl-yoo ef eych ]

What does it really mean?

  • Abbreviation for 'working from home', as an alternative to working in the usual location, typically an office.
  • Commonly expressed with quotation marks to denote the idea that a person will not actually do any work; if any, only to give an appearance of working.
  • Multitasking and juggling housework and your real job
  • Staying away from interruptions at work so you can focus 150% on a job.

Every day at 2:45pm, 2 parakeets visit my balcony in the hope of some strawberry jam...which they only receive arbitrarily. It turns out, from talking to my neighbours, that the same birds have a strict balcony visiting schedule. At 09:15 they sojourn at Emma’s apartment a few blocks away. Then they see my next door neighbour at 11:00; and back to me after lunch. I like to imagine that if they had a Google calendar, it would look the same every day - disciplined 15 minute blocks of ‘productivity’ with regular breaks in between. The perfect day. Why can’t mine look like that?

Having recently started a business, I never imagined every day to be the same, but I naively thought that being my own boss would mean I would only focus on the stuff that really matters and consequently every day would be productive and enjoyable! I was wrong.

I have a theory, which is neither academically proven nor particularly well thought through, but here goes. A ‘good day’ at work doesn't necessarily mean it was ‘productive’ and a ‘productive’ day at work is not always a ‘good day’. Maybe that’s obvious, but it matters to me because most research, books, blogs and tips I read about work practices focus on productivity without recognising all the other factors that make a day ‘good’. For example, learning something new, talking to someone really interesting, getting some personal tasks done, feeling energetic, not comfort eating, laughing etc.

So, under the current circumstances where most of us are working from home and doing all our meetings digitally, I’m trying to figure out what makes a ‘good day’ and plan my days accordingly. Recognising that not every day can be perfect, I’d say i’m still a long way off getting this right, but I thought i’d share what is working well, and what’s not.

First, it’s important to acknowledge that everyone is different - larks vs. night owls, introverts vs. extroverts, thinkers vs. doers, not to mention the different jobs and roles we play - so what works for me might be hopeless for someone else  For context, I am

  • A cofounder of a startup (i.e. I don’t have a boss)
  • Motivated by deadlines
  • More productive in the evenings (thank you management consulting)
  • Easily distracted / not naturally focused - I tend to flip between multiple tasks at once 
  • Selectively creative - usually in groups or away from work (e.g. when running / cooking)
  • Trained to associate a physical deliverable with progress (again, thanks consulting), so often undervalue ‘thinking time’
  • An extrovert and an integrator, which means I like to keep everyone happy

Some ideas based on what works for me

  • Work out what energises you and try and do those at times when you know you’re usually feeling tired or demotivated
  • GET OUT OF THE HOUSE - essential to avoid going crazy! I’m yet to work out if a morning , lunchtime or early evening run is more effective. I tried lunchtime today and managed to avoid the 2pm ‘slump’ so that’s promising
  • Get at least one ‘hard task’ done first thing in the morning. Before breakfast, before talking to anyone, before checking emails. Just do it. This is the task you’ve been putting off or dreading and you’ll feel great if you start the day getting it done
  • Create an action list every morning called ‘TODAY’ - I use Trello which makes it really easy to move stuff around throughout the day or week. Even better, do this with your team / manager / cofounder as part of your morning routine to create accountability
  • Make sure standups are DISCIPLINED - 15 min max. Set a timer and don’t go over, even if you have more to talk about (afterall, you are allowed to speak to your team outside of standups!)
  • Rotate between sitting and standing; I have recently switched to sitting in the morning and standing after lunch. I’m wild like that.
  • Celebrate the small accomplishments. If you have one of those days where you had to respond to loads of emails and calls but not finished half the tasks on your to do list, pat yourself on the bak. Unless they were all useless emails (that’s another issue!) then that’s a good day’s work. Just make sure you do some of your tasks from today first thing tomorrow
  • Catch up with people outside your immediate team every day. They might be peers in your company, friends with similar roles, your mentor or coach, or a more junior member of staff. Share what you’re working on, what you’re struggling with and ask for help. Most of the time, when I think I'm being super unproductive others feel the same, which is comforting! Plus, a friendly chat gives me the ‘energy boost’ I would normally get from adhoc chats in the office
  • If you have a bad day, don’t beat yourself up, give yourself the evening off to relax and get up early tomorrow!

Other tips

  • Daily journaling: I’m obsessed with the 5 Minute Journal by Intelligent Change - it really helps me be grateful and focus on what matters in my life
  • Upbeat music: This afternoon I am listening to Katy Perry and feeling FABULOUS!
  • Task management: I recently had a call with someone who uses Sunsama - ‘The daily task manager for elite professionals’. Two minutes after our call I received an automated email sharing the notes and actions agreed. Nice! Ty it out using this referral code:
  • The new playbook: For more awesome remote working productivity ideas, check out the new remote working playbook by Mentally Friendly - There’s no playbook for what we are experiencing. It’s time to design the new playbook, together.
  • Trello add-in: I just discovered the Trello add-in for Gmail which turns emails into tasks on your board. Wish i’d known about that earlier

If you’ve got this far, thank you for reading! And now GO BACK TO WORK ;) And feel free to get in touch to share your feedback or more ideas: 

Oh look, it’s 2:40pm, I need to get the jam ready for my feathered friends.