According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, by the year 2020, approximately 40% of the workforce will perform at least some of their work from home. As more companies opt for policies that allow telecommuting, the need for employee self-management has become crucial to the success of remote workers. Below are eleven habits teleworkers need to break if they want to succeed.
1) Working in pajamas
Sleep experts say that if you have trouble sleeping it helps to establish a bedtime routine, such as getting into your pajamas. It stands to reason, then, that part of getting ready for a productive day is getting OUT of your pajamas. “Getting dressed symbolizes the beginning of the day and helps get you into work mode,” says WorkteQ owner David Heilbronner.
2) Rejecting structure
Working from home can make a person feel like they’re the boss. No one to immediately answer to, no rigid schedules. But we need structure, and creating daily rituals is a good way build that.
Writing about morning rituals Seth Simonds explains, “Starting your day with a few simple tasks is an easy way to begin a cycle of results that’ll power you through your day.” What’s great is, unlike structure imposed upon you, rituals are centered around your personality and your life choices. (After this article was written, I came across a superb blog post by Sara Rosso, where she documented what made remote work at Automattic a success. You should read it too!)
3) Watching television
Our culture raves about multi-tasking. In actuality, multi-tasking causes attention split. While a little distraction might make projects we’re working on seem a little easier, it diminishes the quality of the work we’re doing.
Here’s an excellent read on what multi-tasking really does to our productivity. In a nutshell, multi-tasking makes us feel more productive because our busy-ness let’s us we think we’re doing more. The reality is that our attention is minimized in several activities, adding up to not much of anything.
4) Working around clutter
While there’s some debate over how neat a person’s desk should be, there’s little doubt that being in a room cluttered with kids’ toys or piles of paper on the floor can kill creativity and productivity. To refer to one UCLA study: “Similar to what multi-tasking does to your brain, physical clutter overloads your senses, making you feel stressed, and impairs your ability to think creatively.”
Paraphrasing a study by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute, in an article on Unclutterer.com , Erin Dodland wrote, “When your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus. The clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information. Clutter makes you distracted and unable to process information as well as you do in an uncluttered, organized, and serene environment.”
A cluttered house is not conducive to productivity, but cleaning when you’re supposed to be working isn’t any better. If necessary, set a time to clean before you start working, or set a cut off time for work to clean. Don’t mix the two.
6) Ranking tasks in order of difficulty
Many productivity experts have said that the best way to get things done is to tackle difficult tasks first. This makes sense, especially for people who procrastinate. And it sure feels good when the tougher items get crossed off our lists.
However, this isn’t always the best approach, particularly for people who work from home. Karen Southall Watts, speaking to the New York Times, says it’s best to “schedule your most demanding tasks during your natural periods of high energy, and do your planning and reflection when you are feeling less perky. When your energy is low, that’s not the moment to make 10 sales calls.” Since you have control over your schedule, this approach might be best since you are able to work on any activity you want at your own pace.
7) Responding to every call or email that comes in
I know, I know: you work alone and crave contact with the outside world. However, nothing eats up precious time more than email or unscheduled phone calls. Set up a voice message that not only informs callers you are not available, but tells gives them an idea of when you will return their calls. This is akin to an autoresponder for e-mail. It might seem a little annoying to the recipient, but it sets clear boundaries and saves you from answering each call and then repeatedly needing to cut each call short.
According to Juliette Garside, writing for The Guardian, “The average person is interrupted every three minutes during their working day...and our plethora of gadgets have made for more disruptions.” Furthermore, says Garside, “Interrupted tasks have been found to take twice as long to finish and contain twice as many errors as uninterrupted efforts: it can take between 12 and 20 minutes to resume a complex task after being interrupted.” Enough cannot be said about doing whatever it takes to eliminate unnecessary distractions.
8) Eating at your desk
Aside from dripping juice and dropping crumbs all over your keyboard being unsanitary, dining at your desk creates mindless eating which is bad for digestion. Mindless eating means food is gulped down in an effort to ward off anxiety, or to satisfy hunger as quickly as possible. Instead, take dedicated meal breaks. Pack your lunch the night before, if possible, to put some extra thought into what you plan to eat.
Perhaps more important than sanitary and digestive issues is that eating at your desk robs you of a much-needed mental break. According to Jon Yaneff, “When you don’t get proper nutrition – from missing meals or digesting them on the run – your work will suffer. When you always eat at your desk, you can feel tense and tired without an uninterrupted break.” Laura Vanderkam, writing in Fast Company, warns that “failing to take a real break is a recipe for needing a lot of unofficial and inefficient breaks--like random web surfing--later.”
9) Keeping Twitter and Facebook open
The mother of all distractions these days: Social media. If you’re like me, I act like a fiend when I have Twitter loaded: refreshing every other second, checking to see who wrote what, who’s following me, who just dumped me, etc. I use Facebook for more familiar socializing, and end up getting nothing done--except writing posts about how much I have to do.
Here’s a frightening claim: “Every time someone at work gets an IM, a Facebook message or a tweet, it takes them a whopping 23 minutes to get back on task. Taken all together, that costs the American economy $650 billion per year in lost productivity.” (LearnStuff.com)
10) Feeling parenting guilt
There’s no question that working from home has challenges. But nothing compares to working from home with children. However, as demanding as children are you have to let them know that when you’re working they wait for you, not the other way around. There’s no perfect solution for keeping kids at bay and avoiding the “bad mommy/daddy” feeling, but creating rituals with kids is helpful. The trick is consistency. Once you’ve established your own schedule and created your kids’ activities around them, allow for no interruptions unless there’s blood.
Geoff Williams, writing for USNews, suggests taking scheduled “kid breaks”. If you were working onsite you would take periodic breaks to chat with co-workers, so use those breaks for time with your kids. This helps alleviate feelings of guilt that you’re neglecting the kids, and gives your kids a chance to have you focused on them for short periods, preventing unexpected interruptions later on.
11) Staying on the clock
The truth is, telecommuters work longer hours than onsite employees. That five-second-commute that seems so attractive in the mornings also keeps work constantly nearby in the evenings, and sometimes late into the night. This causes life to become unbalanced. It is important to set limits on yourself and to stick with them when it comes to stopping work at a certain time each day. According to a study done by Captivate, leaving work at a reasonable hour was one of the top three ways people were able to find work-life balance.
Flexibility and balance are the primary reasons people opt to work from home. If, however, you never detach from your work you and your family will inevitably suffer. Says Adrienne Breaux, “[T]rying to fit checking in at work plus getting things accomplished around the house is a recipe for burnout.”
It’s time to adopt new habits
Burnout, strained relationships, physical ailments, and a plethora of other maladies can be the results of working from home if you are not mindful and prepared. Along with ensuring your technological needs are met, you also need to become a good manager of yourself. This means you have to take care of your needs, be willing to be the “bad guy” if necessary, and do what it takes to provide yourself a working environment that allows you to be productive and thrive.
About the Author:
Pamela La Gioia is Founder/CEO of Telework Recruiting, Inc., a leading career service helping professionals find telecommuting employment. Since 1999, La Gioia has been researching and writing about teleworking issues; and recently Telework Recruiting, Inc. has begun helping companies to train their staff to effectively telecommute. La Gioia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, connect with her on Twitter @TeleworkRec.