Welcome to Day 3 of the 5-day Work From Home Challenge. If you haven’t yet, make sure you complete Day 2 to create the right mindset and environment for working from home.
Now that you’re set up, today’s challenge is all about making time to work on the important things you need to do. It’s not easy at the best of times, but it’s even more difficult when you’re at home!
The Invisible Triggers
You may not realize this, but when you go to work at an office, your day is filled with invisible triggers telling you that it is time to work.
Get in the car or on the train? Enter the building? Get in the elevator? Grab your hot beverage? Sit down at your desk and start up your computer?
All triggers that you are (or at least should) be switching from home mode to work mode.
Coworkers heading to the food court for lunch? Trigger for break mode.
Walking back into the building after lunch? Trigger to get back to work.
Time to catch your train home and coworkers packing up? Trigger to wrap it up and head home.
This can all go out the window when you work from home. You don’t have these built-in triggers and time buckets to get work done and make progress on projects and goals.
The problem with working from home – distractions!
Here are just a few things that are working against you when you work from home:
- Family members in the house with you
- Laundry, dishes, and assorted housework you see when you walk through the house
- People not understanding that you’re working, and not just on an enforced vacation
- Random FaceTimes from out of town relatives stuck at home too
- No coworkers around that can see your screen, so no extrinsic pressure not to slack off
- All communication moved to Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom. So your day becomes a never-ending barrage of coworker DMs, @mentions, and Zoom meetings
If you don’t take proactive measures, your day can slip away from you. Sure, you’ve been busy, but what have you accomplished?
Be intentional with your time
The key is to be intentional with your time. To know what you should be working on today, and then making time to actually work on it. Then, you need to defend yourself against distractions during that time.
Know what you should be working on
If you’re not careful, you will end up spending your day putting out fires and dealing with whatever urgent issue has popped up this week.
Sure they’re urgent, but are they important?
What about the things that are important but aren’t screaming for your attention right now? Will you get to them “when you can?”
(Spoiler alert — that time will never come.)
If you’ve spent time reading the AE blog in the past, you’ll be familiar with this image, called The Eisenhower Box or The Eisenhower Matrix:
When you look at your week, the key is maximizing the time spent in the top-right of the matrix. To be working on things that are important, but not hugely urgent.
When you evaluate your week and your day, you want to try to prioritize those “important but not urgent” activities and create the time to do them consistently.
Make time to work on your important activities
Here’s how you make sure you have time for your important activities: put them on your calendar now, or when you are planning your week and your day.
These are called focus blocks.
Not just put them on your calendar, but do what you need to do to make sure that when the time comes, you stop what you are doing and switch over to your scheduled activity.
It can be tempting to not treat these focus blocks as “real” appointments, because they are appointments with yourself. If you skip the appointment, who is going to know?
As you practice keeping these focus blocks and treating them seriously, you’ll be building the muscle and creating a habit that says: the appointments I make with myself are the most important ones of the day.
Maybe you do this with alerts all over the place. Perhaps you do it with accountability — have a friend or colleague check in with you and see if you accomplished what you said you would. Do whatever you need to do.
Here’s an example: let’s say you have a focus block scheduled this morning to write an article about working at home and focus.
And let’s say (hypothetically *cough*) that a colleague pings you and asks you to review a PDF they made.
What do you do? You want to be helpful, and clearly, people are waiting for that PDF.
If writing that article is your important task for the day, and if you have time blocked off for it, then one approach is to say:
“I’m happy to review the PDF. But I’m tied up with something right now, but I’ll be able to get to it in an hour. Will that work?”
If an hour works, great. If not, they can hopefully get someone else to do it. If there is no one else, then you can decide whether you want to stick to your focus block (the ideal situation), or if you have to review it now (not perfect, but it happens sometimes!) At least then it is an intentional choice.
We have more strategies for dealing with distractions when working from home coming up in a new resource we’re building. If you want to hear more about that, make sure you enter your details in the box below if you haven’t already.
- Look at your calendar for the rest of the week.
- Put a focus block on the calendar of at least 30 minutes as soon as you can. Tomorrow is best.
- Repeat for the rest of the week.
- Let us know in the comments when you’re done!