Work at Home Series: Dealing with Distractions

A hand holds a magnifying glass, bringing focus to what's most important, to help the viewer in dealing with distractions

Work at Home Series: Dealing with Distractions

This is the third post in our “Work at Home Series.” If you missed the first two, I’d encourage you to check them out: Work Zones and Managing Communication. And don't forget to download the Work from Anywhere Workbook at the bottom of this post!

Distractions. We’ve all got ‘em. I have to tell you that even after years of working from home, dealing with distractions is still the biggest challenge for me.

I also have to tell you that the solutions are not rocket science. They’re common sense, and mostly come down to that dreaded phrase: will power. 

And I admit that after I wrote that last sentence I got lost in my Facebook feed for 15 minutes…

So, if you want to hear from someone about dealing with distractions, I’m your gal! Read on for my hard earned tips and tricks for staying on task and producing at home when there are so. many. other. things. vying for your attention.

Note: If you have kids, you’re likely juggling some level of homeschooling them right now, right? That’s a big distraction when you also need to work. It’s also an extenuating circumstance, and one that we all have to work through right now as best we can. I’ll address some of my thoughts on that process as we move through the steps.

1. Name Your Distractions

Mine might be named something like Thing 1, Thing 2, and Thing 3. Oh, and my phone. Gardening. The notification tones coming from my phone for each message I receive on every single email and social media platform I use. The dog. Netflix. The laundry. The dishes. 

Take a hard look and figure out what pulls you away from working the most. Then move onto the next steps with those specific distractions in mind.

2. Design Your Work Zones to Mitigate Distractions

We’ve already gone in depth on the various types of work spaces in our first post of this series, so you can read that here if you’ve missed it. But no matter what work zone you use, you can be mindful of your distractions as you set it up.

If the kids are a distraction, and if they are old enough, be brutally honest with them about not interrupting you during your work hours. Set up a sign on your door or even on the back of your computer, which lets them know when you are off limits. My assistant has the “blood, barf, and broken bones rule” when she is working. Her kids, ages 10-17, know that they interrupt her at their own risk if their interruption does not relate to blood, barf, broken bones, or anything else related to a grave safety matter. This doesn’t stop them all the time, of course, but it does cut down on the interruptions.

If your kids are younger, then it’s definitely harder. You will likely have to set them up with snacks and Netflix and work in short spurts during the day. And if they need help with schoolwork, you may have to shift some of your work hours to the late evening when they are asleep, if possible. Stay strong, Parents! You can do this.

For other distractions, like the dishes and social media, my biggest advice is this: out of sight, out of mind. Clean the kitchen before you start working, and turn off all phone notifications. Work where you physically cannot see the kitchen (or whatever cluttered space drives you crazy and calls you to clean it!). Setting aside time in my day to catch up on my phone, email, and house chores give me peace of mind when I am focusing on the task at hand. Setting timers and sticking to the time blocks I've set for myself helps me go from one task to another without guilt or frustration because I know what to expect and how much time different tasks may take. 

Good ol’ will power. It takes more when you’re not in an office with the boss around or other coworkers to keep you motivated. Dig deep. You’ve got this!

3. Find Your Sweet Spot

Nope, I don’t mean work with a candy dish next to you. 

One of the biggest lessons my team and I have each learned is that we all have a sweet spot when it comes to productivity throughout the day. Now, if your position requires you to be logged on during set hours, then this won’t work for you, and you’ll have to rely on the other ways to handle distractions. But if you have flexibility about when you work, then finding your sweet spot can take you far!

Maybe you’re a morning person. You work best as soon as you’re out of bed. Or you’re a slow riser but you are most in tune with your workflow starting about 10 a.m. until you break for a late lunch. Or perhaps you are a night owl, and either don’t have kids to drag you out of bed or your kids are old enough to fend for themselves while you sleep in after logging your work hours into the wee hours of the morning.

Whatever your rhythm is, lean into it if you can. Fighting with yourself about when you should be at your desk is not going to help. So find the sweet spot in your day when you are most productive, and prioritize giving that window of time to your work. You will get so much more done in a shorter amount of time!

This also applies to juggling all sorts of routines... even with kids.. Unless your not-a-morning person kid is required to be logged on to their virtual classroom bright and early, let them sleep in and start their day a little later. Pick your battles and all that. 

4. Stick to a Routine

Some of us are more suited to routines than others. However, even if it is loose, give your days some kind of structure. That way when all you really want to do is binge watch that new show on Netflix, you have already set up boundaries for yourself to honor.  So when you find that your brain has started wandering away from work, take a look at the clock and see where you’re at in your routine. 

That doesn’t mean your work day must be rigidly set. Again, work in your sweet spot if you can. Build in time away from your desk, too. If you are lucky enough to be able to work from home, you have been given a gift. Don’t waste it. Use the time you’d normally spend on a commute to take a daily walk, play a game with your child, or meditate. When you’d normally gather at the coffee pot in the office, instead take a few minutes to check in with a friend or neighbor. Schedule in those times, and when you return to your desk you’ll be more focused and less prone to distraction. 

5. Know When to Give In

This goes hand in hand with scheduling time for breaks, but it refers more to those unscheduled breaks. Nothing about our lives is normal right now. Some days, we’re just not with it. And some times the best approach to dealing with distractions is to give into them.

Again, your job may require more structure in your day, but if you need a break, take one when and if you can. If your child is struggling with an assignment, or is feeling a wave of sadness at missing their friends at school, give yourself some grace to ignore the routine, step away from work, and deal with life. Much like attempting to be productive outside of your sweet spot, pushing through with work when more important things--and people--truly need your attention (and that includes yourself!) only sets you up for frustration. Take a few moments to address what needs to be addressed. Breathe, and then regroup.

Tomorrow’s a new day.

Remember to check out the Work from Anywhere Workbook available below, and get on your way to becoming a Work at Home (or anywhere) Pro!

Oh, and if you do actually need a funny distraction right now, check out this Workin' at Home parody video (based on Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer). We're all in this crazy thing together!

All the best,

How to Work from Anywhere

  • Design a Productive Workspace
  • Manage Communication
  • Deal with Distractions
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Sign Up for your Free Work from Anywhere Guide!

Whether you’re a remote work pro or you’re new to this crazy club, our guide will help you work smarter not harder!

CARMEN WILL HELP YOU:

1. Analyze your goals  2. Create a custom strategy  3. Execute the strategy so that you see results!

Work at Home Series: Managing Communication

Managing communication can be a challenge, a bit like it is for this little girl speaking into a tin can on a string

Work at Home Series: Managing Communication

Managing communication can be a challenge, a bit like it is for this little girl speaking into a tin can on a stringThis is the second post in our “Work at Home Series.” Today we’ll discuss tips and tricks for managing communication with your team while working remotely. Check out the first post in the series, Work Zones, and watch for the last in the series coming later this week, all about Dealing with Distractions!

Once you have decided where in your home you will be working, the next thing to think about is how you and your team will keep in touch. Your employer may already have tools and resources set-up to help you work at home. Or maybe this task falls to you, to determine how to manage communication and share files.

First, I have to tell you that this can get messy very quickly if you’re not careful, so some of these tips might seem basic. Trust me when I tell you, as complicated as the tools available for remote communication can be, if we stick to the basics it goes so much more smoothly.

Read on for some best practices to follow to make sure that your virtual communication is professional, seamless, and does not annoy your coworkers.

Managing Email Communication

Know when to use “Reply All” on group emails.

Be careful not to drop pertinent people out of your conversation, or you risk creating confusing side conversations, unnecessary repetition, or instances of avoidable miscommunication. However, you can over use that Reply All function. Don't use it if the information the email conveys is not pertinent to the entire group. Or better yet, if you need to make sure a group of people are kept in the loop, consider using other tools such as Slack, where conversations can be shared with a group, but segmented threads can be created within that group, too, so that those who need to know, know, and those that don't really need it aren't inundated with messages. 

Respond to emails from your team members in a timely manner.

A good rule of thumb is to reply within 24 hours of receipt, even if it is just a “Hey, got your message, and I will get back to you on (insert day/time frame).” Since you aren't face to face with your team on a regular basis, responding to email at regular intervals is a key component to successfully managing communication when working remotely.

Stay on topic.

Use clear and concise subject lines in your email so that receivers can quickly understand the purpose of your message, and are able to locate it again if they need to return to it at a later time.

Consider if email is really the best way to communicate your topic.

As mentioned above, business communication messaging tools like Slack might be better suited for your purposes, as they allow you to segment conversations and create threads to keep ideas together. Take a look at your options. For more conversational interactions, email might not be the best choice.

Managing Communication with Video and Conference Calls

Be on time and be prepared.

Treat virtual meetings just as you in-person meetings. Have your necessary documents and files open and close by before the call starts.

Be aware of what is visible on your screen when participating in video calls.

Most of us are doing our best to juggle work and family at home, so there is some room for grace here, but...don’t be that person that carries their screen around with them while they do household chores, attends to personal grooming in the middle of the video chat, or worse. It’s distracting, and can quickly derail the conversation. (Yes, people do these kinds of things…). And if you will be screen-sharing, have only the relevant tabs and files open on your screen to avoid showing the entire audience sensitive or personal information.

Mute your microphone if not speaking.

This is especially important if you must have a side conversation—say your kid interrupts you and needs your attention. Have those conversations off screen if on a video call. Just remember to unmute yourself when you need to speak!

Reduce audible distractions.

This goes hand-in-hand with muting your microphone, but it applies to those times when your microphone needs to be on. Turn off your phone ringer and mute other notification tones on your computer that might occur during the meeting.

Consider the level of security needed for video or conference calls.

Recent news stories about hacks into providers like Zoom must be considered. Password protected calls are best, but do your research before selecting a provider, and set up your account properly to minimize hacking or uninvited participants.

Data Management Best Practices

Pick your communication platforms with care.

Decide what types of communication will be conveyed with email, what will you use tools like Slack for, and how you will hold video or conference calls. Once designated platforms are set up, stick with them consistently so that your team knows what kind of information will be shared through each channel.

Follow protocol when sharing and saving electronic files.

Design an organizational system for storing electronic files, and create standards for using it. Then be sure to save files accordingly, and follow labeling guidelines. If your team has not outlined protocols for where files are to be stored and shared, start that conversation with the relevant decision makers. Nothing can derail a team faster than disorganized files. It wastes time, and creates sink holes in which important information can be lost.

Don't be afraid to use free/inexpensive online platforms for file management.

Google Docs and Dropbox are two common free/inexpensive platforms. Keeping documents organized and accessible can be a chore. Google Docs is great for documents that multiple people need to be able to edit, but Dropbox is better for storing final drafts, records, templates and reports. Think of it like a virtual file cabinet. Create clearly labeled drawers and folders just like you would in a real cabinet, and file documents accordingly.

Managing Your Workflow & Time

Don’t be annoying.

Remember that working remotely often means that people are working at different times of the day. That does not mean it is okay to blow up your team’s Slack or What’sApp message thread at 2 a.m. Jot down items you want to discuss with the team, and consider sending a daily digest of sorts, or utilize remote workflow tools to keep ideas shared and organized (see more below). On the flip side, turn off or mute your notifications for at least a few hours a day and overnight. It is easy to stay in work mode much longer than needed when your house is also your office. Set up times to give yourself mental space to be off the clock.

Create a schedule and follow it.

Set boundaries for the times of day you are working, and when you are off (and don't forget to check out our next post in this series, Dealing with Distraction,s for more about this point!). Not only is it good for your mental health, it is also how you can streamline your productivity, while protecting your precious time with your family or for yourself.

Use workflow and project management tools.

Shared online workflow tools like Trello or Asana are free or inexpensive, depending on the features you need to use. These tools allow teams to share progress on projects, tasks, and deadlines. Some even allow for team calendar integration, and have messaging/chat features.

Keep your shared calendars up to date.

Your team can't see if you're at your desk or peek over the cubicle wall to ask if next Tuesday at 10 a.m. works for you for that pitch meeting, so let them know when you are available by keeping your calendar up to date. Also important: update your availability status icons on tools like Outlook, Slack, and Skype, so your team knows if you are “in” or “out” of the office in real time.

 

Above all else, be flexible. Even though my team and I do this day in and day out, we still run into miscommunication, misplaced files, and forgotten details. It happens. We’re all human, and especially right now—we are all dealing with a lot.

If you work at home, I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for managing communication. Leave a comment to share lessons you’ve learned or questions you have for my team! 

Stay well! 

CARMEN WILL HELP YOU:

1. Analyze your goals  2. Create a custom strategy  3. Execute the strategy so that you see results!

Work at Home Series: Work Zones

To work at home, a woman sits at her desk in a detached shed converted to an office

Work at Home Series: Work Zones

To work at home, a woman sits at her desk in a detached shed converted to an office
This is where the real estate magic happens when I work from home.

This is the first post in our “Work at Home Series.” Today we’ll discuss the foundation of  working from home successfully: work spaces, aka Work Zones. Stay tuned for the next two posts in the series coming later this week: Managing Communication and Dealing with Distractions!

With most of the US population under orders to stay home as I type this, pretty much everyone not in healthcare, public safety, logistics, grocery retail, or select food service finds themselves at home right now. However, many of us still need to be able to do our work at home. 

This might be the first time you’ve had to work from home on a consistent basis, and perhaps you're unsure how to manage your days. Or maybe you've got time management down, but you're dealing with a whole new experience while working from home: juggling your job with havin’ your kids and significant other there, too.

Here’s the thing, working from home takes a lot more self discipline and structure than most people realize. My team and I work  remotely from our own homes 100% of the time, not just now. So let us give you some advice based on the lessons we’ve learned.

The first thing to consider about working from home is WHERE you will work. Enter: The Work Zone.

Only you can decide what type of at-home work zone suits your needs. You may decide to have more than one! With the kids out of school indefinitely, they likely need to have their own spaces for school work, as well, so these options should be considered for them, too. 

The three most common types of work at home work zones are Portable, Designated, and Separate. Each has its pros and cons, so you’ll want to honestly assess what works best for you.

Portable Zone

This is exactly what it sounds like: a work space that you can pick up and move around.

Works best for:

  • Projects that require very few physical supplies, such as writing, editing, developing web content, or managing teams and projects with software. 

Pros: 

  • Flexible enough to adapt to any given environment. You can take it with you when you move from place to place around your home--or even your yard if the weather would cooperate--and it is very adaptable if you have a small home that cannot accommodate a more permanent work zone.
  • Great solution if the primary spaces suitable to working in your home are in shared areas, like the kitchen or living room, since you’ll want to be able to clear those areas easily for other purposes.

Cons: 

  • Has to be set up and torn down to some extent each time it is used, which can be inefficient. 
  • People who deal with a lot of paper, produce physical products, or who are easily distracted by their surroundings would be better suited for another style of work zone.

Requirements: 

Single container or cart to be pulled out, used, then put away in a corner or closet; laptop; Wifi;. chargers; headphones; pens and notepads; wifi capable printer, and additional supplies stored somewhere else in the home if needed.

A rolling cart serves as a portable office, a great solution to work at home wiithout a lot of space.

Examples: 

My portable workstation is a rolling cart that is fully stocked with all of my necessary tools, so all I need to add is my laptop, journal, and needed files. 

My assistant has a portable lap desk, a folio for her old-school planner, and a bag to carry her laptop, hard copy file folders for open projects, a computer charger, mouse and pad, and pens, and is able to work anywhere in her home or outside with this set-up. 

However, for both of us our portable work zones are not our primary work spaces. We both find that with kids around so much we need the flexibility of having both a portable and a more permanent work area.

Action: Think about what you use nearly every time you work, and those are the items you will want to have with you as you move from work space to work space. Find a rolling cart, or designate an old briefcase or sturdy tote to easily keep supplies together.

Designated Zone

A designated zone is a space set aside that does not have to be put away at the end of the day, However, it is located in a room that serves another primary purpose—i.e. the kitchen, bedroom, or family room—and it does not have a physical separation between it and the rest of the room.

Works best for:

  • Projects or personality styles that are suited to leaving work out to return to quickly as time allows or when working in split time blocks suited.
  • Spaces that need to accommodate multiple people or purposes simultaneously, such as working while keeping an eye on children as they play or also work on their school work.

Pros: 

  • Always ready for someone to get productive quickly, since you don’t necessarily have to put away what you are working on if you’re in the middle of something and have to step away to make dinner.
  • Fits into how you use your spaces. It can be a corner of your family room or bedroom, a built-in desk in the kitchen, or the table in the formal dining room that you never actually use for dining.
  • Creates boundaries between areas in a room, and helps to avoid jockeying with the kids or your partner for elbow room since you would ideally each have your own designated spaces.
  • All of your supplies, such as envelopes or your printer, can be stored at or near your designated space.   

Cons:

  • Not isolated away from the rest of the household, so they do take up valuable real estate within the home.
  • Can also contribute to a feeling of clutter and chaos if they are not kept tidy.
  • May be attractive spaces for the rest of the family to decide to use for their own projects, so boundaries need to be communicated regarding by whom and how these work zones are to be used.
  • If you need to participate in many phone calls or online meetings, designated spaces can be difficult if your children, partner, or pets are not cooperative with your need for them to stay quiet, calm, and out of the way.

Requirements:

Desk and chair; storage for files and supplies; computer or laptop docking station; Wifi; chargers; headphones; pens and notepads; printer; other supplies like envelopes, files folders, etc. 

A designated portion of a family room allows several people to work at home at a time.

Examples:

My assistant's designated work zone, with multiple work stations, serves as an office for her, her children, and her spouse to all work at home. Primarily located in the open area of the second story of their home that they refer to as “the loft,” the space also serves as a reading nook, guest room, and family entertainment area for video games, board games, sewing/craft projects, and watching movies. Not shown is the clean laundry that also usually piles up while it waits to be folded from the laundry room that is just off screen in the images. This is real life right here! 

Action: Look around your home and see what niches are available to carve out for work zones. Keep in mind the types of projects and the amount of surface space you require, as well as your own habits when it comes to keeping your work zone tidy or cluttered. If you’re the cluttered type, and this might cause an issue with your family or your sanity, a separate zone might be a better solution for you, if you can spare the space.

Separate Zone

A separate zone is a space solely dedicated to working, fully separated from the rest of the house by a door, or maybe even in a detached building on the property. It does not have a dual purpose, or if it does, the work space is the primary purpose. 

Works best for:

  • Tasks that require a lot of space for equipment or supplies.
  • Those who recognize that they work best with complete detachment from the goings-on of the family home.
  • When privacy and fewer distractions and interruptions are important.

Pros:

  • Provides an intentional and controllable environment (usually..but even those walls can’t separate you from the chaos sometimes, as this expert learned the hard way while being interviewed on live television!).
  • You can be as tidy or messy as you want. No need to tidy up if it's not your style or is not efficient for your task.
  • When you need to walk away, close the door behind you and leave your work for a while. Easy peasy!

Cons:

  • Literally removes you from the rest of what's going on in the home (this could be a pro or a con, depending on what works for you!).
  • Requires considerable space, and not everyone has the room in their house to dedicate to a separate zone.

Examples:

A great work at home option if you have the space, a concerted detached building on your property is hard to beat.

I am blessed enough to have a separate work space to call my own. My sweet husband converted a storage shed in our backyard into an office for me. I get the best of both worlds! I have the physical separation from my family, which allows me to be way more productive, but I also have the best commute ever: I can walk to work—usually in my pjs, of course!

Action: If you have a long term need to work at home, and you have the room, take a look at your home, inside and out. Is there a room that is really not being used much? How about the garage? Do you actually park in it or is it just used for storage that can be cleared or better organized to open up the space? Or maybe you need to look in the yard. Do you have the space and funds to add a converted shed with power? If you have the space and the budget, the sky is the limit for a separate work at home zone.

 

So there you have it: our run down of the three types of work zones we use to work at home efficiently and comfortably. What option works best for you?

Be sure to check back for our next post in this series, when was share some of the ups and downs of managing communication when we are rarely in the same room as a team. Can't wait to share more with you!

All the best,

CARMEN WILL HELP YOU:

1. Analyze your goals  2. Create a custom strategy  3. Execute the strategy so that you see results!

Achieve

The Secrets to Achieving Your New Year's Goals

 

Welcome to January!!

You know what the means… New Year’s resolution time. With the holiday stress behind us, it’s our communally agreed upon time of year to create resolutions and shout them from the rooftop in hopes that maybe some of them will stick.

I don’t know about you but setting and achieving New Year’s resolutions, in the past, hasn’t always been that easy for me. Sure- Shouting them from the virtual rooftop is easy, but achieving those goals is way different than just throwing them out to the world and praying something works out. After years of refusing to set any more resolutions, I’ve decided to re-phrase and be more strategic with my goal setting.

Here is how I am cracking the code on my New Year’s goals:

PREPARATION

In preparing for the New Year, I did some digging into where our new year’s resolution came from and was surprised to find out that the Babylonians were the first people to set resolutions over 4,000 years ago! The most notable differences between their tradition and ours is that their year didn’t begin until the middle of March, when they planted crops and that they actually DID SOMETHING to achieve the outcome they wanted. This was not just a fun little annual game they played. Preparing for the new year was vital to their survival!

Maybe you’re like me and your first thought was “What does a tradition from 4,000 years ago have to do with us in 2019?!”

But then I remember when I first started gardening 3 yrs ago. I planted stuff in the wrong spot so it wouldn’t have enough sun, or sometimes the plants would have to much sun and get burnt up! And even after learning what plants liked what kind of light, I planted some beautiful flowers to close and instead of thriving like I wanted them to, they were crowding each other out and producing way less fruit than I was wanting.

Gardening is just a therapeutic hobby for me, but what if my family’s survival was dependent on those plants producing as much food as possible? You betcha’ my gardening journal would be full of notes from previous years failures and wins! I really think the Babylonians were on to something, so I’ve decided to try this new year’s thing again.

 

It's not about what you want right now, it’s about what you want most

 

WRITE IT DOWN & BE SPECIFIC

We all want to live intentionally and thrive. But, being intentional can be difficult! The time factor is what throws a wrench in my plans every time. So, what should we do? Schedule it in. If I say something is a priority, then I need to plan and prepare for it! Google calendar has been a huge help for scheduling more efficiently.

Writing down goals is proven to increase our success rate. So let's do that too!

Here are the 6 areas of my life I will be planting seeds and scheduling time for watering:   Personal, Spiritual, Professional, Intellectual, Financial, Physical

The S.M.A.R.T goals framework is my prefer method of clarifying: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound

FIRST STEPS

Working with a 12 month lead time is just to much for me. Working with quarterly, weekly, and daily goals worked great for me in 2018 so I will be bringing that over into 2019. It’s okay if you get off course or need to re-frame your goal structure along the way. The goal is not to create this rigid timeline… but rather to spend time clarifying what matters to you and working towards those goals every day. Our years are made up of how we spend our months, months are made up of how we spend our weeks, and our weeks are made up of how we spend our days. Make them count!

All of us want to harvest the fruit - that’s the fun part - but unless we are planting and watering, we will never be able to reap! Setting New Year’s resolutions is like a fun game we play. Rarely any risk and rarely any reward. I want to challenge you to be an achiever this year, and not just another goal setter. I made a planning guide to help us with setting and achieving our goals, maybe it will help you too... enjoy!!

All the best!

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