by Santiago Chavez
Working from home (telecommuting) is a wonderful privilege that comes with many benefits and some challenges. I have observed that not every personality type can work from home and that is understandable. As someone who has transitioned into semi-retirement, it is an ideal fit for my circumstances. I offer the following tips for working from home that may be useful to some:
1. Communicate and over-communicate. Co-workers in an office setting can see when you come into or do not come into work, while supervisors in a telecommute situation may only know you were unable to accomplish a task when it is too late. Look for a consistent way (email, text, Blackboard, etc.) to share progress on projects, your whereabouts, and availability to work without prompting from others. Help others by greeting them from time to time and welcome communications from coworkers that are also saying hello or following up on a task.
2. Prioritize. A system that holds you accountable and on track is essential to accomplish tasks is essential.
After realizing that 3″x3″ Post-its® are unnecessarily expensive, I started using a small paper cutter to cut junk mail into 3″x3″ squares. I write down every task I want to accomplish on the blank side with a Sharpie®. The broad tip forces me to be concise. I break down bigger tasks into smaller tasks and write on more three-inch squares. I write tasks down during meetings.
How to Prioritize
I prioritize these squares into four categories based on Stephen Covey’s book.[ref] 1 [/ref]
a. A-1. Important and Urgent. These are critical tasks requiring me to drop everything else and complete them. If I do not complete these tasks, someone may be hurt or there may be property losses. A negative reply is not an acceptable option.
These should be very rare. An example would be having to pay an electricity bill because I lost electrical power.
b. A-2. Important and non-urgent. These tasks should be about 90% of my day-to-day work. If I do not complete these tasks consistently, they will become A-1 tasks.
c. B-1. Unimportant and Urgent. These are usually someone else’s A1 tasks that can be occasionally declined if the relationship is not important. Calls from telemarketers are an example that be declined, while a supervisor’s “new bright idea” may require consideration.
d. B-2. Unimportant and Non-Urgent. These should be avoided. Such tasks may include time-wasters such as excessive social media or television viewing. Learning to say “no” to B-1 and B-2 tasks frees us so we can say “yes” to A-2 tasks.
Manage Your Energy Levels
3. Manage your energy and concentration levels. I am best able to accomplish “brainy” tasks, such as responding to emails, first thing in the morning, while routine tasks that may require less concentration, such as shelving supplies, can be done when my brain is less cooperative.
Given the option, I would rather participate in a routine teleconference after lunch when my energy level is still adequate, but I have invested my optimal mental alertness in tasks that require higher focus.
Adjust Sleeping Schedules
4. Adjust sleeping plans for tasks that demand absolute concentration. Interruptions are very rare from three to six in the morning. On rare occasions, I will set the alarm for 4:00 a.m. and go to bed early so I can have several hours of uninterrupted flow (with a cup of strong coffee). I catch up on sleep the following night.
However, a word of caution: only do this when you can fill that time with important work. Being alone with the internet has many hazards for those with addictive personalities.
5. Anticipate interruptions. Our spouses, children, and pets accept our absence when we leave for work but may find it difficult to accept our absence when we are physically home. Take breaks to enjoy meals with your family, hug your spouse or kids, or walk your doggie.
Although office hours are very difficult to maintain, avoid working at all hours. I receive an occasional call in the evening, but I politely reschedule most calls that interfere with family meals.
6. Combine tasks for optimal efficiency. Combine errands of the same kind when appropriate and practical, such as trips to the Post Office or the purchase of office supplies when a pit stop in the grocery or hardware store is in the same shopping area.
It is not unusual for sermons to evolve from a deep conversation with a student or from research related to a seminary assignment.
Keep Your Sense of Humor
7. Never lose your sense of humor. Most folks do not understand that working from home is still work. Learn to laugh with them, pour yourself another cup of tea, adjust your pajamas, and continue to enjoy this privilege that is working from home.
It is unreasonable to expect every person to work from home in the same way. Working part-time from home has allowed me to attend seminary, volunteer at my local church, and spend more time with my family. I hope these suggestions may be useful to inspire ideas that can be applied to your circumstances.