I was able to hear a terrific webinar from Dan Pink last week in which he applied the work from his books, Drive and When. As I suffer through the borderless days of working from home, I found his insights informative and useful. I think it’s important to note that Dan has been working from home for over 9 years and, although it’s the new normal for me, this is old hat for him. His office is in his garage and he is clear that when he enters his “office”, he is there to work.
It’s comforting to realize that there are thousands of authors, speakers and consultants out there who have been doing this for years. There are best practices we can all take away from their experience to inform our own, as we use the end of our dining room table or our laps on the sofa to be industrious.
Here are some of the tips on motivation while WFH:
- Show up at the same time. It is so easy to hit snooze, roll over and give it another 10 minutes. After all, you don’t need to deal with the commute or press your blouse. Why not luxuriate in the extra 10, 20, 60 minutes of found time? Dan brings up a good point that the decision of when to get up, to get dressed, to show up for work are adding to your decision fatigue. It slowly starts to exhaust you as you make each decision like, “Well, if I sleep in 15 minutes, I can take a shower by 7 AM or I can save another 15 minutes by not taking a shower and sleep in another 30 minutes and maybe skip breakfast and I can exercise at the end of the day and save another 30 minutes…” Pretty soon, you are running to make that 10 AM standing meeting and wondering why you are exhausted. If you set a time to get up, keep it. Save yourself the decision fatigue and energy of negotiating with yourself all morning as you roll around in bed. Set your wake-up time and your start time for work and make sure to keep it.
- Most Important Task. Dan calls this MIT. He suggests writing it down. What is the most important task you have to do today? Memorialize it by writing it down on paper. I can see why this eliminates some decision fatigue, as it makes clear what the most important task is and keeps you from falling into the trap of distractions. Today, my MIT is writing this post. So far, I have avoided starting the dishes or watching an overdue webinar. I’m clear on my goal of finishing this post. It helps keep me focused on my goal. This reminds me of the book by Brian Tracy called Eat That Frog. Its title serves as a great analogy that you need to bite off and address the biggest, gnarliest task of the day first thing in the morning. MIT or frog, write it down and get to work. When working from home, it’s easy to slide into a thousand tasks; from doing laundry to walking the dog to scrolling social media to signing up for a new online photography class, instead of addressing the most important task.
- Pomodoro Technique. Dan espoused this technique developed by Francesco Cirillo and who knew it would be so useful in the era of COVID-19. As Dan described it, set a time for 25 minutes, work until the bell rings and then take a 5-minute break. As I look back over the last two months, I realize that I was getting overwhelmed when I ran a gauntlet of meetings from 7:45 AM until 9:15 AM without a break. I needed to rest my brain. To use the bathroom. To get a glass of water. To disconnect for just a moment. In the first few weeks of WFH, I felt depleted by 10 AM. Now I understand why, just because I could run the meeting gauntlet, doesn’t mean I should. I conducted an online facilitation yesterday and I made sure we took several breaks to let folks recharge. It’s amazing what a 5-minute disconnection break can do for you. Try the Pomodoro Technique.
- Find your purpose. It is nice to have a life’s purpose. But it’s especially imperative when taking on a new project or writing a blog piece to understand the “why” behind your work. As Dan suggested, maybe you get a picture of the person you are intending to help. I am imagining a friend of mine who is overwhelmed by trying to home school and work full-time remotely. I imagine them reading this post and how it might help them. As Dan said, it’s not about the how, but the why. I can get wrapped up in the minutiae along the way of getting something done, instead of the overarching reason for writing. I want you, my reader, to have a clear takeaway that will help you feel less overwhelmed and motivated to see your tasks through. Whatever that task may be, whether it’s 8th grade algebra, month-end reporting, or feeling accomplished at the end of the work day from home, find your purpose for taking on the project.
- Self-compassion. I know way too many women who are perfectionists and recently read women are picking up more of the slack. This whole WFH thing is driving them crazy. They are upset because they missed the deadline for completing their budget, their kid didn’t get an “A” on their science project, they’ve worn the same yoga pants all week, they desperately need a haircut or they’ve ordered take-out for 7 out of 7 dinners this week. It is completely okay to not be okay. The biggest lesson for me over the last two months is to have self-compassion. I like when Dan said: “Treat yourself as you would a friend.” I think of all the self-criticism I can have about the extra weight I’ve gained or the workout I skipped yesterday. We are all just trying to get through this the best we can. Be compassionate with yourself, above all.
There is a giant recalibration taking place for me. It’s the realization that I need to find my new operating system to keep motivated and thrive. In the first few weeks of this pandemic, I just wanted to survive. Now I realize I need to figure out how to thrive. Instead of using popsicle sticks and duct tape to get through, I need to figure out the new operating system that will make me feel empowered to compassionately move forward. What are you doing to stay motivated WFH?