Down by 20 points, 12 minutes left on the clock…until halftime! As co-captain and starting point guard of my high school basketball team, I remember games like this. Games where all I wanted to do was hide…pretty hard to do when you’re one of the ten players on the floor. And the coach won’t pull you out – even when you’re one of the guys stinking it up out there…
Despite my desire to run away, I had to stick it out till the bitter end. I had to find a way to motivate myself to finish the next two and half quarters. No hiding allowed.
BUT…we had the cheerleaders on the sidelines…and the screaming parents in the stands. Parents who had traveled across town to support us. Cheerleaders who had baked us cupcakes on the weekend.
BY YOURSELF. FOR YOURSELF.
One big difference between my playing days and now is that there’s no cheerleader to motivate me. No cheer section in the stands.
If you’re going to work on your own – that is, from home or office without colleagues, there are seven skills (or secrets!) you’ve got to master. By yourself. For yourself. Essentially – you are your own cheerleader. Your own coach and motivator. Your own disciplinarian. The list goes on.
Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek out help and support when you need it – from a coach, mentor, etc. However, there are times when you are really on your own.
Whether or not you’ve kept connection with your teammates or had regular exchanges with your boss, you’ve certainly had a taste of this over the last few months of lockdown.
I’ve been doing this for the last 15 years. However, the lockdown has prevented me from using some of my favorite coping mechanisms – corner cafe for creative thinking, occasional lunch with a fellow solopreneur to blow off steam or recharge my batteries.
I can’t tell you exactly how to master these seven skills. But I can make you aware of them. I can tell you how I approach them and give you some examples of what helps me and others I’ve talked to. What works for you and your unique situation will require some adapting on your part. And surely I’ll have missed a skill or two that’s important for you in your work…
By the way, just because I’ve been doing this for a long time doesn’t mean I’ve mastered it – far from it. But, I continue to adapt and experiment. The key is to reflect on what works and doesn’t work and make the necessary adjustments. Awareness of these seven skills is a great starting point – you’ve already begun. Well done!
7 SECRETS TO EFFECTIVE HOMEWORKING
SECRET 1 – Prioritization
Critical among all these skills, is the ability to prioritize what to do first…and next. Without a boss telling you what is most urgent, you’re the one who has to decide what’s urgent, what’s important and what can be deleted…delegation isn’t always an option here, unfortunately. Of course you can hire a virtual assistant and reach out to your partners at times…BUT, the buck stops with you.
So you’ve got to find a system for prioritizing that works for you. Without one, you’ll drown. Quickly.
Here are two simple but highly effective models that work for me and many other successful professionals:
1. The Eisenhower Matrix
To help you distinguish between what’s important and what’s urgent, get to know the classic this Matrix named after the US President who was famous for his timely decision-making ability.
This simple model allows you to break down your tasks before deciding which to tackle first. Keep in mind that it’s important to make the time to deal with things that are important, but not urgent. Also, it’s a good idea to deal with important tasks before they become urgent.
2. The Rubber Band Model
To help you deal with the dilemma of choosing between more than one good option, ask yourself:
What’s holding me? What’s pulling me?
On first sight this may look like a variation on the classic pro’s vs. con’s method. However, by focusing on two attractive alternatives it’s a more positive and therefore powerful experience.
Remember – when prioritizing between more than one important goal, ask yourself what’s most urgent right now – what action will bring me closer to it?
SECRET 2 – Focus
Once you decide which task is most important, you’ve got to be able to focus on it…until it’s done. Leaving it for your colleague to finish on your day off or for your boss to put on the finishing touches is NOT AN OPTION. Beginning a task is easy. It can even be fun. Carrying it to the finish line is hard. But if you don’t, know one will.
I’ve learned that I need to do my heavy lifting, i.e. toughest tasks, in the first half of the day. My ability to focus and produce output declines throughout the day. If I know that something is going to require all of my brain power, I attack it first. If I don’t, it usually gets put off until tomorrow…or next week.
As I’m sure you would agree – nothing is worse than getting to your desk that next day with that urgent task sitting next to your computer staring at you.
In moments when I need to focus and my creative thinking skills are required, it’s important that I change my scenery. Change my perspective. Fortunately, there’s a cafe on my street and a few park benches outside which help me with this…the corner cafe has become like a second office…
Find yourself a second office – or a place you can go to change your perspective or think out of the box.
SECRET 3 – Resilience
When he gets knocked down, a boxer has to get up. If he can’t, he won’t have much success. When she’s got a nasty scratch in her throat, a singer has to go out on stage. If she doesn’t, 30,000 screaming fans are gonna be pissed.
Not everyone can be Tyson Fury or Taylor Swift. You don’t need to be. But, you do need the ability to shake off a bad phone call with an angry client. Working in an office with colleagues or at home alone, every one of us has bad days. Bad moments. The difference is – one of us can blow off steam at the communal coffee machine or vent during the group lunch. Not possible at cafe kitchen or mi casa canteen.
I do realize that these colleagues might not be your go-to empathetic ears. Take my word for it – blowing off steam with someone is better than with no one. How do you think my cat reacts when I tell her what a shitty day I’m having…“Is dinner ready!?”
Putting my thoughts on paper or picking up the phone are a few things that help me decompress…at least until my cat has eaten. She’s a much better listener after dinner.
SECRET 4 – Discipline
Calling an unhappy client is hard. Completing a tedious task is hard. Getting out of bed, getting cleaned up and sitting at your desk before noon can be hard – especially when you’re your own boss and nobody is expecting you at your desk by a certain time.
However, without discipline, clients don’t get called. Tasks don’t get done. In fact, without discipline, working from home and by yourself doesn’t work. I’ve seen professionals quit their corporate jobs and start to work for themselves only to realize they couldn’t cut it…my guess is they didn’t have the discipline required.
The key to this skill is routine and ritual. Don’t get in the habit of staying in your pajamas all day. Get up at or around the same time every day, clean yourself up and put on work clothes and sit down at your desk. Even when every bone in your body is screaming “NO”.
Take it from me – Having discipline on days when you’re feeling motivated is easy. Not at all easy on the unmotivated ones.
SECRET 5 – Motivation
Have you ever seen a marathon running coming into the home stretch with a few people running behind them banging on drums? I’ve never experienced the boost of a marathon drummer but I do remember wanting to disappear on the basketball court…if it hadn’t been for the loyal parents in the stands I just might have.
My point is – every one of us needs that little “keep your chin up” from time to time. Working from home, you are your own cheerleader. So if you’re considering going to work for yourself think long and hard about this one.
Again, it comes down to rituals and habits. When I’m dragging at my desk, struggling to stay focused on the task in front of me, it’s time to make myself a coffee – my favorite daily ritual, incidentally. Or get outside and get some fresh air. A change of scenery can help. As mentioned previously, I attack my hardest tasks in the morning as my brain power and motivation decreases throughout the day. You might have the ability to think best at night, however.
Bottom line – you’ll be faced with this challenge whenever you’re doing something you don’t like. But, as your own boss, the buck stops with you. Of course, these days it’s never been cheaper to get some virtual assistance or hire a freelancer to do work for you. Point is – you’ve got options…I doubt you’ll find anyone to run behind you with a drum though.
SECRET 6 – Recharging
From taking regular breaks to stepping away from your workstation when dinner is on the table, recharging your batteries can be one of the hardest things to do. Or rather – taking the time to recharge your batteries. Especially if you’re in a flow.
But it’s critical to your mental, physical and emotional health. If you decide to push on through until that task or project is done, it’s really hard to motivate yourself to come back to your desk the next day. Think about a time you worked on Saturday and maybe even Sunday to meet a deadline or not disturb your flow. How did you feel on Monday morning when you got to your desk?
Think of yourself like a cell phone – it performs at a very high level but it does need a re-charge quite often. Without one, it’ll die. You won’t necessarily die if you push through but it will hurt your ability to bounce back.
My best advice for developing this skill is to create a schedule that works for you. And stick to it. Even if you feel you could keep working, force yourself to stop at the scheduled time. This will ensure you have energy left for the next day.
SECRET 7 – Human Contact
You might be an introvert. You might actually enjoy working from home away from your colleagues and boss. BUT, you are human. And like wolves, humans are pack animals. We don’t do well if we’re one our own for too long. Remember what happened to that kid who went up to Alaska to live off the land…anyway, remember those unplanned, spontaneous meetings where you ran into your colleague at the coffee machine or chatted with a few peers at lunch? GONE.
Even if you’re one of the lucky ones who can go back to the office in the coming days, I’m fairly sure there will be strict social distancing measures taken when it comes to communal coffee machine and canteens.
The good news is – you can still have human contact. You simply need to plan it. If your team is not already meeting in daily or weekly virtual “sprints”, suggest that it starts this team ritual. It doesn’t matter if there’s no work topics to discuss every day or week. Effective collaboration is not just about the actual to-do’s…
In my 20 + years helping teams improve this skill I have drawn one BIG CONCLUSION – trust is the most important element for effective team collaboration. Without it, things might get done in the short term but not in the long one.
And if you don’t have a team in the classic sense, set up a regular exchange with one or two individuals who you do trust. Of course the focus of your exchanges can be work and improving your job performance. Just take a few minutes to “check in” with each other and connect on the non-work human level.
3 QUESTIONS TO TEST YOUR READINESS
Before you decide that remote working is in your permanent future, ask yourself these three questions –
1. Can I be my own cheerleader? Even on days I feel like staying in bed?
2. Am I able to focus and prioritize without someone guiding me or directing me?
3. How would it be to go without those decompressing coffee chats and collegial lunches?
If you answered yes to all three, I’d say you’re ready to continue working from home – for yourself or for someone else. The most important thing is to be aware of these seven secrets. It’s the first and most important step to unlocking them.
Without a doubt, you’ve already adapted to the imposed home working conditions of the lockdown. Perhaps even thrived. The critical question is – are you ready for non-imposed working from home?
I encourage you to continue this self-questioning and exploration. Whatever step you take next, you’ll make it with increased awareness – the first and most important step to your Peak Performance!
P.S. If you’d like help developing these skills, if you’d like my feedback on your ideas as you move forward, I invite you to check out my KICKSTARTER 1-to-1 coaching program and see if it’s the right fit for you.