Working Remotely: Managing Time, Boundaries, and Balance
This series on “Working Remotely” is inspired by “Remote,” the book by the 37Signals guys, and by my own experience working remotely for many years.
When designing this series, my original intent was to treat managing time, creating boundaries, and work-life balance, as three separate parts, but it’s become apparent that they’re connected and dependent on each other, so here we go.
Spending enjoyable, meaningful, rejuvenating time away from work (balance) can only happen if you manage your work time wisely and set boundaries between your work and personal life.
There’s no shortage of discussion, lamentations, and gnashing of teeth about trying (and often failing) to achieve a balance between your work and personal life; one that’s rewarding and productive at work, but also happy and fulfilling at home. For remote workers, that discussion is amplified.
When working from home, free from typical office interruptions, you can be lulled into a false sense of time and give in to distractions or engage your attention deficit tendencies. Then you look up and panic because there’s been a time warp and you only have a couple hours to finish a deadline project. Or, maybe you don’t panic, because, hey, you have all evening to finish the project. This is a slippery slope as you’ll develop less than productive work habits which will end up stealing your evenings and nights. Sure, you get the work done, but there goes your work-life balance.
Keep in mind that work-life balance is a personal thing. Some people live and breath their work. They’re passionate about it, even consumed by it. For others, even the slightest intrusion into their home life is anathema. Figure out your ideal balance and work to achieve it by creating boundaries, maximizing productivity, and effectively managing your time.
In order to achieve that balance or blend, you must create boundaries. Start and end your day at the same time. Take scheduled breaks and lunch, just like you would at the office. But, as with cubicle dwellers, maintain some flexility. On days that you have to stay late at “the office” to finish a project, devote a set number of hours and end on time. In other words, create routine, but remain flexible.
As the Remote guys note:
Working from home offers you far greater freedom and flexibility. That might seem like an enviable dream as anyone stuck in a cubicle, counting down the minutes until the work day is officially over, but the reality is not quite so clear-cut. Without clear boundaries and routines, things can get murky.”
A great way to start the day is with a 10-minute daily Stand-Up meeting with your team via Skype or GoToMeeting, where you state what you accomplished yesterday, what’s on your plate for today, and what’s in your way of accomplishing those tasks. This is you first “boundary” of the day, if you will – “leaving your home” for work.
Managing your time
None of this – creating boundaries and managing balance – is possible without proper time management during your work day. It’s critical. Effective time management practices include:
Starting the night before – This may seem counter to the whole balance thing I discussed earlier; it goes more in line with the idea of “blend.” But, take 30 minutes or so the night before to plan your to-do list for the next day, and it’ll make the next morning less stressful and a heck of a lot more productive since you start the ground running.
Pomodoro Technique – The idea is simple: use a timer to break up your work into 25-minute, focused intervals. Work on only one thing (single-tasking) then take a 5-minute break before winding the timer up again for another 25 minutes. After four pomodoro sessions, take a 30 minute break. You can play around with the duration of each session, but not by much. The technique is based on the premise that frequent breaks improve mental agility so you don’t want to sit in one place for two or three hours without any breaks trying to get a project done.
There are many other productivity enhancing and time management practices that you can try – like inbox zero, “touch it once” concept, and the 3+2 rule. Find a set of tools and practices that work for you and squeeze as much productivity out of your work day as you can.
As a remote worker, it’ll take some time and adjustments along the way to find your work-life balance sweet spot. Creating boundaries and managing your time during the work day will help you achieve that balance and enjoy, rather than resent, working from home.
POSTS IN THE SERIES:
Working Remotely: The Many Benefits
Traits of an Effective Telecommuter
How to Manage Work-at-Home Employees
A Productive Home Office
Communication and collaboration
Managing Time, Boundaries, and Balance
Evaluating Employee Performance
Company Culture Beyond the Office Walls
How Lee Rosen Moved His Law Firm to an All-Remote Workforce
Working Remotely: Have Computer, Will Travel