During the initial months of the Covid crisis you were bombarded with tips about how to optimize your day while working online and how to be more effective than ever while multi-tasking zoom meetings, slack chats and conference calls.
For many, working remotely is unsettling. They start questioning their relationship with work, worry about how to continue to “perform” work without the established in-person norms and often find themselves completely unmotivated to get started without the ritual of commuting to an office.
For many people who are self-employed, freelance or who work in companies who know how to work remotely they know the “secret” of remote work – namely that it unlocks an enormous amount of freedom and responsibility in terms of how you manage your time.
I wanted to share some tips that if you share them or tell your boss you’re following them, will make even the most secure managers get a bit nervous. However, I can attest that in my experience working remotely in big companies for several years and on my own for the past three years, it is more than possible to work less, improve your life and still do good work.
The following are all things I’ve embraced or others have shared and I’ve tested out in my own routine. Outside of other independent workers, people rarely talk about these practices because there is such a stigma and a certain amount of shame attached with the admission that you work less.
15 Tips You Should NOT Share With Your Boss
#1 Reclaim your morning: Try to get out of your morning meetings or zoom “stand-ups” as the cool tech-folk are calling them and spend your time as you wish until 10am. No more dread of getting to work and an un-nameable emptiness ruining your morning. If you are looking to inject more joy, check out Craig Kulyk’s suggestions for your morning routine, or what he calls the “morning effect”
#2 Cancel Meetings: The worst way to move to remote work is to replace all your in-person meetings with zoom meetings.
Many meetings are performative or holding spaces for live thinking. All of the best remote companies (and companies like Amazon) have realized this and have people spend more time writing out their thinking than sitting in a room sharing half-baked thoughts.
To help change the norm, change your own behavior. Before a meeting, write-up your comprehensive thoughts on the topic and send them to your teammates a day before in writing. Ask for feedback and if the team should consider using that approach for the next meeting. Over time, your team will realize that if people think on their own time, you can shift an hour long meeting to a 10 minute group slack chat.
Worst, case just don’t show up to the meetings or decline the invite. At a previous company I used this technique and my colleagues assumed I was “swamped.”
#3 Keep Zoom Fun: If you must meet, make sure that you embrace the principles of online communication. These include pre-reads before the meeting, using meetings for decision making and keeping things fun and high-energy. A good rule of thumb is to keep zoom meetings to less than 5 people and to not spend more then 1-2 hours a day in zoom meetings.
If you must use zoom, have a little fun with it.
#4 Cap your workday at 5-6 hours: Once you’ve eliminated those meetings, you’ll probably find that since you are not confined to an office, you can probably get your work done in less time. Shift your mindset to a 5-6 workday (secretly of course, don’t want to excite your boss too much).
#5 Nudge your colleagues and boss to asynchronous communication: Tell your team that since you are experimenting with working from home anyway you “want to try to organize your time to be even MORE productive!” Don’t tell them the details, but just suggest that maybe you experiment for 1-2 weeks without expecting to respond immediately to texts, e-mails and phone calls so you can focus on deeper, more focused work. If you have a manager who thinks their job is running a instant command response center with 24/7 e-mails and texts, its probably time to look for a new job.
#6 Adjust your expectations of motivation: While some people find they are more productive at home, I find more find the opposite. I tell people to subtract two points from the question “how motivated are you to do this?” because of the lack of in-person emotional pressure and the ritual of being in an office.
Vega Factor has some good resources about that here and why these things probably aren’t great if you want to like your job. With this lower level of motivation, trying to get rid of things you don’t want to do and creating your own work is more important than ever.
#7 Experiment with a bimodal workday: One thing I like doing is working a couple hours when I wake up and then later from 4-7pm. Other times I work in the morning and a couple hours at night. Once you’ve gotten a little more freedom in your work, working at different hours give you back a little more energy to your day.
#8 Move : With the extra free time you’ve unlocked you don’t need to rush to “fit in” a workout before or after work. Do it during the day and experiment with different times throughout the day. I enjoy getting out and about from 2-4pm every day since it’s usually when its the warmest and I don’t have much creative energy anyway.
#9 Coordinate non-work with partner or kids: My wife and I have been working flexibly with non-set schedules for our entire relationship. One thing we try to do is pick times to spend together whether it is going for a bike ride during the day, meeting up for meals (pre-quarantine), or spending time together. I always try to put these things ahead of my work and then fit in work around them.
#10 Experiment with time-blocking and time-tracking: I don’t use them regularly, but sometimes it helps to block off a couple hours on my calendar to work on a project. Another tool I like is the Toggl chrome extension, which helps you quickly track what you are working on and set 25 minute “pomodoros” to help you focus. Focusmate is another useful tool you might consider to do a working session with someone on the internet.
#11 Invite your kids, spouse and pets to the video conference: Let’s stop pretending we’re productivity machines and not humans. It’s okay to be you. I once wore a Snuggie to the office. Come as you are.
#12 Ask yourself uncomfortable questions: Since being self-employed, I’ve had to grapple with the uncomfortable realization that before working on my own, most of my decisions were made around work. Where I lived, when I ate, who I hung out with and when I got to see family. The question Andrew Taggart offers is “if you’re not a worker, who are you?” (see below).
#13 Schedule a “freedom hour” to do things you really want to do: So many people I talk to have creative projects they want to work on or a secret passion (“I want to write but I don’t have the time”). Schedule a “freedom hour” on your calendar – make it private or call it something like “update TPS reports.”
#14 Write online: I’ve been writing publicly on the web since 2014. I was scared because I was still employed but then I realized no one even noticed. It’s been the most important thing in helping me make friends, learn and find ways of making money outside of a job. Most people don’t do it because they get frustrated by the nonsense on the web. That’s the point. We need more people with self-doubt writing, not just the people that have complete faith in themselves.
#15 Push the limits: Challenge yourself to get your work done in only four hours. Try to spend an entire day not doing any work and see how it feels. Do you really have that much work? Are you uncomfortable if you don’t have something to do? See what arises and don’t push those thoughts away
I’ve been writing quite a while about putting our lives first ahead of work. Abandoning the idea that one needs to “earn” a living and accept that we are already living. Use this opportunity to work remotely to sit down and imagine how you’d want to spend your days but just be aware you may have a hard time going back to the office…