Category: Stress Management

Help! I’m in a Funk

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Winter blues. The February Funk. It’s all real. The holidays are over, maybe you’re chugging through a new years resolution (or abandoned one…), are over the weather, or are just over it. Whatever the reason there is weird energy in your life and it is bleeding into your work.

The doldrums of winter and the mood changes they bring isn’t something to scoff at. These feelings can get worse when the energy is bred around a company. And they can get even worse when you are alone and you’re in your home office and own head without human contact for hours, sometimes days on end.

Getting through these feelings can be tricky in general but how do you navigate “I’m so over this” attitudes that can get dialed up in Q1 when you’re remote??

Here are 5 things you can do when you’re in the funk and spring/summer feels just oh so far away:

1. Take stock of your mood.

First things first, do a quick self-assessment of your mood. Are you annoyed about a project being paused? Did your end of year review not go as well as you hoped? Was your Valentine’s Day lacking? Are you simply over the cold weather? Or are there some deeper issues at play here? There’s no right or wrong answer but understanding the crux of where your mood (and sometimes your ‘tude) is coming from is important.

2. Take action: find ways to be productive.

In a funk productivity can be one of the first things to dwindle. Finding small tasks to check off your to-do list can re-set your mind and remind you that you can be productive. The bigger the funk you’re in (as assessed by #1) the smaller you may want to start. Maybe it’s sending the emails that have been stuck in draft limbo for days or starting your Wednesday morning with a good sweep of the kitchen floor. We get a sense of accomplishment completing even the smallest of tasks and momentum can build from here.

*Note: If you think you’re battling depression, seasonal or otherwise, this action may be to contact a professional.

3. Take PTO.

I have a hard and fast rule with myself that I take PTO and make extra time for myself in Q1 every year. This helps me (a) have something to look forward to during the funkiest of days and (b) gives me time away, be it physical or mental.

It’s easy to save up your PTO for the warmer months and all those obligations you have but I say no! Your PTO is yours so ditch any feelings of needing to store it for all those summer weddings or the family vacation you’re expected to go on. A few days in March or January can literally change your outlook on the whole year.

4. Connect.

One the reasons for doldrums and monotony when you work remotely is because you often can’t escape. Ironically enough one of my tricks to get around this is to make more of a point to connect. What do I mean? Reach out to a coworker and ask to just catch up. I’ve gotten into the habit of having “coffee” with a coworker I’m close with every few weeks. We talk about our teams and projects but we also simply catch up, the way we would if we were at actual coffee one random February morning in the same office.

5. Own it.

When in doubt own it. Tell people–friends, family, a coworker, someone you happen to make idle chatter with at Starbucks–that you’re in a funk. Saying something out loud can do more good than we realize and can offer some sense of relief.

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What do you do when you have the winter blues? Share in the comments below.

How to Have a Hard Conversation When You’re Remote

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Hopefully you have a job (remote or not!) that you enjoy most of the time, find fulfillment in, and interact with engaging and supportive colleagues. But even the most satisfied professionals have bad days and are faced with difficult situations.

But what happens when a bad day or difficult situation goes beyond a one time occurrence? Maybe a colleague continually undercuts your ideas or intentionally leaves you out of conversations, your management team is not providing the support and runway you need to grow, or perhaps a direct report is challenging you in inappropriate ways.

While it can be intimidating, when a problem arises in the working world you must face it head on. But factor in the distance of working remotely or from a different office and it can be even more difficult.

So how do you handle this? Here are 6 tips to have a difficult conversation when you’re not in the office.

1. Have a live conversation

Intonation and inflection matter so avoid email or IM. Give the person and the situation the courtesy it deserves and have a conversation. One challenge of not being in the office is not being able to simply pop by someone’s desk or office. If you need to connect with someone who has a challenging schedule send a short email indicating you’d like to discuss a specific topic, succinctly say what that topic is, and grab time on that person’s calendar.

2. Come prepared

Clear, concise thoughts are much more powerful than spouting out grievances. Spend time detailing what the situation and problem at hand is; have short examples that you can cite if pressed. Then spend time thinking about what you believe the remedy should be. Especially if you’re going to an executive with an issue one of the first questions she is likely to you is how it can be fixed. You don’t have to have the full solution but you don’t want to fumble over your words here.

3. Remember your EQ

Along with being prepared for the conversation, your thoughts on how something can improve, and setting up the best environment possible for the discussion, don’t forget to bring your EQ or emotional intelligence. EQ is most certainly one of the professional buzzwords of the day but it’s for good reason: it matters. There are loads of different definitions out there, but one way I like to think about it particularly in terms of a difficult conversation is being a full person. When you have to face conflict, especially if there’s an added barrier like different offices or a remote worker, keep in mind that we’re all people. This person who has been seemingly actively keeping you out of a project might have some very real fears about his job security, heightened by the new baby he just had. You certainly don’t want to look past issues, but it’s important to aim to see the full picture, especially when you’re not experiencing the “full picture” of the office each day.

4. Get clear on your expectations

Before any big conversation (work meeting, personal chat, you name it!) you should have an idea of what you’re looking for as a result. You can’t control what the answer or other person’s point of view will be, but you can have an idea of what you will discuss and come to resolution on. Additionally you can have an idea of what you would like in your ideal situation. It’s important to have an understanding and idea of this going into a challenging conversation, especially one you’re driving.

5. Ask for feedback

You’re not perfect. Having a difficult situation to should remind you of the fact that no one is perfect. Talking about something unideal is a great time to learn more about how you can grow and improve as a professional. Plus asking for feedback will demonstrate to your counterpart that you’re

6. If it’s a really sensitive matter and you can, travel.

Some things–when possible–are best done in person. If you’re dealing with a highly sensitive subject, or need to involve upper management, or simply need to be able to look someone in the eye during a conversation do it in person if you can. Trust your gut and if you feel it’s necessary–and it’s possible with your work setup–make the trip.

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How have you handled a difficult situation when not being in the office?

Managing the urge to do housework while working remotely

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When you work from home it’s common to want to tackle a few chores around the house. And it’s easy to see why: When you’re working down the hall from the laundry room why not throw in a load in between calls or vacuum the living room during your lunch break rather than on Sunday afternoon? You do one small chore here and there, which seems harmless enough but overtime your lunch break to-do list might comprise things that could take an entire Saturday! This can leave you feeling strapped for time, stressed, and if you share a living space with a partner, family, or friends even a bit resentful. Oh and on top of this your work may suffer!

So how do you find the right balance between your work and housework, while working from home? What do you do when you feel overwhelmed by the large list of chores you’ve put made for yourself as a WFH employee? Here are a few tips:

  1. Remember that before you were remote you got all (or most!) of your housework done. When you were heading into the office or worked in a more “traditional” I’m assuming you found time to wash the sheets. You found time outside of your workday then and can do so now.
  2. Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you should be focused on the home. Sure it can seem really appealing to get some housework or errands done so you have more free time to yourself on the weekend but there’s something to be said about not cramming 10 different tasks into your already packed workday. On top of this it’s really important to remember that you’re still working. A real-life job. That pays you. So, that work needs to get done.
  3. Remember that real breaks are important. Your body needs time in between meetings and large blocks of work. Popping outside to mow the lawn doesn’t count. If you’re constantly finding things to do during breaks it’s not really a break since your mind isn’t being given the spare to clear. Allow yourself 15 minutes for a coffee without wiping down the kitchen counters. Trust me.
  4. Cut yourself some slack and make sure others do as well. I live alone so if the sink is full of dirty dishes at 6 pm because I had a day full of meetings and I’m tired after work I’m okay with it. Give yourself this wiggle room and if you share a living space be sure your partner, family, or roommates do as well. Have a conversation about expectations with those you share a space with; it always surprises me that even the most well-intentioned and empathetic of people can forget that you’re working a job and can’t just do all the housework during your 9-5.
  5. When you get overwhelmed just stop. You may have noticed that I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus these past few weeks. During July and early August I had a lot going on in my full-time job, my career coaching side business, oh and I relocated from Atlanta to Chicago (more on the move as a remote employee another time!) I was stressed, tired, and overwhelmed. I had to prioritize and I decided to pull back in blogging for a bit while I got through the move. When you sense yourself getting overwhelmed and taking on too much hit pause, regroup, and prioritize. Don’t let your flexibility make you become inflexible.

Does this ring true for anyone else? Do you find yourself taking on housework here and there while teleworking? Is this a problem for you or does it work? Share in the comments below!

5 Reasons Why You Must Take Time Off As A Remote Worker

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One of the biggest perks of working from home is that by being able to work from anywhere you can work, well, anywhere, including while traveling. While this is a great feature of being remote (that I clearly take advantage of) it doesn’t mean that the work from home employee does not need a true vacation.

I just got back from an 18-day trip out west. You may be thinking “18 days!!???!!” That’s right, 18 days. For a good part of it I worked from coffee shops and homes of my friends in the northwest US, but for an equally big part of it I was on PTO.

Some remote workers may see it as a waste of PTO since they don’t have to take time to get away. I support working through travel (read more here) but sometimes you need a true break. A friend of mine who also works remotely recently told me he hasn’t taken PTO in over a year. A year without vacation. He seemed proud of this but in my opinion, unless you are a small business owner whose company will literally stop and crumble to the ground in your absence (which is a different problem), not taking time off is doing it wrong. Here are 5 reasons why you MUST take vacation time, even when your time away is time away from a home office:

1. Your vacation days = your $$. We hear a lot about unused vacation days. (Side-note: one of my favorite ads is the MasterCard ad “One More Day” in which kids are shocked that their parents not using all their vacation days.) On top of the fact that vacation is earned, the full picture is that vacation days are part of your compensation if you are a salaried employee. Think about vacation as money: breakdown your salary into what it would be on an hourly basis. For each hour (or 8 hours, for one workday) you don’t use that is money you are throwing away. When you work without taking your paid time off you are lessening your paycheck.

2. Without you taking it your PTO just sits there, or worse disappears! Yes, some PTO rolls over and some companies have a policy of paying you out for unused days when you leave (though check your terms on both of these items) but unless you are about to resign or are planning on rolling days for a big trip, your unused time literally sits, proverbially, “there” and oftentimes if you don’t use it, it will be taken away from you. Use it or lose it, literally.

3. Rest is essential. No one, not even my small business-owning, midnight oil burning, rock-star of a father, can go without rest and true time off. It’s not good for the mind, body, or soul; which all have direct impacts on your performance at work. Even if you are your own boss you still need rest.

4. Time off helps you re-center and re-prioritize. Down-time helps you clear your head and recharge within your personal life. Beyond its head-clearing effect, it can actually help you improve at work. There have been many times I’ve returned from a trips and seen a certain problem in an entirely new light. Taking the time to get out of your own headspace and day-to-day world, seeing fantastic new places, and experiencing the greatness in life resets you. Once seemingly unsolvable issues become easily fixed, or if not easily fixed then manageable.

5. Sometimes you just need to take the time off to enjoy a trip. Sure you can work from coffee shops from different places while traveling (again, I do this ALL the time) but sometimes you need the time to do things like drive from Idaho to Montana to Wyoming, back to Idaho, then back to Wyoming, then to Colorado in a week. Or hike and bike or camp or ski or surf and sail or hit the tiki bar. Sometimes you just want to not feel obligated to check your email. THIS IS ALL OKAY. YOU HAVE VACATION DAYS SO YOU CAN DO ALL THESE THINGS ON A RANDOM TUESDAY DURING ANY MONTH OF THE YEAR. BEING ABLE TO WORK REMOTELY DOES NOT TAKE THIS AWAY FROM YOU.

Don’t believe me and my use of caps lock? Maybe some of the killer things I’ve been doing on my vacation in the pictures below and on my Instagram will help convince you:

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Food trucks in Portland, OR

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Multnomah Falls near Portland, OR

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View of Puget Sound from the Cascades Train en route to Seattle

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Obligatory picture of the Seattle skyline from Kerry Park in Queen Anne

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Obligatory picture of the Public Market

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Obligatory picture of the Seattle skyline from the ferry to West Seattle (clearly did lots of obligatory Seattle things)

**Note: My PTO started after leaving Seattle

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#selfiefail at Lava Lake a little south of Bozeman, MT

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Antique sheepherder’s wagon in Belgrade, MT

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Covered wagon again because it was just too cool

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Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park

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Scenic views of Yellowstone

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The Grand Tetons

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Tetons again

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The Working Girl From Home–from the Grand Tetons–on vacation

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View of the Tetons from my Idaho Airbnb

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Sunset over Idaho farmland, taken in front of my Idaho Airbnb

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Sitting next to a huge potato in Driggs, Idaho

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Rented a bike at the Tetons

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View of Jenny Lake from Inspiration Point

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Panoramic of Jenny Lake as I hiked back down from Inspiration Point

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The Working Girl From Home, on a bike in front of the Tetons

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Bison spotting

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New Denver bud

Feeling guilty for taking vacation is common for remote employees and traditional employees alike. What have you done to get over it? Have you gotten over it? Did something finally convince you to take your PTO? Share in the comments below!

My secret to staying sane while working from my home all week

Stress ManagementWork From HomeWorking Remotely

When you’re home all day, every day, all week, every week it’s natural to begin to feel a little cooped up. So how do you fight these feelings? How do you remain a sane human, not get completely sick of your space, oh and stay engaged in your work for your company that is affording you the opportunity to be remote?? To answer this it’s important to consider the mindset and experience of the remote worker.

When you don’t got into an office every day there are some inherent social aspects of a job that you miss out on. Sure you can participate in a team fantasy football league and make picks in a March Madness bracket but there are social aspects that you just simply don’t get to be a part of: happy hours, group lunches, decorating a co-worker’s cube for her birthday.

Even if the social piece of your job isn’t all that important to you, the simple act of getting out of your house every day and interacting with other humans is something that you will notice. And if you’re like me and don’t live with a significant other, kids, roommates, or even have a pet, this can particularly take a toll.

It’s easy to fall into the mundane routine of getting up, having breakfast, working, having lunch, working, hitting the gym, having dinner, relaxing, going to bed. Rinse and repeat. Even if you have a roommate, significant other you live with, or even a pet, it’s easy to fall into this trap. It’s easy to fall into this trap if you do go into an office each day.

So how do you avoid getting massive cabin fever and going stir crazy when you spend a significant portion of your life cooped up in your home? What’s my trick?

I get out.

I’m not talking about spending an afternoon or two a week at Starbucks. I do that sometimes but that’s not the real interaction I seek. What I have found to be most effective is to have actual plans during the work week. Like going on a walk or doing a gym class with a friend at night. Or making a point to go out to dinner or drinks or a sporting event.

This isn’t rocket science, I know. But think about how easy it is to fall into that mundane daily cycle. And think about what you want to be doing after a looong day. If you’re anything like me and you crave (and need) down time to recharge and reflect; after a demanding day I love nothing more than curling up with a book or watching TV in peace. Especially after a few hectic days it’s so easy for me to go hermit mode at night; I tell myself I’ll see my friends and interact with the world on the weekend.

But when I started to work remotely this began to back-fire on me. When I was going into the office daily it was nice to come home and spend time alone; essential actually. But after being by myself all day I was ready for–needing really–human interaction. This was a surprising shift. What was more surprising what that it was impacting my work. If I stayed at home every night a given week by Thursday afternoon I would find myself struggling to stay focused. “Powering through” the end of the week turned into “powering through being in my house for another day.” While I still very much need my rest and downtime to reflect on myself and my world, when I’m home all day I very much need to leave home at night. So that’s what I now do.

This simple observation and change has really made all the difference for me. I’m human so when Thursday afternoon rolls around I still begin to taste and crave the weekend but I’m no longer sick of my space. I can stay focused and stay engaged in my work space, which can be half the battle when you’re a remote employee.

What do you do to stay sane from your home office? Share in the comments below!