Month: March 2016

Why do I feel guilty taking breaks?

OrganizationTelecommutingTime ManagementWork From HomeWorking Remotely

If you read this blog (*insert upside-down smiley emoji*) you know that I’ve been working remotely full-time for the past few months. Prior to this I’ve been lucky enough to always enjoy flexibility as part of my full-time jobs and have always had the opportunity to work from my home to varying degrees. As I reflect on my journey to teleworking full-time I think a lot about the similarities and differences between this and going into an office daily, a lot of which I strive to capture in this blog. One has kept creeping up in my thoughts lately: taking breaks.

We all need breaks to function. Studies show taking regular breaks in between bursts of work then, well, working again, improves creativity and productivity whereas not taking breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion.

But I’ve noticed that when I take breaks while working remotely I feel significantly more guilt about doing so then when I would take a break in an office. Which is odd because even with the same amount of time spend “breaking,” I am still being far more productive and spending more time on work than when I was going into an office.

Consider: a 30-60 minute workout during lunch actually takes me less time while working remotely since I don’t have to make myself look presentable (i.e., re-do my hair and makeup) after the workout; I can opt to stay in my gym clothes for the of the day or rinse off then put sweats right back on. I estimate I save a total of 30 – 45 minutes when I work out during lunch while working remotely but I continue to feel more guilty about it. The same goes for running an errand. When I was in an office I would have to navigate my way through a maze of elevators, then out of a 10-story parking deck before even starting the errand. Starting and returning to my house saves me about 15 minutes, but again, I feel more guilt leaving my home office for just 30 minutes. The examples go on and on but the story stays the same: breaks seem more guilt-invoking when remote.

And it’s not just me. I had lunch with a peer a few weeks back (in the office) who mentioned that since she’s been working remotely a lot she couldn’t remember the last time she stopped to eat. I had to gently remind her that short breaks–especially to refuel–are essential.

I often try to understand why I feel a certain way before, or in conjunction with, remedying it. I imagine my feelings are partially a function of the fact that I know working remotely is a luxury; it represents a company showing faith and trust in you to be responsible and productive and get your work done. I don’t want to let my manager or team down or appear not to be pulling my weight or more generally, doing my job. But, I also want and need breaks.

So how to get past this mental block? For me it’s a constant, gentle reminder to myself that while my company is affording me the luxury of working remotely, they still want my best work. And since we are not part-robots (yet) I am still a working human and require breaks.

I have begun to use a personal litmus test of asking myself, “Would I do this in an office?” and if the answer is yes I do it and if the answer is no, I don’t. So going on a short walk around the park in my neighborhood during lunch or watching a 30 minute news program while I eat mid-day: fair game. Depleting my DVR or taking a nap: keep reserved for outside the 9-5.

How do you who work remotely manage your breaks– both the actual breaks you take and telling yourself it’s okay to do so? What strategies have my fellow teleworkers–and office dwellers alike– found to be helpful?

Make Monday Your Most Productive Day

OrganizationTelecommutingTime ManagementWork From HomeWorking Remotely

Mondays are hard. Whether you go into an office every day or work remotely there’s something inherently difficult about ending the 2 days that we each have to spend with our families, friends, and ourselves and handing our lives back over to our commitments. Okay that’s dramatic (and weekends can be full of commitments too!) but if you’re like the majority of people the reality is you have to work and Mondays are a part of it. If you’re like me and a full-time remote employee, or even have worked remotely on a Monday you know that Monday’s are their own interesting brand of hard while telecommuting.

Now I am not suggesting that it isn’t hard to get out of bed, get the coffee going, and get into an office on a Monday morning. That’s hard too. But working remotely these past few weeks full-time I’ve noticed that my Mondays in particular are, well, different.

There’s been something about kick-starting my week from my home after spending so much time in that same place over the weekend not working. Of course this could perhaps be a broader question about work/life balance and separation while working remotely but there have been a few strategies I’ve been employing on Mondays in particular which have helped me not just “get through” a Monday but rock it.

  1. Start your Monday on your own terms. What I mean by this is do whatever you need to do in order to start your day, and week, off right. For me that means getting up a little earlier to let myself have the lazy morning that I want. I make coffee, sometimes walk outside a little, I’ve been known to clean in the morning or throw in laundry that I just couldn’t bring myself to finish over the weekend. I once put together a 140 pound desk (if you follow me on Snapchat you were likely right there with me 🙂 ) The point is whatever you like to do in the morning to get ready give yourself enough time (maybe more than normal!) on a Monday.
  2. Sweat. If you’re able to get a workout in, in the morning or mid-day, do it! A lunchtime workout on a Monday is one of my favorite things to do. My mind literally feels noticeably clearer after doing this. Yes, this can be done in the early morning hours but I’ve learned that, that’s just not how I like to spend my first morning of the week.
  3. Go easy on yourself. You’re easing back into the work-week, let yourself truly ease in. Of course sometimes Mondays are hectic and deliverables don’t seemed to know days of the week, but if and when you can, cut yourself some slack. This doesn’t mean to not work by any means but if you need to grab a second (or third! Only me…?) coffee or tea then do it. Or if you don’t have a hard deadline to get something out maybe re-read it in the afternoon (maybe after that mid-day workout!) once you’ve had some time to warm up to the day.
  4. Have a solid Sunday. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a well-spent Sunday is key to a strong week. Yes, sometimes Sundays are meant for boozey brunches, I won’t deny this, but for me most Sundays are for relaxing, being productive, a bit of fun (always!), and gearing up for the week.
  5. Mondays are Mondays where ever you work. If you work remotely every day like me it’s easy to tell yourself than something (everything!) is challenging because you are remote. Remind yourself that Mondays are Mondays regardless of if you’re at your desk at home, desk in an office, or anywhere else.

Mondays can suck, yes, but you can definitely do some things to make yours better. Find your routine, allow yourself the extra coffee, and make it work for you!

How to Have an Effective Check-In With Your Boss From Home

Personal DevelopmentTelecommutingWork From HomeWorking Remotely

Image result for call from home office + free image

For many working professionals who work remotely, much of your productivity and success are reliant on your interactions with and relationship with your manager. It goes without saying that then having a good relationship with your boss is critical. One component of this is maintaining regular check-ins and ensuring that they are productive.

Maybe you’re a full-time remote employee, maybe you work remotely once in a while so don’t always have your meetings in person, maybe you work from an office but for whatever reason– you’re sick, your manager is sick, it’s the holidays, she’s in another location, whatever!– you’re having your check-in over the phone. Simple, right? Ehhh… Not always. Read these tips before you connect and you’ll showcase your ability to effectively communicate over the phone.

  1. Come prepared. To have a successful check-in with your manager over the phone solid preparation is key so that you can use your face-time–sans face–best. Preparation can be as simple as a list of topics or questions. For every check-in spend some time on your own reflecting on what you want to cover since your last check-in; this can include reviewing your current workload, development, areas (and/or people) in which you’re hitting roadblocks, upcoming vacations– anything. List it all off for yourself. If you have an agreed upon way to structure the conversation follow that but taking “inventory” of all the topics you would like to cover is important.
  2.  Organize your thoughts. After I lay out what I want to cover, I like to email something to my manager. This is usually not the exact same list I captured during my prep, often what I send my manager is shorter and a bit more high level. Try to keep it a manageable list for the length of time you have. Again, follow your manager’s and company’s preferences but I find this especially helpful during a phone check-in since your manager is likely in front of her computer so has the opportunity to multi-task. Whatever it is, having something down on paper (err– on a screen) helps minimize the chance that your manager is doing other things and helps her focus on you.
  3. Control the conversation and set expectations upfront. So now that you know what you want to cover and have communicated the topics in some form to your boss, ensuring you clearly express yourself to get what you need to get out of the conversation is key. Even if you have your manager’s undivided attention it’s easy to get off track and for whatever reason this seems to happen more over the phone. Combat it by ensuring you stay on relevant topics that you want to discuss. If something warrants a longer conversation but you still do really need to get to a few other “agenda items” it’s completely fair to recommend you have a separate, dedicated conversation about a specific item at a later point in time.
  4. Gut-check you’re spending your time the right way. My favorite thing to do during check-ins with my manager is to share what I call my “time allocation.” I literally share the main projects I am working on (bucketing similar, smaller ones together so to not get off topic) as well as what percent of my time I have been spending on each. I then ask my manager to confirm that he agrees I am using my time correctly. It’s essential for all professionals to ensure they are on the same page with their boss regarding priorities and how their time should be spent, but for telecommuters who don’t physically see their managers daily it can be even more important. Early in my career, while working from an office location, I would often connect with my managers on priorities two or three times a week, if not daily. But in recent years while working remotely I’ve noticed this just doesn’t happen as much so I’ve taken matters into my own hands.
  5. Brag. This is another one that’s important (though also hard!) for everyone but perhaps even more so for fellow remote workers: you must toot your own horn. Because you don’t see your manager as frequently as you would in the office it’s even more important to share your successes so he knows about them. Remember no one is as invested in your career as you are. Even the very best managers are not. Nor are the very best manager’s aware of what *exactly* you’re doing day-to-day. You must tell them.

Truth be told you should be doing all of these things during your check-ins whether you’re remote or not but it’s extra important to be upfront and communicative about your work and what you need from your manager. Your check-in should be your time, use it wisely!