When you wake up and walk down the hallway, open your laptop, work on projects you can’t touch with people you can’t see, close your laptop, and finish your day with some TV dining all in the same 1000 square foot apartment… time and space start to seem a bit surreal. This experience is unique to the computer-tethered teleworker. Yet, the strategies I use to ground myself in the physical world while performing remote knowledge work are just a slight spin on strategies I used during my years as a researcher in a cubicle. Let me walk you through my Monday and share a few of my timecraft strategies along the way.
Monday was one of those days when I was only able to stay on task and feel a sense of accomplishment when I clocked out because I broke time into shards, used them as weapons against inertia, and made strategic alliances with kitchen and laundry appliances. Here is the timeline:
830am – Pick up the phone for a coaching call. When the first thing on my schedule in the morning offers momentum of its own instead of asking me to shrug off sleepiness and engage with a task, then the battle has already been won. I will show up with my game face on the minute I clock in, because I don’t want to let that caller down. Then the magical momentum I have acquired by the end of the call can equip me to engage my first independent task. I own it, it is mine, and I can bend that momentum to my will.
9am – Start a load of laundry. Seeing a batch of clothes go from dirty and stinky to clean and folded is a physical representation of the two projects I will complete while the 35 minute wash and 45 minute dry cycles run. First, when I transfer the load from wash to dryer, I will have wrapped up my email correspondences and task list for the day. Second, by the time I pull the load from the dryer to fold it, I will need to have finished sketching an infographic for new hire onboarding and send it to stakeholders for feedback. At that point, I’ll have earned a brain break from the glowing screen and spend 10 minutes folding that fresh linen-scented fabric!
1030am – Double check my Toggl entries for the morning are accurate. Since my body doesn’t physically move from task to task, tracking the time I spend on each project helps me understand where my efforts are directed. So whenever I am assigned a new project, I create an entry for it in Toggl. Then, when I begin working on it, I click the timer to start for that project. At the end of the day/week/month, I can look to my Toggl analytics to add clarity to the workday blur and feel comforted if I can’t remember what on earth I did for the last eight hours or five days or four weeks.
1032am – Scan my tasks for the day, and select one with the appropriate level of challenge. Yes, I color code my “to do’s” by difficulty. That way I can work with my natural energy levels. When I need an autopilot activity, I will send all of those Outlook planners or redact that folder full of example reports. When my brain is buzzing with idea productivity, I will draft a training proposal for the managing directors. When I am craving social connectedness, I will draft update emails to project collaborators.
1130am – Put lunch in the oven. When my pantry allows, preparing a lunch that takes 30 minutes or so to cook is nice. It gives me another physical representation of time: This chicken pot pie is frozen; when I am done with my editing project the pie will be hot. I have a lunch break to look forward to, and I’ll be able to smell it coming. (A slow cooker is another effective ally in this endeavor.)
12pm – Clock completely out and eat lunch. It’s hard to untether from instant messenger and email as a teleworker, because you don’t want to seem out of touch. But, at least for me, there is rarely an emergency that can’t wait 30 minutes. No need to flatter myself that I am quite that important. If you are, congratulations!!
1230pm – Log onto Skype for a virtual co-working session. I need to rebuild the momentum I lost during my date with a chicken pot pie, and peer pressure is a helpful tool. My teammate and I explain the goals we have set for our hour together, troubleshoot any unsettling aspects, give pep talks, and then hunker down to silently work with our connection still live. Random chatter may happen throughout the hour, but the overall effect is considerably higher engagement with the task and greater productivity than if I were working alone in my silo. At the end of the session, we share our outcomes, congratulate each other, and reflect on what we hope to get done by the end of the day.
130pm – Keep plugging away the rest of the day. I do whatever it takes to stay engaged. After finishing a task, I try to give a physical representation of the task switching process: refresh my tepid cup of coffee, walk around the block, text with mom, move from my desk to the table, the table to a couch, a couch to the kitchen counter. Disruption is a powerful weapon against inertia.
5pm – When the workday is done, leave the house. I have to do this – even if for five minutes. After I leave my home office, I can come home to… well, home. This allows me to see these 1000 square feet with new eyes. When I come back, I don’t check email or do one last task. Maybe I’ll be domestic, be social, be a volunteer, enjoy myself – but I will not clock back into work. The time-space boundary has already been created, all I must do is allow my efforts to prevail.
So that was my day, and those were some of the strategies I used to maximize both my enjoyment of work and the return on time invested. If you have any questions or suggestions, timecraft is constantly playing around in the back of my mind. I suspect it always will be. I’d love to hear your thoughts!