I had a pretty frustrating day on Monday. I’d been up since sunrise and went to bed at 10:30pm. I’d spent the entire day either working or looking after kids. And I’d only got 7 hours work done.
No exercise. No internet surfing. No blogging. No ME-time! Just work, and kids.
Now I’m pretty realistic about my life at the moment, and don’t expect a lot of ME-time. I’ve got 4 kids: 2 at school, 2 at home. There are a lot of kiddy-things to get done like getting them fed and dressed and off to school. And later in the day – fed, bathed, homework done, stories and off to bed. On top of that there’s all the dishes, the baby’s bottles, the cleaning and the washing.
I work from home and have flexible working hours. I try to get 40 hours of work done a week – 8 hours a day from Mon-Fri (weekends are fully booked with child duties). I also try to get at least an hour of exercise a day.
I NEED the exercise. This is my ME-time. Not only does it get the blood pumping and keep me alive. It is my chance to think about something other than work and kids. My chance to think about nothing at all! Exercise balances me, and without it, I’m…well…probably not much fun to be around!
And I enjoy spending time around the kids. I appreciate having the chance to be close to them as they are growing, and to be a part of their development. I’m lucky I can do this. And I like to do this… in moderation!
So on Monday, I was awake for 16 hours and spent 7 hours working. That means 9 hours with the kids… on a work day! Moderation redefined?
Remote working starts out easy. When you move from a 9-5 job where you used to be away from home from 8-6 those 10 hours are blocked out as work hours. You can fit in 8 hours work and have a couple left over for exercise and coffee breaks. But as the months pass, little bits of that 10 hour block get booked up for other activities. School drop-offs and pick-ups, cooking dinner, baby-sitting a sleeping child. Now, 5 years into remote working, my work day block is down to about 6 hours; I make the other two hours up (if I can) before bed.
I’ve evolved some rules to help me succeed at remote working. And they’re still evolving. But on Monday, I broke most of them!
Rule 1. Exercise before dawn
This is is the only time of the day(!?) when you are certain to be able to get out for exercise (sick children permitting). No-one is awake to try to talk you out of it, you’re not worn out from a long day at work, there are no conflicting appointments, no babies to watch, and no adhoc child events. Set the alarm for 5AM, get up and GO! It’s all up to you. You may not get another chance!! DO NOT check your work emails before you go!!!
Rule 2. Drop the kids at school and go for a coffee!
This might seem counter-intuitive. How can removing myself from my beautifully setup work environment, with my extra screens and machines, increase productivity? Surprisingly, this is probably the most productive rule I’ve evolved.
If I stay home and let the wife drop the kids to school, inevitably there’ll be a kid left with me. And that kid, who is supposed to be asleep, will awaken. And then the wife will have ‘one or two thing to pick up’. And a tradesperson will drop round to fix a thing. And, and, and… Frustration will eat me up, as the clock ticks by and I still haven’t had a chance to address those first work emails.
And I tell you, being frustrated about being unable to start work is frustrating in itself. No-one actually wants to work! I don’t want to work! But I have to work. ANd I can’t work. And I want work to start so I can finish. Arghhh – I get frustrated just thinking about it!
Solution? Drop the kids at school yourself, take your laptop and 3G phone, go to a cafe, grab a coffee and logon and start working! No interruptions. No unforeseen delays. Just crack into it and get those initial emails and quick tasks done! Sure, it’s not the best for writing and testing complicated code, but it is perfect for cracking through the initial hour or two of work faff.
Rule 3. Use a To Do list
It’s not time management, it’s interruption management! The To Do list is my saviour. One list with all of my tasks on it. Tasks to be done this week tagged. Tasks to be done today tagged. At the beginning of the day review the this week list and move any to the today list. Spend the rest of the day working through the today list. Anything that comes in during the day gets put on the list and, if required, tagged this week or today.
I use TaskPaper on the Mac for this. It’s clean, fast and simple; your ToDo list is a TXT file which you can manipulate with an Text Editor if you need to. I share the list across all of my machines via DropBox. It’s my single, global list. If only I had a DropBox folder in my head…
Rule 4. Interrupted? Write down what you were about to do!
More interruption management. If my wife pokes her head in the door for a quick word, I take a moment and write down what I was about to do. Write it on a piece of paper, in a TXT document or on a PostIt. Just write it down! Sometimes that quick word can take half an hour and then I’m scratching my head wondering what that brilliant idea was, that I was about to execute.
Rule 5. Work in the back of the car
Inevitably you’ll be required for kid duty during the work day. A club here, a music lesson there. Shuttling kids from somewhere to somewhere else with an interminable wait in-between. Get yourself a 3G phone and take your laptop. I get some of my best work done during the 90 mins my kids are at drama class on a Wednesday afternoon. I take the people-mover, a drink bottle, a coffee, and my laptop and set myself up in the backseat in the carpark. I tether the laptop to my phone, and I’m away! It’s a good idea to prepare for this earlier in the day by keeping some work aside that is easily done on the smaller laptop screen – working on a Word document is perfect. Having a laptop with a good battery life, a hi-res screen and a quick power-up helps – a 13 inch MacBook Air with its 1440 x 900 screen does the job for me.
Rule 6. Get more sleep
For starters, Rule 1 (Exercise before dawn) is very hard to implement if you haven’t had enough sleep. But more importantly, with young kids and work stress and life stress, it is vital (for me) to try and get more sleep. I know I haven’t had enough when I lose my patience and start to get cranky. Life’s to enjoy. Better that I get an extra hour of sleep and enjoy it, and allow everyone around me to enjoy it too. It’s amazing how relaxed you can be in the most stressful situations if you’ve had a good nights sleep!