Guidance for those new to working at home

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Working at home? Dogs love it.

ve been working on my own in a spare bedroom of my home for over 16 years. If you are new to the idea, perhaps imposed on you by the corona virus situation, maybe you are wondering how to structure your time. Maybe I can help. Here are some suggestions gleaned from my experience that helped me and might help you.

Take a break

This seems like a funny place to start but if you are one of those Type-A, charge ahead individuals, you’ll need a little moderation else you’ll burn out. And if you are more laid back you need a way to ensure you don’t fritter away the day, so let’s start here. I generally take a break every two hours and I take a two-hour lunch which clears my head and gives me enough time to drain the dog and get food or do an errand. Just don’t abuse the privilege.

Remember you suddenly don’t have a commute to consider, so if you are like a lot of people, this gives you back a couple of hours per day. You’ll be surprised how quickly you forget about drive-time radio, I know I did.

A day in the life

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I think it was Dale Carnegie who said that he only worked half days and it didn’t matter much if he worked the first 12 hours or the last. The reality is that you might work much more than your normal eight hours when working at home because it’s so easy to do. Your computer is right there and so is your mobile phone. You can convene video conference calls and research all kinds of stuff. Without a commute you might be tempted to hit the desk at 7 am, take a break to insist that the kids get dressed, sell them on the virtues of doing some homework early in the day when their minds are fresh, and then get back to it.

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If you don’t walk the dog like me, you might quit for the morning at 11:30 because you’ve been at it for four hours already and your brain needs it. Make lunch for the kids, let them help but keep sharp knives away from them, turn on your favorite cable news show and check to see if your retirement savings are still above water, relatively speaking.

At about 1:30 go back to the desk and check email. Don’t try to answer all of them, just triage the important ones. Review your morning’s work and try to improve it or send to your boss for review and input. I do a lot of video conferences in the afternoon and they can be very productive because everyone can give input without hard stops and interruptions in many cases. Cherish these times.

When the kids get a little amped up, try selling them on the value of quiet time in their rooms. They don’t have to take naps, they could perhaps read James Fennimore Cooper or Homer or Jane Austin, something long and, well, sleep inspiring.

Of naps I can become rhapsodic. It’s amazing what 30 minutes of quiet time will do for your own productivity. Ariana Huffington is a big proponent and when she was in charge at Huffington Post, she set up sleeping pods for people to refresh themselves. Result? Greater productivity and all that. Just what you need to keep going because you’ll find working to 6 or 7 pretty natural and remember, no commute. Naps are so important to mental health and emotional well-being you might consider modeling that behavior for the kids.

If your boss hasn’t assigned a project for your time away, you could take the reins and start something. Think about what’s needed that you and your team don’t have time to do or consider things that will be needed right away once the virus all-clear signal is given and you need to crank up the engine again. Either way this is a good time to steal a march on the competition, don’t blow it.

Whenever you think it’s appropriate, quit for the day and resume your normal life. Maybe that means playing with the kids, going for a walk because you can’t go to the gym or making dinner. Your call. If you’re a guy though at some point remember to shave. Nothing says indolence like a few days of stubble and you want to look your best on the conference calls.

Whatever you do, you will be surprised how easily an unstructured day can assume a structure of its own. It’s up to you. You could take a 2 hour nap and walk your dog for a silly amount of time but if you fall into that trap, you will need to take a hard look and figure out if you should even be doing the job you have or if there is something else you should try.

How you handle this time of work away from work could impact the rest of your career in a good way, if you have the creativity and the drive — two qualities that are increasingly in demand in organizations that like to push responsibility down the stack.

It’s up to you. For me, working for myself has been a godsend. I answer to clients who value my input and I personally ensure that I always under promise and over deliver. All that and a two-hour lunch with no commute.

Researcher, author of multiple books including “The Age of Sustainability” about solutions for climate change. Technology, business, economics.

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