Oho Business Talk | No. 3
If you’ve spent any time on my instagram (and if you haven’t, why not?), you know that my studio space is one of my favorite spots in the Twin Cities. Not only do I share it with people I love, but it’s also just a really beautiful space to work from.
My (not so) super secret confession? In the 16 months I’ve had a signed lease, outside of meetings with clients, I’ve spent maybe a handful of days actually working there. Which means that 99.9% of my days are spent working at home.
Why? Well, believe it or not, I’m actually more productive at home.
I can legitimately see your skepticism from my computer screen but it’s 100% true. Since leaving my hedge fund job in 2011, with exception of about a year and a half during the COMN years, I’ve spent almost 6 full years working from home.
So today? We’ll talk about Six Tips to Be Your Best Self While Working from Home (and Doing It Efficiently) because with 5+ years of choosing to work from home, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to minimize distractions and increase productivity – all within the confines of the walls of my house.
Let’s dig in…
The Five Minute Cleanup (Before Bed)
My number one reason for having an unproductive work day is a messy house. It is just a fact. As someone who is driven (or bummed out) by aesthetics, there’s nothing that derails my brain quicker than a house that is in serious need of a cleaning lady (that’s me; I’m my own cleaning lady).
That pile of laundry waiting to be folded? It feels vastly more important than answering emails. The mess in the kitchen sink from dinner the night before? I can legitimately feel it under my skin. A tumbleweed of dog hair in the corner of the room? I’m the messiest human alive; must fix now.
You get the gist. It’s not pretty.
In efforts to give myself the best possible chance for starting the day in a way that sets me up for success instead of distraction, (almost) every night before bed I dedicate some time to returning the house back to baseline. For us now, without kids running the show (and sleep patterns), it’s easy enough to fold blankets, start the dishwasher and pick-up the random clutter that somehow manages to reproduce (like bunnies, HOW) during the day. What’s harder? Avoiding a full kitchen sink when you’re trying to make coffee in the morning. Or that laundry pile with it’s side eye (seriously, this is a thing in our house).
For you this might be a two minute routine, or it might be ten, but getting it done before you go to bed is the best way to wake up and get right to work before any distraction (or dog-hair tumbleweeds) can strike. And if bedtime is not your time? That’s fine; do what works for your habits. Build in 5-10 minutes before you start work for the day and sit down at your computer with a clean slate and an empty sink.
Start Your Day in the Best Way
I have a morning routine, guys. Like the 80 year old grandpa I am (my grandpa, to be specific).
On my best days, my routine looks a little like this: Brain starts stirring somewhere between 5:30am and 6:00am. Coffee. Light a candle (or two – these are my favs). My favorite instrumental playlist (you know the one). A cozy blanket on the chaise lounge. My New Testament devotional book and some QT with the Big Guy. Another cup of coffee. Blog writing (here or at Ohos Adopt) at 7am. Emails at 8am. Third cup of coffee (or water. sometimes. mostly coffee.) Working on daily to-dos by 10am.
I know this 34-year-old body well enough to know that if I allow myself to doze off after that initial wake-up, I’m done for and will pay for it later with slept-too-much lethargy and a foggy brain. And I also know that if I allow myself to pick up my phone to check what happened in the world since my 9:30pm bedtime (like I said, grandpa), I’ll spend the next hour in bed watching insta-stories and going down the instagram rabbit hole that is the Kardashian family (which may truly be one of my worst habits, no judgment).
I haven’t always been a morning person and believe me when I say it didn’t happen overnight but it is truly the best thing I did for myself as a young business owner. It took introspection into what makes a perfect morning, for me, and making that enticing enough to actually get out from under the warm covers (ok, ok, warm covers AND snuggly dog spooning) and down the stairs to the kitchen for coffee. I know that my best & most productive days are the ones where I feel accomplished, driven and like the bosslady I know I am. And the chances of days like that are exponentially more possible when I start my day before the sun rises & with a routine of God first, business second. That piece of knowledge helps to push my body in an upright position and out of bed on those mornings when the call for more snoozing (or the Kardashians) is deafening.
Set a Time Limit
I’m a bit of a podcast junkie (more on this in later Oho Business Talk) so after a particularly brutal string of editing tasks this year, that took nearly double the time it normally takes for no definable reason, I found myself on the hunt for podcasts about productivity. I needed a jump-start, a reset and maybe, just maybe, another reason to delay working on a task that was disheartening just from the sheer amount of time it was taking.
Enter Brooke Castillo and Episode #179 and I was a changed woman.
To boil the concept down to a soundbite = your tasks will take as long as you allow to complete them. It is the difference between asking yourself “how long will it take?” and saying, “this will take me one hour to complete.” Are you following me?
The host’s theory is that we, as the doers, should be the ones dictating how long a task will take vs. the contents of a task dictating how long it takes. If I say, I will cull this entire wedding in two hours, it will take me two hours to complete. If I say, I will cull this wedding today, it may take me from 8am to 5pm to complete the same task because I allowed the task to define the time (and therefore, may be more susceptible to distractions, tangents and inefficient working).
Does your brain hurt? Mine did. Is it possible? Does it work?
Yes. 100%. It really does.
If I am giving myself reasonable time expectations (key word, reasonable) to finish a project/task/to-do, I am better motivated to complete that task in the time allotted. Now, instead of looking at my daily to-do list and thinking – “ok, I have XYZ many hours to complete XYZ tasks”, I instead assign each task a time limit. Blog Writing for an Hour. Emails for an Hour (two if my inbox is particularly rough). Cull a Newborn Session for 30 Minutes. Quick Edit a Preview for 30 Minutes. Etc, Etc.
Now, of course, this comes with a caveat. I can say “I will cull this entire wedding in 10 minutes” but that is an unreasonable expectation of how long that actually takes me, even at my most efficient, and is setting myself up for failure (and disappointment, which leads to Kardashian rabbit holes, obviously). So be realistic with your time goals and give yourself a little grace if you don’t quite make it. Just reset the timer, re-define the time to completion and get it done.
Need an Extra Boost? Turn Off the Wifi
This isn’t a ground breaking tip but sometimes it’s my hail Mary in a tidal wave of distraction.
If you’re having one of those days where the new email notifications are incessant or your family rediscovers the family group chat (love you, fam-bam), turn off the WiFi on your computer, set a timer for an hour and see how much you can knock off your to-do list.
I promise you’ll surprise yourself.
Define Your Work Hours. (And Give Yourself Reason to Stick to It.)
It’s been rumored that I maybe, might have workaholic tendencies and I have zero pride in admitting that for the majority of last year, I worked from sun up to sun down, every single day for weeks (sometimes months) on end. Often times, sitting in the same spot for 16 hours and most times without a shower. #sexy
Like. GUYS. That’s not healthy.
But also, it’s not as if I spent 16 hours being my most productive self.
In fact, once I really started examining my work habits, it became clear that tasks that should take minutes took significantly longer just due to the fact that I wasn’t in a hurry. I had sixteen work hours in a day; nine hundred and sixty minutes. What else was I going to fill the time with? Once I started enforcing a daily start & stop time and therefore having less time to do the same things I previously had 16 hours to do, I started becoming more efficient with the time I did have.
Another piece that helped? Giving myself a reason to shut it off.
For those of you with kids, this may be a no-brainer but for those of you who don’t have that motivating factor, sometimes this is hard. I found that giving myself a reason to look forward to the end of the workday, instead knowing that I could legitimately work until bedtime with zero guilt, made it easier to confine my work hours to a shorter duration than “all the hours you’re awake and it’s possible to have a laptop in front of your face”. Things like trying a new recipe with Matt. Dinner with friends. Technology-free date night at home.
After all, there’s ALWAYS (and I repeat, always) going to be a “next task” as a business owner. We’re likely not ever going to get to a point where the to-do list is completely checked off so there’s just another reason to give yourself a reason to shut down the computer and make efforts to live a life outside of running a business.
Besides, it’s (Oho)Scientifically Proven to lead to more kitchen time for delicious dinners (that’s a questionable adjective when I’m involved) cooked together and about 150% more dog snuggles. What’s not to love?
Know That Some Days Will Just Be Hard
(And this is equally true for wedding season as it is for the slow season.)
Some days, your brain just needs a break. Some days, you just need to accept that it’s going to be a day where you only get the minimum done. Some days, you have to make room for business & life conversation-filled coffee dates with friends, even if it means hustle later to make up for it.
That’s 100% ok. In fact, I’d argue that it’s one of the greatest things about running your own business – the ability to define your schedule, your priorities and your productivity. After all, we didn’t become business owners to be slaves to deadlines that ultimately we set for ourselves so why do we continue to act like those same deadlines keep us chained to our desks, even when our brains and bodies need rest?
So, give yourself (and your to-do lists) a day off. And get right back to it the next day; refreshed and ready to take on the world.
(PS, you guys. Thank you for your emails and comments and response to the Oho Business Talk series thus far. These are those water-cooler conversations that we miss out on working for ourselves and I am absolutely loving getting to have these chats with you all in my inbox and on social media.