Dec 7, 2011

"Working From Home" Without the Air Quotes

The Crew

Yesterday I worked from home. No, I didn't "work from home". I flat out worked. Like a mad man. If I list out the things I accomplished it's kind of mind blowing:

  1. Combed through pages and pages of user interview notes to find tasks for a mental models exercise.
  2. Conference call with sales to iron out some SOW issues.
  3. Caulked the bathroom sink.
  4. Hung Christmas lights in the front yard.
  5. Moved the Christmas tree in the house.
  6. Spackled the ceiling.
  7. Sanded the bathroom ceiling for repainting.
  8. Cooked Mexican Crockpot Lasagna.
  9. Called the repair folks about fixing my TV.
  10. Designed a homepage feature for a freelance client.
  11. Finalized some logo elements for another.
  12. Played an hour of Call of Duty MW3.
  13. Read some email.
  14. Player with the kids.
  15. Cuddled with the kids.
All this while wrangling my 18 month old daughter and 3 year old son. Whew!

I was inspired. Maybe a little insane. But it didn't feel like a lot when I was doing it. And it makes me wonder why I don't work from home more often. I got a LOT done for Webtrends (probably more than I would if I were on site) while at the same time getting an enormous amount of home tasks done.

Why did this happen? Should everybody work from home all the time?

I don't think the answer is yes. I am glad to be back at work. But how can I get the same level of productivity at work as I did at home?

I think the answer lies in the location. Many of the things I accomplished yesterday have been on my "honey-do" list for months. My wife has attempted to walk that fine line between nagging and gently nudging (bless her) with mediocre results. I am a busy guy and it is very easy to focus on other things, especially when I'm at work.

As I sat on the couch listing mental model tasks out on my MacBook Air the house just started to speak to me. I could see that spot on the ceiling that needed spackling. I could see the tree sitting on the front porch  and the TV that needs fixing. When the kids went down for a nap I started taking care of things. And as I did one thing I would see another. When the kids woke up I couldn't ignore them so I cuddled and played before diving back in to work. When 4PM rolled around I knew I needed to get that crockpot going. Once it was in it was back to work.

The key was living and working surrounded by the things that needed to be done. Nobody told me they needed to be done, I did them because I could see them staring me in the face. 

Now let's think about work. At work we are surrounded by things that stand in the way of getting things done. Cube walls, co-workers, internet (and those tempting cat videos), managers, email, meetings... the list goes on and on. Once we wade through a pile of email we are called off to a meeting and then whoa, it's lunch time already.

It's amazing what happens when you finally get around to opening up that Photoshop file or piece of code what you see. All the sudden you are surrounded by what needs to get done. You can see how things fit together, a missing element here, an unwritten function there. Once you've dived in you start to get moving. Unfortunately, that meeting in 15 minutes or visit from a co-worker are likely to distract you.

Some people respond well to the frenetic ADD work environment. I have to admit, I love juggling projects. One single task leaves me running to Facebook or searching for distraction. However, interruptions aren't good for me either. 

At home, I defined my tasks. I didn't have a list I was checking off (lists don't do me good either) but I had the freedom to concentrate on whatever it was I wanted to and get it done. If I wanted to play Call of Duty for an hour I could. If I got in to the bathroom to sand the ceiling and saw the sink needed caulking, I could do that. I knew I needed to get that mental model project done but I could gauge how much time I needed and get back to it when I needed to.

I found myself working in 90 minute chunks. There is a lot of productivity data that points to this being an ideal cadence. Focused tasks for 90 minutes and then a break. Repeat. At most of our jobs we're expected to come in at 8AM, start working, take an hour for lunch and work until we leave at 5PM. Then we are invited to meetings and interrupted the entire time. It's no wonder productivity and motivation are many times lacking.

Of course, we aren't going to live in a world with no meetings or email or internet cats. Interruptions and distractions are a necessary part of life. However, we can do something to make interruptions work WITH our natural cadence instead of against it. I'm looking to duplicate the productivity I had yesterday at home and I think these things will help:

  1. Define my own task list. Being the master of my own internal todo list gave me the flexibility to follow the path before me. If mental models was what was in front of me I could focus on that. When I was ready to move on, I switched to something else.
  2. Focus. This is harder than it sounds. I think I was able to do it because of a couple things. First, I took care of distractions in ANTICIPATION of the focus I would need. If the kids were climbing on me, I played with them so they wouldn't be when I was trying to work. Second, I made it clear I was working. I told them (as much as you can tell an 18 month old) that I was working and gave them something else to do. This pretty much directly translates to bosses and coworkers.
  3. Flexible hours. I took a two hour lunch. I hung Christmas lights and played Call of Duty. At 4PM I got dinner prepped. I came back to my work at 7PM. It worked.
We spend so much time not doing work at work. We're expected to deliver a million things to do but are given a million distractions (sometimes even other things to do). It's time to take back the work day and get things done. 

1 comment:

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