By Tim Vack, Modern-Shed General Manager
If you’re just joining us, check out our previous posts about being mentally prepared, physically prepared and operationally prepared for Working From Home. In this post, we’ll talk more about getting the work done amid distractions.
The Key Word: Discipline
As I mentioned in earlier posts, staying focused on work can be challenging while working from home. The inclination to go to the fridge, do laundry or other chores are “in your face” when you are at home unless you have a completely separated space like a Modern-Shed. If you are in the dining room or down the hall, it is all too tempting to throw a load of laundry in or get a snack from the fridge. Here are some ideas to help keep those distractions under control.
- Avoid the kitchen and use it as you might a “break room” at your old workplace. Keep a small fridge in your workspace to keep snacks and beverages in. Not that taking a break is a bad thing– it isn’t — but not if it is a several times during the day.
- Schedule times during the day for a specific “break” to see your kids, talk to your partner, take a short walk or exercise.
- Create rules in the home regarding interruptions by loved ones. Talk with loved ones about urgent, critical, important, or can it wait until after work hours? interruptions
- Dress for work if it helps you stay focused and makes you feel like you are “at work”.
- If you feel compelled to do something that could pull you away from work, such as laundry, set a timer on your phone beforehand for 5-10 min in case you go off on a tangent.
- Set your alarm: Some folks can be on a flexible schedule but most need to be at work certain times of the day. Be careful not to run into the trap of “… oh, I can get to that later…” or “…I could work tonight instead of today…” I suggest keeping regular work hours and ask the boss what they require from you. If you are recently self-employed, create your work hours, track them, and stick to it.
Distracting Loved Ones:
We’re in a special situation now, where work conditions may not be ideal, especially if you have kids at home that need home-schooling or physical care and a spouse at home who is also working. Pets can also be troublesome.
If you have a dog, and it barks either while you are on the phone, or if it is the type of dog, like my neighbor’s that is outside and barks most of the day, you will need to find a way to control it. As with the other items in this section, you do not want background “noises” when on an important phone call or video call. If you cannot control your dog yourself, there are technologies out there that can work in a humane way. You will need to figure out what will work for you and your pet.
As for your spouse or partner, if they aren’t working, it would be important to discuss and decide protocols for any interruptions, including those that make noise, like vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, dishwashers, etc. This may alter the timing of household chores depending on where you have decided to put your new workspace in your home. This is a HUGE reason why so many of our clients at Modern-Shed use our product for their home office.
Modern-Shed design professional Jeff Bergerson works from home, while his partner, Leah, also works from home part-time as his assistant and now homeschools their three sons (13, 7 and 5 years old) during the COVID-19 Stay Home orders.
It’s been a busy time for Modern-Shed, so Jeff and Leah have to strike a balance that allows their household to run smoothly, while also staying on top of work.
They stagger the times they are both using their home office, so it’s not always at the same time if someone needs concentration and privacy, and they communicate regularly.
“We’re trying our best, but this is an unprecedented time,” Jeff says. “What helps us is we have a little morning meeting scheduled on the calendar daily, where we touch base on what is going on during the day, for both our work and the household. That way, I’m not expecting something from her in the middle of the day when she’s in the midst of doing something else. That eliminates conflicts. This sounds strange, but we also email each other quite a bit. It’s better than shouting to someone over your shoulder, when they might be doing something. If they see it in their email, they can properly put it in their calendar. It helps for accuracy and is much less disruptive.”
Here are Jeff’s top tips on working from home when the whole family is home:
- Identify how you work best: Some people are the type where if they’re not at their desk by 9 a.m., it screws up their whole day. Others need a lot of flexibility. Some nights I might stay up late and other days I might take a bike ride in the middle of the day, and that works for me. Be honest with yourself about how you’re most productive and plan accordingly. Be mindful of your coworkers and clients, though. At Modern-Shed, many of the builders start at 7:30 and are done by 3:30, so if I am going to get anything done with the company, it has to be earlier in the day. However, our customers are working during the day and often are getting back to me in the evening or weekends. So I have to plan it out so I don’t get overworked.
- I still get dressed. I even shave and slick my hair down. It sets a precedent and helps you hold a higher standard. I don’t really do Zoom or video calls, but it helps put me in the right mindset.
- Set clear boundaries with children. My kids all know the rules. I have a little sign that says ‘Shhh, Daddy is working’ and I set that on the floor in the hallway. They’ll see that sign and know they have to be quiet while they walk past. It took awhile before they remembered. We also have a reasonable response if they break the rule. Don’t get overly upset, but be very firm.
- Stick to schedules to enforce the rules with kids. If our boundaries aren’t clear, the kids will make us angry more often, and if we don’t enforce them, we’ll be angry more often. So, we’re pretty big on our schedules and rules, especially during work time. We have a chore chart and also school starts right at 10 am, and they have their teeth brushed and are in their chairs. We try to keep it as close to school as we can. They respond well and thrive on it. The more unclear we are with our boundaries, the worse they behave. It’s not always fun to be strict, but that is an area that has paid off for them and for us.
- When in doubt, buy noise-canceling headphones. One thing I can’t really prevent is when it’s nice out, they’re going to go out and play and if it’s warm, I’ll have the window open. What’s more, I like hearing their voices. So, if I’m on a call, I’ll put the windows down and if I really can’t be distracted by them, I put on headphones.
Jeff’s other work from home tips, include avoiding an overly cluttered desk (“Coming from a background of being a messy person, this was hard to learn, but it’s so worth it,” he says.) and keeping a mini-fridge in the office.
“As soon as I walk out the door I am susceptible to distraction,” he says. “If I see a kid and he wants to show me something, I’ll stop and look at it, or if I see the cookies, I’ll eat them. So I try not to leave the room unless I know I can be gone for a half hour. As soon as I leave the door the opportunity for distraction is high.”
If you are interested in speaking to someone at Modern-Shed about a home office option for you, please visit www.modern-shed.com and download our catalogor go to contact and “find a design professional” and enter your zip code.