“You sound disoriented,” a friend said.
And three months into my transition from going to the office, to working from a home office, it was the perfect word.
After all, time is a funny thing. And there is a strange sensation that comes with choosing how to spend your time, especially after 12.5 years working in school public relations. It is a wonderfully fulfilling and creative profession that delivers challenges by the moment. Something new, every day, feels like triage at times. And for me, most days felt largely defined by the shifting demands that popped up.
The last three months, waking up to no e-mail messages (or work-related texts, or social media notifications) has been an adjustment. Each morning, I get to choose where to start. And, each morning, I have to choose where to start.
That can be overwhelming.
“I was so used to fitting a lot into the cracks of my day,” I told my friend. “And somehow, even though I have more time, suddenly I feel like I don’t have enough for all of it. I have more time and less time, at the same time. It makes no sense.”
My challenge in working remotely is to find fulfillment in my work day. A sense of accomplishment, forward motion, and value to my employer. This requires orienting to the time in a day, in a totally different way. Here are three things I’ve found that help:
- Time blocking. Without the daily meetings and office drop-in visits, I can largely control my day. Blocking time for short- and long-range deadlines helps me know exactly how to spend each hour of my day to ensure I’m making progress. This scheduling process also ensures I’m focused on high-priority tasks, and not the little, low-priority work that can inadvertently gobble up the minutes and hours. I also identify the non-negotiable time blocks (time sensitive deadline, for example) and the flexible time blocks (I can eat lunch or take a short walk any time). This helps me quickly see exactly where I can give and take in a day.
- Personal development. Try as I might, I can’t always drum up work assignments or deadlines. But no matter what a day may (or may not) bring, I can always focus on growing as a person and professional. It is well worth it to set aside an hour to read a professionally useful book or connect with a colleague to discuss big ideas unrelated to a specific project. Setting aside time for personal development was often a goal in my school PR days, but it was rarely reality. I am grateful for the chance now to make up for lost time, and have even kicked off a long-distance book study with a few colleagues in my new job.
- Grace and flexibility. Whether you work in an office, or from home, some days are better than others. Remembering that is key, especially in a day in the home office that feels like nothing more than a series of fits and starts. I have found the best months are planned one week at a time, with the room to adjust as needed each day. And challenges certainly still come up without warning, even outside of school PR. Grace and flexibility are the tools I learned long ago to help me adapt, think on my feet, and clear my schedule to meet those moments head-on.
As the weeks and months pass, I know the ebb and flow of my work days will become more familiar. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the process of adjusting to the curious marriage of both discipline and flexibility that are required of working from home.
But really, this process boils down to investing in my own growth. And that’s a win-win, in any job.