About a year ago, my job transitioned to a work from home position. I have a regular 8-5 style office job, but instead of going to an office everyday, I just head downstairs to the office in our basement. There are definitely some major bonuses to working from home, especially during this season of life when I have a husband and two young kids. Although my actual job requires a pretty rigid schedule, the fact that I’m at home, does offer me a great deal of flexibility (lunch hour jogs around the neighborhood, working in my sweat pants, and throwing in a load of laundry between calls…oh and I can’t forget, participating in Adobe Connect meetings while soaking up some sunshine on my back porch).
But working from home can also present some major challenges. I pickup and drop my kids off at daycare everyday, but other than that, I never have to leave my house all week long. Other than the teachers at daycare, I often don’t see and interact with anyone outside of my husband and kids all week long. Since my office is in my basement I also don’t see a whole lot of sunshine (which doesn’t really seem to exist this winter anyways). And although I can lock myself in my office to stay focused, at some point I have to take bathroom breaks or fill my water cup or grab some lunch. This means that I’m regularly walking through my house to see the dirty dishes on the counter, the toys in the living room, the toothpaste mess that needs to be wiped off the counter, the dog who keeps bringing me toys to play with, and the overflowing baskets of laundry that never get put away. It can be really hard to stay focused during my working hours when there are so many things that are surrounding me that need to get done. Oh and then there is Facebook, and that thing I wanted to look up on the internet, and I should probably check my bank account and pay bills, and I missed my show last night, I bet I can catch it on Hulu right now, and a nap sounds really nice this afternoon.
Maybe you don’t run into all of these challenges in your normal work day, but I bet most people struggle with the desire to be productive at work combined with the pull to do anything but work on occasion. I remember my first day at one of my jobs. I was sitting in my boss’ office expecting to be trained and start learning the ropes of my new position. After a long conversation about anything and everything (I assumed we were just trying to break the ice and learn about each other), my new boss admitted that he was suffering from a “bad case of the Monday’s”. We spent the rest of the day talking and pretty much just hanging out. It was so disappointing to be excited for my first day and then not actually get the opportunity to do anything.
I’m sure we’ve all had those “case of the Mondays” days where we are just proud of ourselves for showing up physically, but actually accomplishing anything is really going to take some work. Since I work from home, I’ve had lots of opportunity to practice strategies for getting work done when I’d really rather be doing something, anything else. Here are some of my tried and true strategies for working when you really don’t feel like it:
This is always step one. On my own strength, I can force myself to work all I want, but if my heart isn’t in it, I’m not going to do a very good job. When I realize that I’ve checked Facebook way too many times instead of picking up my phone and working or I catch myself wandering around the house picking up toys and dishes instead replying to emails, I head to my office, drop my head down and spend a few minutes in prayer. God is always there to refresh and recharge my batteries so that I can move forward and focus with His strength instead of depending on my own.
2. Clear the clutter
Sometimes the reason that we are struggling to get to work is because our environment is chaotic. We might have papers stacked all over our desk, our email box might be out of control, or maybe we just have so many things to do that we don’t know where to start. In those situations of overwhelm, its important to take a step back and bring some order to the crazy before we try to accomplish anything else. Our minds work best when surrounded by organization and order. Take a few minutes to clear the paperwork, organize the inbox, clean up the mountain of coffee cups, and write out a clean, fresh to do list.
3. Lock up your phone and close your browser
Our high tech, digital world has many advantages. I love that I can pay my bills from my phone, instantly find an answer to all my questions with a quick Google search, stay informed and connected with all of my friends and acquaintances on Facebook, and read blogs from writers all over the world, but the temptation to do these things all day long during the workday can be incredibly strong.
We all know that this isn’t fair to our employers, our customers, or ourselves. But on those “case of the Mondays” days, sometimes it takes more willpower than we have to make the best decisions. On these days, its best to just slide your phone off and zip it up in your purse. While you’re at it, you probably want to close your internet browser if possible or at least shut down any non-work required tabs. There are even software programs that can block certain websites during working hours to help you stay accountable.
Don’t think of yourself as a failure if you can’t stay focused on your own power, you only fail when you refuse to take the steps necessary to overcome your challenges. Remove any and all distractions from your work space so you can focus on the work that needs to get done.
4. Avoid the email vacuum
Have you ever started your day by opening up your email box and starting to respond to all of your messages. Before you know it, it’s closing time and you haven’t accomplished anything but email people all day? I think this is a problem in some jobs more than others, but I know that I can easily spend an entire day (or week) doing nothing but sending and responding to emails, all day long. And yet, emails are only a tiny part of my actual job.
I’ve also had days where I set out to accomplish something, but every time I get started a new email pops up, so I go respond to it, then come back to my original task, and “ding”, new email. And back and forth all day.
Schedule specific times for email checking and responding. Outside of this specific time, ignore your email so that you can accomplish other things. Close down your Outlook or turn off the new message notifications to keep you from getting distracted. The world will not end if you don’t respond to every email within minutes.
5. The To Do List Shuffle
I’ve heard advice to tackle your biggest and most important projects first so that you can get the big, dreaded things out of the way. I’ve also heard some people suggest taking on lots of small, easy tasks so that those little accomplishments can fuel you for more. I think both of these tactics can work. But always starting with the big stuff can make me dread the start of my work days. And always starting with the small stuff means that I can often procrastinate on the big scary things for days on end, which doesn’t really help matters.
My latest trick is to always shake things up. Grab a stack of index cards or scratch paper and write each item on your to do list on a separate card. Shuffle the cards, flip them over and draw a card off the top. This is item number one, big or small, scary or easy, complete this item first. Then draw another card and get busy with that task.
Sometimes all you need to do is break up the monotony of your day with something a little bit different. Card games at work? Yes, and it really can work to keep you moving in the right direction when you just don’t feel like it.
At the very least, realize that each day is different and might require different tactics based on your mood. Change things up, try new strategies, and get creative about how you organize your day so you can avoid boring monotony.
6. Reward your accomplishments
I pair this with number five. I have a few cards shuffled in my stack for “rewards”. Sometimes I get two reward cards in a row, other times, I have to tackle nearly everything on my to do list before I get a reward card. Rewards can be whatever will motivate you and encourage you to keep going.
Mine are rather boring breaks. I have cards for laundry, dishes, and picking up the house. Each of these things allows me a 5-10 minute break from my work. Just enough time to stretch out my legs, clear my head, and accomplish something for myself that makes me feel good. And then it’s back to work.
Your rewards might be a short walk around your building (outside on the nice days), a small snack, 5 minutes of Facebook scrolling, a few minutes to play that silly, addicting game on your phone (set a timer so you don’t get sucked in for hours), or maybe just read a few really awesome blog posts. The motto should be work hard, play hard. When it’s work time, push up your sleeves and work, but allow yourself the opportunity to take a few minutes and relax after you’ve accomplished some things. You’ve earned it!
7. Just do it
Whether you love your job or despise your job, there will always be hard days when you would rather play or sleep or anything but work. Sometimes, you just have to throw on your big girl pants and get to work. Self discipline isn’t exactly the funnest thing to talk about, but it’s a requirement in life that can’t be avoided. Close your office door, stick your face in your computer, and get to work is sometimes the best thing that we can do.
“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” – Chuck Close