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How to Structure Your Day While Working From Home

Key Takeaways

We cover the top 5 things you can do to structure your day while working from home.

  • What's going on now?
  • Managing your emotions
  • Creating a structure with your space, work/life boundaries, and ground rules
  • Celebrating and quick lists 
  • Techniques for focused work

This is a COVID-19 episode, so we are taking time to acknowledge the typical 'productivity best practices' don't apply — at least not entirely.

Prepare to see yourself — and your work day — differently.

Prefer video? You can watch the episode here.

Get 3 top tips for structuring your day while working from home. Listen & learn. #podcast #business #workfromhome

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About Host Jen McFarland

Jen McFarland Jen McFarland Consulting Third paddle

Jen McFarland, MPA, has over 25 years of training, teaching, and executive experience. She led large-scale public sector projects affecting over 50,000 businesses, handling millions of dollars.

Today, Jen consults with business owners on leadership, strategic project planning, and digital marketing. She's a frequent guest speaker and trainer.

If growing your business feels like rocket science, let’s fix that with these free business resources.

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Transcript: How to Structure Your Day While Working From Home

Hello and welcome to Women Conquer Business. I'm your host, Jen McFarland. On this week's show, we talk about structuring your day while you're working from home. Everyone is doing it right now, so how can you do it the most effectively? All that and more here on Women Conquer Business.

Welcome to Women Conquer Business.

My name is Jen McFarland. This podcast is for smart, serious business owners, tired of the senseless chatter about growing a business. If you don't want to hear any more get-rich-quick, too good to be true nonsense, you've come to the right place. You'll learn why mindset is everything, as well as strategies for sustainable business growth and how to implement it, along with the secrets I learned leading large scale business projects that also apply to five and six-figure businesses. Are you ready? Let's go forth and conquer.

Welcome back to the show.

Before we get started talking too much about how to structure your day while working from home, one of the most important things that we can acknowledge right now is that we're living in unprecedented times. Nobody actually knows the best way to work from home during a pandemic, at least not anybody who's alive, and honestly, back in 1918 when we had our last big pandemic, things were a lot different then, so I think that we have to acknowledge that. I think the other thing that we need to acknowledge in all of this is that because it's such an unprecedented time, many of the old ways that we've always done things, they're not going to work anymore. It's not valid.

It's not valid to say, "Have this like crazy hustle culture," "I'm going to work all the time" approach to things. If you're a supervisor or a boss, it's also unlikely that the people reporting to you are going to be anywhere near as productive as they've been in the past. The reason for that is very simple. It's impossible to concentrate right now, or at least impossible to concentrate as much as people are used to, and a lot of that is because we are living in such a big time of uncertainty, so we have to kind of set the platform in those ways. We have to manage our expectations not only for other people, but also for ourselves, and that has to be a big backdrop and foundation to this whole conversation around how to structure our day, which is to say you can't structure your day the way that you did three months ago because that structure just doesn't work anymore, especially given so many people are out of work, so many people are sick, so many things have changed about our daily lives.

Even with states easing back on the COVID-19 restrictions, that also means that not everywhere has it been lifted, and there's some phasing in and phasing out of different things to see how things work, so it's safe to say that people will be working home longer than two or three weeks, so we've still got some time to kind of get used to this and figure some things out. When I talk to people about their goals and about their leadership and trying to get some things done, we're just trying to implement the right projects at the right time, and people are like, "I'm not getting enough done. What is it that is stopping me?" We spend a lot of time on mindset, for sure, and different ways to maybe structure a person's day, but one of the first things that is really important when you sit down to think about how you're going to structure your day so that you can get some things accomplished is what is going on now? What does your day look like now?

It's amazing to me how people don't pay attention, or they're not aware of what's going on in their daily lives at the moment. There's a heightened awareness maybe around the things that people want to have change like, "I want to get more done," "I want to do this thing that's been sitting off to the side and hasn't been accomplished," but there's much less awareness oftentimes around what is actually happening day after day. What is going on? I think one of the first things that you can do around structuring your day is keep track of it. What is going on now?

Give yourself a couple of days at least, no less than three days, of tracking just to see if there's any sort of pattern of what's going on. Now, it could be that you, in tracking, learn that there isn't a pattern, or there aren't any habits, and one of the things we're going to talk about is setting up just some basic ground rules or routines around the workday and some boundaries. If every day is kind of like a box of chocolates and you don't know what you're going to get, then one of the things that you want to do is track that and to be thinking of things that you can do to maybe add a little bit more structure to your day, and we're going to talk about some of that, but the number one thing you can do to get started is figure out what is going on right now, because you might find that you are not working because you're reading the news. Well, that's easy to change. It's easy to say, "We're not working because our kids, our spouse, our pets, anything is getting in the way," when the reality is they may not be interrupting us as much as we think.

It's actually that our emotions are getting us in the way of doing what we want. Our emotions are so fragile right now that it doesn't take much for us to be derailed, and the easy way out is to say that it's somebody else, when my guess is a lot of times it's us, and I think that that's just the case, that it is us. I just want to give you a few tips around how you can manage your emotions during a time like this. I mean, these are just basic, resilient leaders, ways that you can reset your mindset on a daily basis. The number one thing that you can do is put your oxygen mask on first.

That means putting your oxygen mask on first, so taking care of yourself first thing in the morning, taking time for just some quiet time. If that means getting up a little bit earlier than everybody else, then I encourage you to do that. Make the time for that cup of coffee or that cup of tea and just sitting with yourself. Give yourself some time to just kind of be so that you can be ready for the day and really focused on what it is that you need to do. Put your own oxygen mask on first.

Then, think about your business. Put the oxygen mask on your business. Think about what it is that's most important in your business, and get those things at least laid out. Make a list. Work on it however you do, but put the oxygen mask on your business. If there are things that maybe stress you out a little bit, like finances or different things, take care of it upfront so it's not hanging over your head.

After you put on your own oxygen mask, which is a little self-care, practice some self-care on your business. Then, you're ready to focus on other people. This is, again, these are mindset resets that can happen every single day, right? Every single day, make time for yourself. Make time for your business before you start worrying about other people, because if you take care of yourself, you're much better off before you start taking care of other people. The second thing is open your heart.

Open your heart to joy and laughter. Find opportunities to laugh. Last week, we had two experts that were so excellent on the show, who talked about how laughter lights up every area of your brain. Lori and Susan were great talking about that, but laughter does supercharge you. It brings you joy. It makes you happier.

It lights you up inside and out. It attracts people to you, and it makes everyone around you better and happier, including yourself, so make sure that you are making time every single day for joy and laughter, and I can guarantee you, it may mean that you need to spend less time on social media and less time on the news because let's face it, when COVID-19 is cured, you're going to find out about that. You don't need to be checking the news all the time to see what's changed. Right now, bring joy and laughter in first before you start focusing on the news or other things. The other mindset reset is about the market, right?

The economy is very uncertain right now. The economy has gone through an amazing contraction, and by amazing, I'm talking about impact. It's very impactful contraction. This has definitely changed the way that business is being done right now. It's unprecedented for us to have 26 million new people who are unemployed. It's unprecedented to have everybody working from home and so many people who can't work at all.

When the market contracts like that, you expand. What that means is you need to be more expansive in your thinking, you need to be more expansive in your doing, you need to be more expansive in who you're willing to meet, because that is what opens the doors to possibility, and it prevents you from ruminating on all of the minutiae. When the market contracts, you expand. You think bigger. You open yourself up to possibilities.

You dream. You think about the things that are working, and you work on the things that you can control, instead of worrying about the things that you can't control. Be expansive. Clarify your mission and vision so that you can meet current demands. The way we've always done it is not working anymore, and we need to approach things differently. Sometimes that means we need to clarify our mission and revise our vision to meet the current demands, to meet what other people are expecting of us.

Now, I'm not saying you need to change the whole scope of your business. I'm saying look at the things that are going right, look at the things that people want, and find ways to deliver it given the current context, because Harvard researchers have said we may be experiencing some social distancing into 2022, so if that's the case, then we need to change our thinking so that we're able to meet those demands because we can't sit still and remain where we are. How does all of that fit into working from home? Well, it means that you are just managing your emotions a little bit differently. It means you're taking care of yourself.

You're opening yourself up to joy and laughter. You're thinking about what is going on that you can't control, like the market, and you're managing your emotions around it, so instead of ruminating on the little things, you're thinking bigger. You're thinking about how you can help people and meet them where they're at. See, these things are ways that you can manage your emotions. These things are ways that you can be more successful in your thinking, and honestly, more tuned in to what it is that you need to do in the time that you have to actually be at least somewhat productive in your work from home.

See, managing your emotions may be the most important thing that you do to help you work, because when you dial that in, then sometimes it doesn't matter what is going on around you, and you can stop and start a lot easier, if that makes sense. Think about a time when you've been like really focused, and you can work in that loud coffee shop and nothing's going to stop you. Our emotions are part of what makes us more resilient or more fragile, so now you have to give yourself extra time and extra space to build up that resilience so that you can be a better, a more effective person working from home. There are a lot of other things that you can do to really structure your day around working from home. There are a lot of things that you can do to make it more fun, more effective.

Here are a few things that you can do. The first thing you can do is have a dedicated workspace. Ideally, you would have an office with a door, something that you can close or a way that you can clear out distractions. Now, I know that that isn't the case for everybody, and I know, as someone who has a dedicated workspace with a door, that people still like to come in and dogs still like to make sure that they get to come in, and then all of the distractions are right there, but you can have like a dedicated area, or you can find ways around it. Like maybe it's not an office.

Maybe it is just a dedicated space, and everybody knows that when you're in that place, not to bother you. That's ideally. If that isn't the case, then you need to set up some boundaries around work time, so it's setting up boundaries not only of, "This is the start time and this is the end time," but it's also the ground rules around, "This is what happens when we're working, and this is what happens when we're not working." Now, all bets are off if you have to do homeschool, because if you're schooling your kids right now, in addition to working from home, everything might be a little bit topsy-turvy, but you need to find a way to carve out some boundaries and some ground rules, and ideally, a dedicated workspace where you can say, "When I'm in this place," even if it doesn't have a door or anything. You need to find a way to indicate to people that, "Now is not a time to be interrupted if at all possible," and, "Here are the times when you can interrupt me."

These things are all very helpful for other people because everybody likes to have a little bit of structure. Like think about if you've ever had a pet like a dog. If you don't train your dog, then they're just all over the place and they don't know what it is that's expected of them, so they just do whatever they want. The same is true for all of us, and including ourselves. If we don't set up any boundaries around when we start working and when we stop working, then we're always saying, "Well, I'll get to it later because I'm just working all the time," and then you end up wearing yourself out, grinding yourself down, and you're less productive because you've blurred all the lines about when work starts and when work stops.

If you don't have any ground rules around whether or not it's acceptable for you to be on social media during work time, then you might be on social media a lot during work time. If you don't have any ground rules around what's acceptable and what's not when you're working, whether you're talking about what's acceptable for somebody else or what is acceptable for yourself, you could be doing laundry and playing with your dog, instead of getting important things done, so make time though for things that are not related to work during the day. To the extent that you can, carve out like a certain amount of time out of every hour, or carve out a certain amount of time out of every day knowing that there are going to be things that come up, and then make that space for it and make it happen. One of the worst things you can do is just be like, "This is how it's going to be," and be solid on that. I think that that's a recipe right now to feel like you've failed.

Then, one of the best things that you can do for yourself is set up every opportunity possible for success, and celebrate each one of those little wins. I mean, be grateful that you're able to work, because a lot of people aren't able to work from home, so celebrate the wins and make quick lists about what it is that needs to happen tomorrow. What are the things that you got done today? I'll tell you, this is going to sound really funny. Maybe it resonates with other people and maybe it doesn't, but one of the most important things that I have been doing that has really helped me structure my workday from home is I'm treating it like any other workday.

What I mean by that is I always spend time in the morning doing a little bit of self-care, a little meditation, sometimes I take a bath, sometimes I'm doing yoga. It's always a little bit different, right? The other thing that I'm doing is I'm getting up, I'm taking a shower, I'm getting dressed, I'm doing everything around my day as if I was going to my office, and instead, I'm just, have a shorter commute and I go across the hall to my office, but the more that you can normalize things, the better. It's really hard to feel like it's time for work when you're still wearing your Netflix clothes from the night before. One of the biggest things that you can do is what we're trying to do is build a structure.

Like build in all of the normalcy that you can because there are a lot of things that you do have control over. You might not have control over how productive you are, simply because there's so much going on around you, but you can give yourself every opportunity that you can think of to be successful, and those are some of the things that I think will really help you. The last thing I'm going to give you are a couple of specific ways that you can like tweak your day. One is through some deep work, so it means clearing out all distractions. You can use apps like Freedom, or you can use all kinds of tools to kind of block out all of the distractions, all of the websites, everything that can make it harder for you to be successful, and then carve out like a couple of hours dedicated to one task.

The other thing that you can do is something that doesn't take up nearly as much time, which is Pomodoro sessions. Those are 20 to 25-minute sessions of dedicated time on one thing, and then you take a five or 15-minute break in between, and then you get back to those sessions, but again, these are sessions, much like deep work, where you're not doing anything else. You're focused on one task for 20 minutes, or one task for 25 minutes, and you're just doing everything in your power to get that one thing done. Sometimes doing one thing during COVID-19 to like move our business forward, sometimes that's the only thing that we're going to get done in a particular day, and I'm here to tell you that that is good enough. That is good enough, so make sure that you are setting up some sort of structure.

Make sure that you are managing some sort of boundaries about a start and an end time. Make sure that you know what's in and what's out. Make sure you communicate with other people what your expectations are for the day, and see what you can do to kind of, I don't know, train them up a little bit to help support you as you're trying to work from home. Manage your emotions. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to check in with yourself every single day and see how you're doing so that you can manage your emotions.

Celebrate the quick wins, and then prepare for the next day with a short list of goals and things that you can do to help yourself celebrate wins tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. Even if you just do one or two of these things, things will get a little bit better for you, and before you know it, you might be a pro at this whole working from home thing, and it might not be so bad, although I'm going to tell you, all of the video calls for me, I know that they're here to stay and they're still not my favorite thing to do, so I think that we all have things that we enjoy and things that we don't enjoy, but hopefully, these tools will help you structure your day so that you can work from home a little bit more effectively. Thank you so much for being here, and I will talk to you next week.

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The Women Conquer Business Podcast is written and produced by Jen McFarland and Foster Growth LLC in beautiful Southeast Portland, Oregon. Thanks again for listening.

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