In this age of ever increasing flexible working, we are often left to our own devices.
Sure working from home sounds great but do you ever find yourself struggling to stay focused? There’s always more washing to do after all.
As you move up in your career, there is less and less supervision so learning to be effective independently is a crucial skill for progression.
Starting from my first job in retail and being trusted to be sole charge I’ve been working largely unsupervised throughout my career (the only exception being whenever I get roped into helping out on the farm, then I need plenty of guidance!).
Especially when I’m consulting, it’s imperative I deliver value to my clients each and every day so self-motivation is key.
Adopt the Right Mindset
Know that no one will ever care about your success as much as you do.
An early mentor, who was definitely invested in my success, taught me this. If I didn’t perform to my potential, it was disappointing for him but ultimately his development wouldn’t suffer. But mine would.
Having this mindset and taking this level of responsibility means you will always do the right thing regardless of who is or isn’t watching.
That’s precisely what you need when working autonomously. A reason to do the work for you and for your development. Not just to avoid getting in trouble with your boss.
What we’re doing every day plays into a bigger picture of the life we’re creating. It’s easy to slip into the habit of working from home days are a chance to relax, that one day taking it easy won’t have any impact. Telling yourself that no one’s going to notice. Maybe they won’t but the only person you’re really shortchanging is yourself.
Stick to your Routine
Do your morning routine as if you’re going to work. It switches your brain into work mode.
If you start your working from home days like its the weekend, then you put yourself into weekend mode and give yourself that hurdle to get over in order to settle into productivity.
So get up at the same time. Take time to get dressed, maybe put some makeup on. You don’t need to go full suit and heels but whatever makes you feel pulled together and focused.
Something as simple as putting on shoes can signal that it’s time to work. Fun fact: I sometimes put on high heels to get into that boss lady mindset. Yoga leggings and stilettos – it’s a look!
Plan your Day
Plan ahead what you’re going to achieve. Knowing what you want to get done will help with the getting out of bed at your normal time. You’ll wake up feeling purposeful, probably brimming with ideas on exactly how you want to tackle your work.
Even if you normally plan your day first thing (if you have a client-focused or reactive job, sometimes you need to see what comes up and planning the night before can be difficult), for any days out of the office, create a plan ahead of time.
Are there tasks that are going to benefit from the lack of interruption of being out of the office? Are there tasks you need to do in the office in preparation for being elsewhere? Are you going to a client? Who do you need to see while your there? What value are you going to provide?
On the plane or train en route to a client, figure out exactly who you need to see, what information you need to gather, review which meetings you need to attend. There’s nothing more frustrating than being on the homeward journey and realising you missed something vital that’s now going to have to wait until your next trip. So give yourself time to map it out and be ready to hit the ground running on arrival.
If you’re working from home, consider planning your day before you leave the office. The upside of doing this is you can make sure you’re prepared. You clarify points with a colleague. You can take any equipment or paperwork required home with you. You don’t want your working from home day derailed because you forgot some files.
Find a Workspace
Whether you’re working from home or going to see a client or in a hotel somewhere, set up your environment.
A bit like getting up and getting dressed in the morning, setting up your environment puts you into focused mode. Sitting on your bed might sound fun but you’re likely to get distracted. It’s also not a great look if you get an unexpected video call.
Pick a table or desk to work at, make sure you have everything you need – laptop, notebook, pens, a glass of water. You don’t want to interrupt yourself to track down some notes.
Eliminate distractions. Set up with your back to the TV. If you’re travelling for work and know you’ll be working in your hotel room, keep it tidy. Clutter is distracting. Ditto wherever you set up at home, don’t have a pile of dirty laundry in view begging you stop what you’re doing and attend to it instead.
Get some Fresh Air
Especially if you work from home or a hotel, it’s very easy to go all day without stepping outside. Which does nothing for your ability to concentrate.
Bribing myself with getting a flat white from my favourite local cafe is enough incentive to get me out of the house. Sometimes I relocate and work there for a couple of hours, enjoying having a bit of a buzz around me. Otherwise it’s straight back home and into deep work.
The fresh air and bit of movement are enough to remain focused and rejuvenate flagging energy.
Without interruptions from colleagues, you may not have inbuilt breaks in your day so remember to include them in your day plan. As much as the lack of interruption is wonderful for getting on a roll and getting loads done, at some point you’ll need a break to revive yourself. And when you do, make sure at least one of those breaks takes you outside.
Set Expectations with Colleagues
Let the people you work with know what you’re doing and what you’re available for.
If you’re working from home for uninterrupted deep work time on a critical project, let them know that you won’t be taking calls and you’ll only be checking your email irregularly. Maybe set an out of office email reiterating the expectation. That way you won’t have people trying to chase you down. And if they do still try, you have firm grounds to fall back on as to why you weren’t immediately responsive.
If you’re going to a client site, make sure the needed people are aware so they don’t start calling mid-presentation to find out why you’re not in the office. Plus all of the above expectation setting applies so you’re not getting bugged by the office when you’re trying to focus on your client.
All of this gives you some breathing room. It removes the pressure to be as available outside of the office as you are in the office. Just don’t use it as an excuse to ignore your colleagues completely. Let them know when you expect you’ll be able to get back to them and either set aside sometime that day to catch up on emails and phone messages or prioritise it for your first day back in the office. If your workmates know when to expect a response, they will be much more likely to respect your temporary unresponsiveness.
Be Effective Outside of the Office
With a little bit of planning and forethought, it can be simple to work well in any environment.
As with anything, having the right mindset is cruicial. See working effectively unsupervised as an opportunity to set yourself apart. To show your dedication, your motivation, your level of discipline. While everyone else uses working from home as a chance to have a quasi day off, show you’re different.
Struggling with your Work From Home game and want some extra support? This is the exact type of challenge we can work through with coaching. Click to book a Discovery Call and we can discuss exactly how!