The Shift: Issue #18

How to be productive WFH without going crazy; The State of Remote Work 2020 Report; Inbox Zero

I did some training this week on ‘how to be productive working from home without going crazy’ with Thanh Pham, founder of Asian Efficiency.
Marie Kondo’s relative, surely!?!
I’ve been working from home for years and enjoy it, but am curious to know what else I can do to improve my set up and make it more fun. We’re six months into this global WFH experiment, and after this week’s government U-turn, it looks set to continue for another six months.
So, what have we learned so far? Will WFH be a permanent thing for companies or just a byproduct of the ‘interim economy’ – a term used to describe the theoretical two years it could take for the economy to bounce back after lockdown? A new report on The State of Remote Work Q3 2020, highlights some significant and emerging trends.
Thanh has been working remotely since 2009 and now runs a training company helping people become more productive at work and in life. “Practical tips and advice to help you be more productive and irreplaceable.” He describes WFH as an evolution of the species and survival of the fittest… those who adapt will survive. So, what has he learned over the past 11 years that can help you up your game?
There were over 400 participants from all over the world – students, consultants, freelancers, mums, executives, and WFH veterans:    
“I’m caring for family & trying to work. I feel overwhelmed by life.”
“Looking for tips to up my game, I can always learn something new.”
“Been working from home for 25 years, watching as a refresher”.
“From Saudi, mother of 2 in dire need of advice. Because I’m always interrupted by my two kids, I’ve turned into reactive mode and cannot do deep work anymore. (And I am a knowledge worker so lost my productivity. How can I deal with that?”
And Oogie in Wales, a farmer/programmer who has been working from home for 20 years while raising Welsh mountain sheep. She has the toughest gig of all. “My schedule is at the mercy of the weather and the sheep. Inside work must fit around those constraints.”
WFH is a onetime setup and a continuous revolution of the WFH strategy. Here’s Thanh’s recipe for success:
1.    Set up – five things you need:
A standing desk
Two monitors
Wireless headset
2.     Schedule/execution – build your schedule and stick to it as much as you can. Mine is 8 am – 4 pm around school hours. I’m trying to do deep work in the mornings – writing/planning for two hours with no interruptions then client work. A walk/run at lunchtime and admin/reading/social/meetings in the afternoons. Normally I check emails & news first thing but then I’m reacting to what’s in my inbox and doomscroll — stresses me out so I’ve taken the Gmail app off my phone. It might not be possible to stick to this every day, I can but try! I also use the Pomodoro Technique and do one task at a time. Quick break, rinse, repeat.
3.     Wrap up – stop work at the same time each day and have a shutdown routine – leave a list of stuff to do the next day.
I need a couple more things – a proper standing desk (not the kitchen worktop or a cardboard box) and an external monitor so I don’t have 20 windows open on my browser all the time, which slows my computer down.

Some top tips from the chat:  

Dress up for work and put your shoes on. “Pants are everything.”
Music/playlists – (check out Focus Music for Flitty Minds – and Coffitivity – recreate that café vibe)
Set Alexa to turn all the lights red and start the Incredibles, then the music starts when I say “it’s showtime.” Adds a sense of urgency to the proceedings! ❤️
Phone – Put your phone in a different room so it’s harder for you to check it Separate work phone and then turning it off when not working
Books – Atomic Habits by James Clear, Work Simply by Carson Tate. If you can stand the early start: The 5 am Club (Robin Sharma) is a good read
Invest in a good (external) webcam
Ergonomic chair
Standing desk – (Oogie has the best set up here) “Not going to do standing desk because half my work is outside and walking, anyway”.
If you get a standing desk, I’d highly recommend getting a standing mat too, thick foam to stop your legs getting tired
Good air quality – air purifier or “20 plants around my apartment – and two on the desk”
You can use a Writeyboard to paste a whiteboard on to anything. I stuck one on the back of the door as an impromptu whiteboard since I couldn’t screw anything into the walls
Apps – (blocks social media), (cancels background noise, sharpens sound), Focus Booster or Pomodoro Technique
Housework – Batch the domestic stuff and listen to podcasts while you’re doing it
Routine – It was a huge shift for me once I started WFHing full time to "flip" my schedule from email and meetings in the morning and doing my own solo work in the afternoon to the opposite: doing focused work in the morning and calls/meetings/email in the afternoons. It requires taking a little time at the end of the previous day to identify the next day's focus rather than waking up and just reacting to whatever is in your inbox
I also LOVE walking calls. I put on my AirPods and walk around my neighbourhood. Even for Zoom calls if you just join via audio-only most of the time ppl won’t even mention it. They just assume you’re not able to use video. That way I get fresh air, exercise and a break while still listening in
Good tips from Thanh (& thanks to Tiago Forte for your shopping list) and these ideas. Nothing I couldn’t have found Googling “working from home tips” but I appreciate his time, effort and passion. And having this packaged up as a webinar. It’s the first one I’ve done on Webinarjam and the chat function makes it fun and interactive – tips & recommendations all helpful.
My biggest challenge is email, I’m drowning in it. One client works out of their inbox (we’ve just switched to which helps but still using email for sign off). The Hoxby crew use Slack for all their comms so we have DM instead of email. I like Slack but keeping up with all the channels and conversations is time-consuming. This week, I’m working on Inbox Zero – bring on Cal Newport’s next book, A World Without Email.
So, key takeaway – have a WFH plan but roll with the punches ;-)
Thanh’s podcast & training: The Productivity Show.
Tiago Forte’s Top 10 WFH Tips
The State of Remote Work Report Q3 2020 (We Work Remotely)