Welcome to “Dear Dana”, our weekly column to give you career and workplace advice/coaching. Please write in and tell me about a career challenge or frustration you’re facing at the office! – Dana Theus
Dear Dana, Thanks for the opportunity to seek your guidance and expertise for personal balance. At the present time I choose to work from home. Most of this is working very well and has even lead to some growth in clients, also allowing me to expand my offerings. As exciting as this is, I find myself lacking motivation. It’s like I want all the wealth and fame, but can’t seem to get up and get going to do it. I know what I should do, but I’m dragging my feet. What suggestions do you have for people working from home offices out of secluded locations? Relocation is not an option at this point. -Dragging my feet in Des Moines
Thanks so much for your question. I really feel this one, as I also work at home and have gone through periods where I had just this challenge. Some of the advice I’m going to give you is stuff I’m still working on myself!
Tip #1: Construct Social Accountability
One of the things I’ve learned working at home is that we are social creatures and our social structures do a lot of the heavy lifting to organize our energy very naturally. This is why we often schedule a meeting as a “forcing event” to make us deal with something we’d rather not focus on. If we have to talk to other people about it, our thinking goes, then we’ll get focused on it whether we like it or not. Sometimes this works better than others, but the lesson here is that you can construct a social situation to help you focus on things when focus isn’t coming naturally.
A simple way to use this social dynamic to help you stay focused when you’re feeling physically isolated is to periodically look at your calendar days in advance to remind you what social/interpersonal obligations, to clients and others, you’re holding yourself accountable to. A meeting 5 days from now can spur you to do something today to prepare for it.
I have also found that I need a balance of “introvert time” and “extrovert time” to feel balanced and happy. Each week I look at the week ahead on my calendar and if I don’t have enough meetings on it – in person or by phone – to feed my extrovert, I start reaching out to my network inviting them to lunch, coffee, phone-check-ins etc. I even invite some folks to “virtual coffee” or “virtual wine” where we both agree to sit on the couch or the porch in order to get away from “the office.” Sometimes that ends up being really fun!
Make sure you have a circle of professional friends/colleagues who you can check in like this with regularly. You can formalize it to a “personal board of advisors” or keep it more informal, but keep a list of these people in your mind or in your contact list and periodically check in and see who you haven’t talked to in a while. If you were in an office, you’d probably do this more naturally by running into people in hallways or meetings, but working at home, you have to be more deliberate about it.
Tip #2: Set Intentions to Guide You
Some people working at home have a boss who helps them stay focused on priorities. Sounds like you (like me) don’t have that luxury. Even those with bosses will benefit from the practice of setting Intentions to keep you focused.
Can you rattle off the top two intentions for success that are driving you over the next three months? It’s good to think about this in terms of what you want to have done by a personal date.
For example, my youngest is graduating from college exactly 30 days from the day I’m writing this. My major intention before I leave for his graduation is to deliver a big proposal. I envision my intention met when I get into the car to drive to the celebration with the proposal off my mind and off to someone else to deal with. I check in with this intention several times a week to help me pace my research and drafting of the proposal. I have a place for this Intention on my to-do list and it helps me see openings in my daily calendar as opportunities to work on that larger intention. Why? Because I desperately want that sense of completeness and freedom to enjoy the graduation feeling light (no proposal hanging over my head) and accomplished (proud of what I submitted).
By focusing on those wonderful feelings I crave, and that state of BEING that I seek (accomplished, proud and free), I am exercising my power of self-excitement (a pull) instead of self-motivation (a push). I use this same Intention trick to help me feel accomplished every day. I have a clear intention for every day, even if it’s just to tick off the top 2 things on my todo list that I’m dreading. Usually I tackle something more profound, but the point is that every day I focus that feeling of accomplishment and lightness of being I want at the end of the day, and identify what must be accomplished that day to deliver that feeling. More often than not, with this intention pulling me forward, I accomplish the highest priority items earlier in the day than I would otherwise, and whatever else I get done that day feels like a bonus. (Learn more about intentions and access worksheets to help you set up your own practice.)
Tip #3: Structure Your Time, Loosely
This is one I’m still working on myself. I got a dog recently to try to help me structure my time more because I have to take him for a walk several times a day. I don’t recommend this strategy to everyone, but if you love dogs it can help!
I find that the most important thing to do, which works well for my clients too, is to set aside time in the morning and the afternoon – before and after you “start work” for the day – to look at what you’re accomplishing and how you’re spending your time and energy. This is when you focus on your intentions (#2 above), detrigger any emotions that are getting in the way, dream, reorganize your to-do list, look ahead on your calendar to put some social accountability time in place (see #1 above). Here is a sample way to structure your time:
- Walk the dog (optional)/Exercise
- Meditate, write in a journal, write gratitude letters
- Check in with your emotional self and put yourself in a positive mood (easier in the AM)
- Detrigger any emotions in the way
- Set your intention for the day – fix on that positive (self-excitement) feeling you want at the end of the day – visualize it
- Look at the calendar a week or so ahead and see if you need to set up social time
- Feel/express gratitude and accomplishment for things that went well today
- Note any “lessons learned” today and make a commitment to grow from the experiences
- Re-write your to-do list (this is important!) – set a “draft intention” for tomorrow morning
- Put away your work
- Exercise/Walk the dog (optional)
- Do something in the evening you enjoy
You’ll notice that giving yourself the reward of good feelings and experiences is key to this kind of day. I don’t “withhold” anything good from myself, but I have set up a routine for my evenings I really enjoy and that I can’t do well at 2pm (e.g., cooking dinner with my husband and a nice glass of wine). Sometimes I set up dinner with friends and look forward to that. Or plan to take a nice long walk in the woods on a lovely day. Or a fire with hot chocolate on a wintery day. These visions of enjoyment, with a feeling of accomplishment having done the thing that most needs doing that day really motivate me to deal with both the craziness and the boredom of the day in ways that keep me excited and motivated.
Good luck on this wonderful path you’ve chosen and let me know how the journey goes!
P.S. – Have a question you’d like anonymous support on? Write me!