Staying Motivated and Efficient in Isolation

“We are what we repeatedly do, Excellence then is not an act but a habit.” - Aristotle

Hey I’m Rob - honoured guest writer for Alex's Stories.


I’ve been a software developer and digital nomad for over 2 years now. In 2018, I spent 9 months travelling around South East Asia working and developing software remotely. Everything from a wooden table and bench in a small remote village in the mountains of Vietnam, to coffee shops in the sky rises of Singapore.


Guest writer: Rob Besaans

I’ve been working from home ever since returning from travel and though I have many different places I work from throughout the day (pre-lockdown), working from home has had its challenges and I’ve gone through some good and really difficult times struggling to overcome them. Here are some of my top tips for smashing your work day when the lines between work and home life begin to blur:



Get up, dress up, show up

This little saying has helped me overcome extreme exhaustion and gotten me out of bed in some of the most trying times in my life from the exhaustion of programming around the clock to cold, early morning starts during basic training with the Air Force. Say this the moment you wake up, and visualise each step of getting up and it will become second nature for you.


I’ve found it to be so efficient over the years that when I wake up now, I just climb out of bed. There’s no negotiating with myself.

Get up. Dress up. Show up.

Routine is king

Getting into the “zone” can be slightly harder at home as there are many distractions. Having a good routine will help get you through the motions of getting into your productive work mode.


I’ve found writing out a basic schedule for my day helps getting into a routine as I know what times I roughly need to go for a run, when to take breaks, lunch and when the day finishes.


Be kind to yourself though and allow flexibility in your routine as inevitable distractions from kids or other clients ringing you may always occur at random.



Plan the work, work the plan

I’ve found the following process of breaking my day down to be incredibly effective in getting the most important things done in a small amount of time, as well as giving me a sense of control over my time:


  1. Make a list of things that need doing.

  2. Prioritise this list.

  3. Break the list into your 80/20. i.e what are the 20% of tasks that are going to give you 80% of return.

  4. Time box your calendar and place these tasks into slots for completion.

  5. Challenge yourself by giving each task a realistic but ambitious timeframe.


If you're more of a visual learner, make it graphical!

Everyone has a to-do list, and everyone knows you never finish the to-do list. This is why it's important to prioritise your tasks and use Pareto’s Principle (the 80/20 rule) to get the most valuable tasks done first. Being aware of Parkinson’s Law which states “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” will help you make better use of the time boxing technique to become efficient.



Dress for success

If you feel comfortable working in your PJ’s, that’s fine, but if it's something you struggle with this little trick may be a game changer.


I’ve found that tricking myself by dressing up as if I were going into the office and going through the motions of ironing my shirt and polishing my shoes helps me psychologically to separate work from home and gets me into the zone faster.



Eliminate distractions

Turn off social media while you work and only answer messages during your breaks or when you’ve scheduled to answer emails.


If your work permits, try answer emails only at certain times of the day and put this in your schedule. Housework and errands can be extremely distracting when working from home. Hang up the washing during your morning tea, get the dishes done during lunch and tidy the house during afternoon tea. Don’t let these things drift into your schedule but you can take advantage of your location by getting the house work done during the day so you’ve got more time to relax in the evening.



Setup your station

In the office, it’s typically quite easy to get into the zone. You’ve got your desk and everything setup and ready to go so you can sit down and get started straight away. This may not be as easy when you’re working from home and may have to share your space with others.


If you have to share your space like the kitchen bench/table or have to use the sewing room as your office, get your station setup pronto before your day starts. Setup your laptop, get your space cleared, make sure you have the most comfortable chair in the house, get your notebook out and double-check that the coffee is hot.


Keep it simple

Lighting is important, so if you’re in a dark room, find a lamp. If you’re in a sunny room, draw the blinds and keep your environment as constant as you can, whether that be warming it up or cooling it down.


My suggestion is minimalism. The less clutter you have, the less you have distracting your mind from work, so close all the tabs of articles or things you want to look at in your free time. Work on one thing at a time - the task you’ve put in the time box. Remember, a tidy environment is a tidy mind. Do what works for you.



Track your time

Say what? I’m not a consultant!?

This is one of my top suggestions, and it may seem overkill but there is a great deal you can gain from tracking your time. As a consultant, it’s important for me to track each minute so you know which project my time’s being allocated to for charging clients but it helps me with accountability, becoming more efficient, and improves my ability to estimate future tasks.


When you start tracking your time, you will begin to see patterns throughout your days and weeks about when you work best i.e. some people naturally are early risers whilst others are night owls. Use these insights to refine your schedule for optimal productivity. Tracking your time will also hold you accountable to yourself. When you see the results of your work day you will be more inclined to hit your quota.



I personally use an app called Clockify but there’s plenty of alternatives out there.


One important thing to realise with time tracking is that just because you’ve spent 1.5 hours on something, it doesn’t mean that time’s been productive. Constantly ask yourself, "am I being busy or am I being productive?" and don’t fall into the trap of tracking time for the sake of tracking time.


My rule is, if I’m not producing anything, learning anything, or accomplishing anything it’s not worth tracking. i.e. I don’t track time I spent thinking about a problem, only the time spent researching how to solve it and actually solving it.



Tools

There are stacks of tools out there that are common place in the digital nomad community. You will find a lot of these also being used in dynamic corporate teams and startup environments but all of them are valuable and will help you improve your remote work.


Here’s one of the better articles I’ve found that lists some handy tools


We been using a number of these tools for years, such as Slack, GSuite, TeamViewer, DropBox (I personally like WeTransfer) for quick sharing, Zoom, Draw.io (now Draw.net) is a fav, Canva, Asana etc.




TLDR;

  • Get into the habit of getting out of bed by saying and visualising “Get up, dress up, show up”.

  • Get into a routine to help getting into one faster.

  • List tasks, prioritise your tasks with the 80/20 rule, and put them into your calendar using the time boxing technique.

  • Dress up as if you're going to work to help separate work from home.

  • Keep your work station clean and tidy, with your environment constant.

  • Track your time for efficiency and to help improve your schedule.


Remember, they call it work for a reason but that doesn’t mean you don’t have control over it. Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.


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