What helps you work from home? No, really, I’m asking. Please feel free to add thoughts to the comments section.
Whatever the answer is, I think it has something to do with managing transitions…
A Need & Transitions
Apparently, there is some sort of virus going around. So, many of us are now set to work from home. There are many who already have been working from home, but there are many who have not. It’s new territory.
We often get our work done, unwittingly, by relying on environmental triggers. A meeting here, a deadline there, someone stopping by to ask something, etc. These are the small taps that guide us throughout the day. Sometimes we use them well, having reflected upon them and designed our own environments.
But the upheaval in transitioning from an outside office to home can be significant. All of your stuff’s there! All the usual triggers for home life, be that family, a beckoning gaming system, or both, are there.
So this is one transition – office to home. But there is another transition to consider: that of moving from one work to another. 1
Whatever productivity technique you use to get started, be that of Being Productive, the Pomodoro Technique, or GTD’s idea of “tricking yourself”2 – they all consider transitions. The idea is that once you start something, there is a tendency to continue it.
Perhaps there is a parallel to Newton’s first law:
“A body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by a net external force.”
In this way, rather than consider having to do something for extended periods of time throughout the day, you might do well to think of having to make several transitions.
Additionally, there is a longer term consideration. To illustrate, consider one difference between those who retire well vs those who have difficulty is in their lives beforehand. If a person has developed hobbies, relationships, and the like that aren’t somehow tied to an occupation that will end, it is easier to make the transition. Often these activities can simply expand to fill the void left. Sometimes they suddenly realize that still don’t have time to do everything they want!
But those whose entire lives are work, the transition is more like running into a state of famine. They have to start creating a whole new garden from scratch—something very difficult to do at a later stage of life.
Certainly this latter advice is hardly helpful for the moment. It amounts to “you should have done x, y, or z”. But, hopefully, this crisis will pass, and you’ll be left with the realization that life outside of an occupation is vital. Not only is it important for the content. It’s also important for learning how to set up rhythms for oneself. Further, I find that having learned these habits of transition enhances my abilities and interactions at work even during the day at the office.
Now, I should say that I often use the word “work” similarly to GTD’s David Allen. In other words, “work” is “anything that you want to be different than it currently is.” Allen, David. “A New Practice for a New Reality.” In Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity, 4. No ed. New York: Viking, 2001. ↩
The example given is that if you want to start jogging, then put your shoes on and go outside. You might just start jogging. Once you do, you’ll likely continue. ↩
While the key commands can be helpful, we can certainly create more tags than possible key commands. So relying on just the autocomplete function is important in many cases.
An issue arises, when we have several tags that start with the same letters. While typing a few more letters to call a desired tag is often not a big deal, it can become a nuisance, particularly if it happens frequently.
Usefully, the ease with which we can call a tag is more than by its name. There are at least 3 factors considered when calling a tag using the autocomplete function:
Order of listing
Level in tag hierarchy
To illustrate, let’s begin with my current set of tags:
Name & Order
Tags that are listed first will appear first when its letters are typed.
So, as I like to use the @Current tag quite often, I have it listed high up. That way all I need to do is type the letter “c” and it will appear:
In contrast, to tag something with @call, I type “cc”:
I actually use @Someday/Maybe with good regularity. I have simply too many tags that begin with “S” for it to compete in the midst of everything else. Listing it high means I only need to type “s”:
Consider also that the hierarchy of a tag will have an impact, too. For example, if I were to have a tag @Doug in the of top hierarchy of tags, then it would take precedence over @Tool : Desktop even though the latter is listed higher.:
@Desktop is easily a tag I’d use more regularly. In this case, I would move @Doug and file it under @Agendas : Friends. While that fits the general organization, it would also mean that typing “D” would call @Desktop first.
In this way, we can consider the titles, order, and hierarchy positions of our tags. It is useful to create them with an eye towards having them appear with as few letters as possible, preferably with one letter.
As a result, the following discussion is more about a process of organizing over time. I haven’t organized all my tags in this way in one fell swoop.
I don’t think this is the sort of thing one has to do in one fell swoop. Doing so, is more likely an exercise in procrastination. I made such changes over time only as needed, one tag at a time. I suppose that makes this is one of those more “natural formations” of organization.
But if you notice yourself typing the letter “C” and running into @Car or @Call again and again, then consider how you might arrange things. Since it’s a small change, maybe add the idea to the Inbox so that when you’re next processing it, you can do it as a quick 2-minute-or-less item. 2
See Workflow Mastery for an in depth examination of organizing in digital, physical, or mental media. ↩
For an in-depth discussion of using the Inbox to avoid procrastination associated with organizing, consider Being Productive, modules 6, 7 and 12. ↩
There is yet another benefit we gain from repetition. It’s not always the case, but I find more often than not, I avoid the pressure of deadlines.
I very much dislike seeing the orange and red reminders of due dates. I only rely on them as a reminder of last resort. Instead, setting up a repetition early on, where the pressure to perform is less, where I can simply sit at the project or task on a regular basis, often allows more than enough time to complete the work. As a result, I rarely see the overdue badge.
Of course, unrealistically short deadlines do appear from time to time. This is not about those times.
Working with regular frequency of visiting a project also gives a better sense of the time the project will take. We never really know the exact time a project will take. The only time we’re close is if we’ve done the exact work before. But having some flow established, starting early and working regularly, means that you can adjust the frequency of sessions from a better understanding of what’s involved.
The frequency of sessions can be adjusted to aim for some comfortable buffer under the due date. This can be used when studying for an exam, writing a paper, or other project.
Some things do not need a firm deadline. I try to be honest with myself as much as possible. Though I may want to complete an album of music, I would not write a task of “Complete a full album of music” and set a false deadline. Doing so would annoy me. It creates a dissonance in me which, in an odd way, leaks into the music itself. The resultant rushed music often gives me a headache and winds up being tossed. A similar concept applies for any project.
In this case, I would use “Complete a CD of Music” as a Project, while a daily “Practice Music” task would provide a way to make new pieces. I work on them for at least a moment or for as long as it doesn’t otherwise interfere with the day’s schedule. If a particular session seems useful towards the album, I’ll include that session to review for the album, adding tasks of editing and post-processing as needed.
The project will be done when it’s done. I try to allow the project whatever time it takes.
There are those who say they “need the pressure” associated with a deadline or procrastination. However, I would suggest that many who say this have rarely experienced the joy of creating, completing, and escaping that pressure, but are are instead, caught up in acting out an unconscious, or even conscious, resentment of the deadline and its associations in the first place.
Make no mistake, real deadlines are irritating impositions upon the desire to be free of any such responsibilities. But, repetition, especially when started early on, can be a powerful way to reduce their pressure.
And this concludes the Power of Repetition Series:
Repetition can also create flow for one or many projects.
For example, you may want to get better at an instrument. “Practice piano” can be a daily repeated task. Every morning, I go through the process of powering up the instruments and the software to record. I may play for a minute or an hour. I may only sit at the keys and touch them briefly. Regardless, I sit at the keys, if only for a moment.
In this way, I honor the habit. Repetition allows me to optimize the conditions for creativity. I don’t have to perform. I don’t have to do anything other than be there with some regularity. Any amount of work counts as something towards checking off the task.
Clearly a longer period of time or increased frequency allows a greater flow through whatever the project may be. But having some frequency creates the flow in the first place.
In this way, I can pursue multiple projects. In addition to the daily practice, there are papers to write and talks to prepare. As daily repeated tasks, I treat them similarly as the piano practice. I can sit there and type nothing, a sentence, or more. More often than not, once I start, more follows. At some point, I feel “that’s enough for now,” close the program, and check it off the repeating task list.
I really don’t like to work against my will. This method means that the only part where that may happen is showing up.
This is actually a rather powerful way of working. More than two, or maybe, three creative repeated tasks somehow becomes too much. Your mileage may vary. The simple daily reminder to put oneself in the position of creating, establishes a flow in which the creativity and its follow through can proceed.
For a more detailed method including exercises to get you going, consider the Being Productive course.
The Power of Repetition Series will post weekly. Links will become available as they are published:
Other routines can certainly be added. Which routines and when are, of course, unique to the individual.
A weekday repeating task such as “Review today’s calendar” can give a general idea of what the day will look like, so there are no major surprises. You might say, “Oh that appointment is at 1pm. I’ll set a reminder to wrap things up and starting leaving at 12p.”
Another useful one might be “Clear Desktop” to remind you to create homes for all your projects so they don’t just grab your attention when you open the computer.
If some file represents work that you still need to complete, you can add an alias to that file in a task’s note field.
To do so:
Write a task.
Open the note field
While holding Control, drag and drop the file into the task:
By putting files away and linking them to tasks, you give them a home, set a solid task to move you forward, and ensure that all your work rests in one location. That way, you can arrange your time and tasks, and not feel overwhelmed by them sitting everywhere around you.
You can use the same process to reduce larger piles of clutter. For example, if you have a pile of papers waiting to be scanned, you could create a repeating task that says “Scan at least one sheet of paper”. As long as the papers don’t pile up faster than they’re scanned, the pile will eventually disappear. And, you won’t be quite so overwhelmed by the large pile of work that you just never quite get around to. A repeating task of a discrete amount of work means that you can do as little or as much as you want while still maintaining movement.
The Power of Repetition Series will post weekly. Links will become available as they are published: