Only you know if you’re REALLY working, working from home

Inspired by a pretty fantastic webisode by one of my favorites, Marie Forleo, about sticking to your schedule when working from home in response to Jade, who wrote in for advice.  Jade was feeling overwhelmed by both household and work tasks during the day, feeling more frazzled than when she was in the office.  She was berating herself because she’s comparing to the years that worked around the inefficiencies of an office and to people who have kids or don’t have a husband as helpful as hers, and was expecting a windfall of free time.

This is a subject very close to my heart, and my uterus, as it were that my days working from home while footloose and fancy-free are numbered down to my first born’s due date.  Nothing like a growing waistline to drive that one home.

I love the schedule that Marie laid out (especially compartmentalizing email!), highlighting some of the areas that are probably taking Jade, and a lot of us, longer than they “should” like getting ready for the day and dishes.  It’s amazing how if you don’t actually have to leave, you can look up at 11:59 and still have your hair in a towel.   I love that she included working out, not only because it’s a nice healthy living nudge, but because exercise makes you less sluggish for the rest of your morning routine so it doesn’t take as long!

7am-8am wake up & work out

8-9 shower, get dressed, eat

9-12:30 work! (no email)

12:30 – 1:30 lunch

1:30 – 3:30 work! (no email)

3:30 – 4:30 break or what I like to call “BS O’Clock”

4:30 – 6:30 work!  Reply to emails and plan for tomorrow

“BS O’Clock” is the 1 hour on my schedule when I take care of annoying errands like going to the post office, meal planning, updating my voter registration.  For me, BS o’clock is at 10am, so I don’t look up at 4:30 and realize I didn’t stop to eat and these little things have magically multiplied to take up my whole day (or that my project tasks have taken the whole day and now I can’t run my errand).

Like Jade, I’ve tried tons of schedules and the real work is sticking to them.  I find that “planning my schedule” was just one more task I did instead of getting my work done.  I needed something to hold me accountable, a carrot to run for or a stick to run from.

Sometimes it helps to do the math: how much real money are you losing by sleeping in / Twitter-instead-of-project time?  Losing on real proposals?  Losing real hourly wages?  Paying someone real money to do what you don’t “have time” to do?  Add it up.  Then, divide the money you’re losing by 1 week or 1 day and that’s the real money you gain or lose when you decide if you will give in to the snooze button or distraction.

I did something like this when my husband was procrastinating on preparing for a credential that would earn him a bonus at work.  We agreed on the amount of money 1 week of studying was worth and I’d write a check to him if he hit his goal, he’d write a check to me if he didn’t.  We share finances, so it didn’t “really” matter whether I gave him money or he gave it to me, but there is an undeniable rush of adrenaline when you receive any reward and an equally strong twist of your gut when you have to hand something over, no matter how small.  This makes for a visceral sensation when your alarm goes off in the morning, like realizing that you’ll miss your flight if hit snooze.

Add to that the social pressure of having someone else know about whether you’re meeting the goal as they are giving you the reward or punishment, and you have some pretty powerful motivation.

I know, I know, there are a lot of reasons to not pull out and keep that amount liquid.  I like to look at the money I’m saving by sticking to my schedule, just to know it.  Then I set my incentive to something nominal.  Some fun incentives:

  • Loyalty card for a movie or milkshake when you stick to the schedule 15 times
  • Physically take $5 out of your wallet and put it in a clear jar or “piggy bank” where you can see it accumulate for each day you stick to the schedule

Disincentives, work better for other people, done if you don’t stick to your schedule

  • Physically take $5 out of your wallet and give it to a friend or put it in a box you can’t unlock
  • Physically take $5 out of your wallet and give it away – donate it or give it to a homeless person or street musician
  • …(some people find that this isn’t enough of a disincentive, they have to give to something they’ll not be happy about later… like donating to the political party they oppose)

I can’t stress enough how important it is to physically give or take the money (or whatever your incentive is) even if you’re just moving it from your wallet to your dresser drawer.  Compared to an office, working from home and working for yourself is so conceptual.  In the office, you have so many signs that you should be working: you’re surrounded by colleagues who are working, your boss or client is asking you for things, you only use this space for work and the work day is bookended by a commute.  None of this is true of working from home, which is why it’s so great and so hard.  If you’re lucky enough to work from home and can’t find the gobs and gobs of extra time that you thought you’d have when pined for it in the office, don’t forget to cut yourself a break.  This is its own challenge, different from everything you mastered in the office and when you master this, you’ll be even more prepared for whatever comes next.


Eyes on the prize

I’m still working out the best way to explain what life coaching is, what I do exactly.  One quip has been in every attempt to explain: it’s helping you get out of your own way.  I’ve heard a lot of coaches spend precious time explaining in detail what they don’t do life coaches don’t solve your problems, they don’t find the answer – the client does. The client is creative, resourceful and whole. Hearing this explanation is what put me off coaching in the beginning – if I have everything I need to solve my own problems doing all the work, why pay a coach?

Coaches help you get out of your own way.

If you think of any mistake you’ve made, it’s easy to see where you got in your own way.  A coach holds your attention to the problem, reorienting you when you get distracted, have self doubt, or try to break the tension (and focus!) with a joke.  A friend can play the devil’s advocate and punch holes in your idea to help you clarify and defend your plans.  A coach holds your focus and your agenda when you want to have a pity party or let inertia take you away from your goals and back to the status quo, instead of making real progress.

This March, I’ve watched myself get in my own way at work.  I noticed, because I’ve watched myself do this in a lot of the jobs I’ve held.  When I lose track of my career path I focus on what I don’t like about the job and start make clumsy mistakes and my managers notice my utter lack of focus and then I really don’t have a career path.  I get in my own way of changing direction within that company or getting on with my next job (and forget about a reference).

The first time was my first “paycheck” job at a pizza joint that I could walk to before I had a license.  I answered phones and took down the pizza order in a short hand that the cooks could quickly read.  The other phone girls got promoted to hot counter, heaping Italian beef into buns and toasting garlic bread.  I wanted to make pizza.  I thought it looked fun tossing the dough and swirling the sauce, and the pizza guys didn’t have to help out with the phones on busy nights.  In the end I didn’t get to, for reasons that I thought were unjust.  I was told I could stay on the phones if I didn’t want the hot counter promotion.  Which was fine, I should’ve put the word “promotion” in quotes since it didn’t pay any more.  But as soon as progressing to what brought me to the company in the first place was off the table, I couldn’t handle the phones. I was late to work, made mistakes on the pizza orders and ultimately got fired.

Tachi Yamada has the right idea on how to reorient yourself to get around this conundrum.  His perspective is of a manager assessing his employees, but it applies to individuals because we are all managers of our own careers.

One of the things I’ve learned is that you can’t go into an organization, fire everybody and bring in everybody you want. You have to work with the people you have. I’ve gone into different organizations in completely different walks of life several times, and you walk into the organization and you realize that some people are very good, some people are average and some people are not so good. And if I spend my time focusing on everything that’s bad, I’ll get nothing done.

Or I could say, what are really the best things about the people I have? What makes them great, and how can I really improve them one or two notches? And if I spend my time on that, then I’ll have a great organization. Everybody has their good points. Everybody has their bad points. If you can bring out the best in everybody, then you can have a great organization. If you bring out the worst in everybody, you’re going to have a bad organization.

Now, to revisit his words, from the perspective of managing one’s own career:

You can’t control every aspect of your work life.  You have to work with the people you have. No matter what my situation is, I’m sure it includes some people who are very good, some people who are average and some people who are not so good. And if I spend my time focusing on everything that’s bad, I’ll get nothing done I’ll alienate myself from the aspects I do like and I’ll make clumsy mistakes.

Or I could say, what are really the best things about my situations here? What makes them great, and how can I really improve them one or two notches? And if I spend my time on that, then I’ll have a great career.

Have a great organization, a great career and a great week, folks.

March Monthly Meet Up

I’m letting go of February’s goal.  I was planning on keeping this up through April, but my work is done here.

Me: Are you going to hit your PE goal this week?  Because I was just looking at something completely irrational that I want and I was wondering if I can plan on buying it this week.

D: Nooooo!

Me: I don’t remember asking your permission

D: I wasn’t even thinking that! How long have you known me? I’m just not going to be the reason that you rationalize buying something ridiculous this time.

My belligerent spending when D slacks off has gotten him in the right studying for this certification that will make him a lot more money mindset and I no longer need to be involved.  It’s just a matter of studying the right material now, not whether or not he finds time to look at it.

As for March, I’m testing the waters for an international position. I’m too superstitious to call it a goal, so I’ll have to leave it at that for now.  More to come in April.

February monthly goal meet up

You may have heard that I am hanging tight with my professional progress.  I’m not setting out to change my situation (for once!), I am enjoying where I am right now and focusing on what’s in front of me.  I’ve found a professional goal that I can still go after.  The catch is: I can’t do it, my husband has to do it.  He’s an engineer and recently eligible to become a professional engineer (PE).  To become a PE, you need a 4 year degree from a recognized university (check), 4+ years working as an engineer (check), and to pass a very difficult exam that is only given twice year.  The consulting firm where he works offers a very enticing bonus and raise to PE holders, since they can charge a higher billable rate for their work. He wants to it for job security, possibility of more latitude and plum projects at work, as well as for the raise.

He signed up for the April exam last November, and I noticed that he hadn’t studied much.  So, I let the dust from the flurry of year work projects and family parties and travel settle.  On new years day, while we all nursed hangovers and made resolutions, I took out my calculator.

I calculated the amount of the raise between his test and next available test + the bonus.  That’s the 2010 money at risk if he doesn’t study. Then, I divided the money at risk by the number of weeks between today and the test.  That is the money wasted by not studying that week.  For arithmetic simplicity, let’s say it a $500 bonus and $5000 raise.  The bonus won’t change if he needs to take the exam again, but passing the first exam makes the raise is worth $2500 more because the next test is available in 6 months.

($500 + $2500) / 15 weeks until the exam = $167 wasted if not studying over a certain week

He set out a plan of what he needs to cover and how many hours he’ll need to study in a given week to be prepared.  In weeks that he hits the goal, I’ll cut him a $167 check and he can watch that money accumulate or do whatever he wants with it.  In weeks that he doesn’t study that amount, I will waste the same amount of money that “effectively wasted” by not studying.  So he doesn’t look for a silver lining I’ve assured him that I won’t put it toward anything practical or worthy.

It’s a dissonant feeling for me to set something as a goal that I’m supporting, not personally accomplishing.   I’m following this road, because it will lead to dollars in my pocket and hopefully to satisfaction.  I’ll keep you posted.

Once more, here is what I’m up to in January/February –

1. Enjoying this moment

2. Supporting (and enforcing) my husband’s test prep

Falling off the Goal Wagon

You may have read my November monthly meet up goal, and wondered how I fared, or what I was vowing to do in December and resolving to do in January.  Isn’t it funny how a decision made in January is a “resolution” but nothing decided the rest of the year is given such a lofty term?

I’m working on life coaching, which I know will be a partial source of income if I want to continue to pay my bills.  Blending with my current job works out well when my day job is not “busy.”  Busy can mean different things to different people – busy for me means overtime at unpredictable times.  Unpredictability is not something I want to embody when coaching someone to be accountable to that whatever they’re striving for, and quite inconvenient when I have an appointment.

Meanwhile, what I was striving towards was applying to grad school. In November, I needed to pick a program that fit what I wanted to learn and could qualify me to be a independent counselor.  Nothing fit.  Instead of hustling toward a goal I’m not even excited about during the honeymoon phase (the honeymoon phase is what I call the high after deciding on an action), I decided to throw on the brakes and focus on the moment I’m in now.  It may not be that fantastic or enviable, but I worked very, very hard to be where I am right now.  I spent a lot of time and effort and gave up some things in order to break into my industry, be trusted to work autonomously, to afford living a walkable distance to my office so I don’t show up with a short fuse from my nasty commute.  Its easy to look at people with cool jobs, and say what am I doing wrong that I’m not you?  But if I knew all the details of these admired strangers’ lives, I bet I’m doing quite a bit right that I’m not them.

Coaching, which is not counseling, fits everywhere but financially.  So, I’m keeping my day job.

This all sounds very relaxing as I write it down, but believe me: it isn’t.  It’s easy to just jump on a goal because it is an action.  Indecision is uncomfortable, so Indecision loves action because it feels like a decision, just without the buyer’s remorse.  Holding out for the right action is hard.

Fish and Decision Practice

If you don’t know, I’m a huge aquarium fan and a proud member of my local aquarium.  My mom is allergic to most furry pets, so I was only allowed to have fish for a long time growing up.  I don’t get too many chances to use my aquarium membership (or I should say I don’t use the opportunities. I actually could be there every Saturday morning, instead of sleeping, but I haven’t so that’s that). Last night I went to an open house at the Shedd aquarium.  It was fantastic.  I saw behind the exhibits, which sometimes was ABOVE the exhibit on a catwalk.  I really wanted to take a picture but I just imagined dropping my phone in the tank and the stingrays mouthing the touch screen.

While in the bowels of the museum, with HVAC engineer husband the conversation inevitably turned to piping and ventilation.  It would have been rude to walk away when the conversation veered somewhere uninteresting to me, but I did let my mind wander to where exactly did I go wrong, that these people got right, so that I’m not playing with fish all day but they are.  I love fish.

Or, maybe, I did it exactly right that I have enough spare money that I can be a member of this aquarium, and other museums.  I can do the fun part at each museum rather than spending most of my day in their underground offices, only coming out for open house.  I couldn’t ask. It wasn’t in the spirit of the day.

Fortuitously, the section that I read this morning in Nudge, my commuting book, touched on practice and feedback on important decisions. You get loads of practice on unimportant decisions, like grocery shopping.  You can learn your lesson about buying too much produce, when you go on vacation and have to throw out a ton of rotten fruit.  But not so much for the big ones like choosing a career, life partner, saving for retirement, etc. You only get feedback on the path you chose, not on the paths you turned down. You don’t get a do-over when you invest aggressively and lose all your money. Or invest conservatively, and miss a big win.

I find myself pining for a do-over careerwise, but I’m not pulling the trigger on a career change just yet.  I’m just not convinced that if I’d gone a different way I wouldn’t be peering down the market research path, longingly.

November Monthly Goal Meet-Up

At the gentle and not-even-specific-to-me urging of an old college friend, I’m setting goals by month and publishing them on my blog. This might sound a like what does, and it is a bit of an overlap. But the kicker is, I’m logging in again in one month to own up, publicly, about whether or not I did it. Yipes.

Without further ado, here is what I’m up to in November –

1. Make a full list of schools that I will apply to. Write down their application deadlines.

2. Make a full list of documents needed to apply.

3. Prepare a timeline and game plan to get each document ready in time.

4. Evaluate my budget (i.e. what I’m actually spending/saving, not what I could be spending/saving), then slim it down. Starting with alcohol.