In this episode of The Stretch Goals podcast, Scott and I are going to be talking about how to be productive working from home.
Robert: In this episode of The Stretch Goals Podcast Scott and I are going to be talking about how to be productive working from home. This is The Stretch Goals Podcast, where each week we share insights and lessons learned based on our experiences as entrepreneurs. We challenge you to create ambitious goals as you start and grow your business. I’m your host. Robert Dickerson.
Scott: And I’m Scott Davis.
Robert: So, Scott, how are you productive from home? You’ve got kids at home, you’ve got all your toys, alcohol right behind you. How do you get any work done ub in that office?
Scott: Yeah, you know, it changes daily. It changes daily, right? I mean there’s some days when the kids are running around crazy, where that’s very distracting, especially if you’ve got meetings it makes it difficult. But what I try to do is I try to keep my schedule a little like organically open. I’ve got core hours where I know the kids are napping where I’m definitely working always, but the rest of the day is kind of like well, if the kids are in a bad mood or my wife needs a break, then I’m just going to work 7:00 pm to midnight tonight to make up that difference.
There’s core hours for me, but really it’s all about … And sometimes … You touched on this previously. If you’re not feeling good, you need to get out and just like get some fresh air, play some basketball or go work out, that helps reset you. I don’t try to necessarily make set hours because it makes me too stressed. That’s how I keep my productivity up, is I just … I get what needs to be done and then I go take care of something else and I just kind of keep my schedule free-flowing and organic. What about you?
Robert: Yeah. I mean I like the flexibility. That’s something that I try to do a lot as well, whether I get a lot of stuff done in the morning and then have meetings in the evening, or in the afternoon, and then work at night. I try to keep that flexibility as well, because when you’re working from home you can work at any time. That can be a positive and that can be a negative too. It’s a positive because you can move your work around, but it’s a negative because it’s hard to really separate yourself from your work.
Scott: Yeah. It’s hard to separate yourself too from what’s going on at home. If you’ve got a contractor there or you’ve got a kid who’s sick it weighs on you a little bit more. But, honestly, I can’t imagine ever going back to a 9:00 to 5:00 environment. It’s too restricting. You can’t run to deposit a check, you can’t get a flat tire fixed, you can’t do anything because you’re judged on the amount of time that you’re in the office, not the work that you’re doing. I know personally I get two to three times more work done working from home in my own direction than I did working in an office environment.
Robert: Yeah. I’m the same way. I mean one thing that I try to do … I mean if you’ve read any articles about deep work, where you really try to focus for a couple hours, that’s something that I really try to do. I try to set aside times both in the morning and in the afternoon where I can get two to three hours of really focused work, uninterrupted work done. What I try to do is schedule different days … Like I’m very productive in the morning, from like 9:00 to noon is probably my most productive time, so I really try to keep those times free so I can focus on things I need to get done.
Then like around lunchtime a lot of times I’ll schedule meetings or lunch meetings or phone calls, or right after lunch I’ll schedule calls as well, when I’m just trying to get back into it. Usually in the afternoon I’ll go work out, go for a run or to the gym around 2:00, where I feel like I’m kind of fading out a little bit. Then from like 3:00 to 5:00 until I pick up my kids, I’ll really have some focus work then to get stuff done. Then after dinner too, like a lot of times from 9:00 to 11:00 or so a couple nights a week I’ll really take time and really focus on that after the kids go to bed.
Scott: Sure. I mean I’m a little bit different. I’m not … I like being up in the mornings. I like to read. I like to do some knowledge gaining in the mornings. I usually catch up on emails, social media and things like that, eat some breakfast, play with the kids. I try to get meetings and things I hate out of the way, and I try to do podcast recording. But, no, in the afternoons is when I really … It’s like from 12:00 to 5:00 I’m like that’s my time. If that gets broken up because you’ve got meetings and things like that, it really affects me. I have it in my mind what I’m getting done today, and if a meeting impacts that it’s really difficult for me, because then I’m going to work at night.
But where I’m most focused is probably 9:00 pm until like 2:00 in the morning. I don’t do that shift as much these days, but when I do, man, the code just flies off my fingers. That’s my focus time. It’s dark, it’s quiet, nobody is there. But lets get back to what we’re talking about, like how can you be effective working from home?
A lot of places where you work from home though, you have to keep a confined schedule. You have working hours, and it’s usually like 8:00 to 5:00 or 9:00 to 5:00 or something like that, so that may not really jibe with what you’re doing, but my suggestion is if you’ve got a 9:00 to 5:00 work from home and you’ve got to do those working hours, do what you can, be responsive during that time. Like maybe just take your phone with you and have Slack running or Google Hangouts or whatever and be responsive, but it doesn’t mean you have to be bolted down to your seat the whole time. You still have the flexibility even though you have these core working hours. It just means you have to be responsive.
Robert: Yeah, I mean I think, like you were saying, we both work differently. I think you have to figure out what schedule works for you. It’s a little bit of trial and error. I know when I first started working from home I tried different things to figure out what my schedule would look like, how I would work on different tasks. When I first started, I was working for different customers, so I’d divide up each day to a different customer. Instead of trying to multitask things during the day, work on one thing for an hour and then switch to another task, it just became too hard to switch back and forth, so I tried to focus over a larger period of time on a day basis on a specific task.
That’s just something that works for me, but you can experiment with different ways to work and try to be productive, and like Scott said, find those hours when you’re most productive and try not to schedule meetings during those times. Try to keep those free, whether you need to block off your calendar to make sure people don’t schedule meetings … I know sometimes you can’t do that if those are required meetings and things like that, but if you try to do that and really figure out what works best for you.
Scott: Yeah. I think that’s great. If you can block out those times, like you said, that’s going to be the greatest thing for you, and you’re going to find that you get way more work done than you do when you’re in that office environment. People say, “Hey, I couldn’t work from home because I would miss talking to people.” I don’t. I’m a doer, man. I don’t need the water cooler chat. In fact, us doing this podcast is the most I talk to people really all week, and that’s enough for me.
But when I transitioned from corporate to work from home it was easy for me. I immediately was more effective. I didn’t have to do anything like man, I can’t get anything done. I’m staring out the window or playing video games. That’s not the case. If anything, it’s like hey, I got all my work done. Now what am I supposed to do?
I was working like first thing in the morning. Before I had kids I’d work from 9:00 to 12:00, I’d be done on a Tuesday with everything I needed to do for the week, so I’d stop for a little bit, play some video games, grab some lunch, and then hit my manager up and be like, “Hey, I need more to do.” That’s just how I am. When I can get in that zone, it was an easy transition for me.
Robert: Well, you feel a sense of accomplishment, a sense of productivity, I feel like when you have that uninterrupted time, whereas when you’re in an office you have people … I mean that’s the biggest change for me, is that … You know, I was kind of worried about that day-to-day talking to people over the water cooler, because I enjoyed doing that, meeting people for lunch, and I was worried that if I was working from home I was going to miss that. But what I found is that I go to lunch with people, I have phone calls with people, I do just as much engagement as I would in the office, but what’s removed is people bugging me during those core times I really need to focus. So you get to choose … And I think that’s the biggest thing, is you get to choose when you have that engagement and when it makes sense, and then when you can focus. That’s what I really like about working from home.
The other thing … I’ve heard the same thing from people that say, “I could never work from home. There’s too many distractions,” and that is difficult, right? You have to be mindful that you’re not going to watch TV when you need to get something done. You need to make sure that you stay focused and use those breaks to kind of separate your day to make yourself more productive and get yourself in the right frame of mind.
Scott: Sure. I think initially, when you first start working from home, there’s that temptation to maybe watch some TV, take a nap, play with the dogs, but that wears of, especially when you know you have work to do. For me it’s just kind of like … I don’t know, I think people have in their mind that they can kind of just do whatever they want and they’ll work like an hour a day and that’s it. That’s fine, but you’ll get weeded out real quick. You still have to get your stuff done.
For me, sometimes I’ll just like to get all my work done all at once. I might even work … Before I got married and had kids I would work 24 hours straight and be done for the week. You know, like that’s just how it is. I don’t know, for me, I don’t miss talking to people. I’m a typical programmer. Like put me in a dark room with no light and just let me work.
Robert: You say that, but we have these podcasts, you have meetings, you have customer engagement, you go to trade shows and conferences, so I mean you’re still engaged with people.
Robert: But like you said, you can have that time that you can really focus, that you’re not interrupted.
Scott: Yeah. I hated being in the office and would be in the zone and, “Hey, Scott, can you help me out with a problem?” I’m like … Like you don’t want to be a jerk, but you’re like, “Dude, let me finish this thing. I’m almost done.” Don’t get me wrong, I love talking to people, but when I’m in the zone I want to be in the zone. Leave me alone. That’s why working from home works great for me. I think there’s probably some personality types where it wouldn’t be good for perhaps, but I think … I can see a world where everybody worked remotely, me personally, because that’s how the thought works for me. But obviously we can’t all do that, and some people aren’t good at it.
Robert: Did you ever have days in the corporate world where you’d get to the end of the day and it would be 5:00 and you hadn’t accomplished the one task that you wanted to do the whole day because you got interrupted by meetings and-
Scott: Oh, yeah, all the time. Like I said earlier in this podcast, it stays with me and I’m not sleeping tonight because I didn’t get that done, right? So I would end up working from home at night just to get that stuff done because that’s just how I am. I want to get my things done. Yeah, that happened all the time, and it was frustrating.
There were days, like usually it was a Friday in the summer, where I would just go talk with people in the office the whole day and deliberately wouldn’t do any work. I would be like let me see what I can do until lunchtime, and then I’m going to go get out for an hour and a half, and then I’m going to come back and try not to stare at the back of my eyelids. There were days when you had that, right?
You know, I’m trying to think have I deliberately at all in the last year done nothing while working from home, and the answer is honestly no. There’s not been one day where I’ve been like, “I’m not going to work today.” I love going into my office and working. I love being here and doing things.
Robert: Yeah, I agree. There hasn’t been a day where I haven’t had a million things to do that I’m like, “What should I do today?” The other thing I want to talk about too is that if you’re working on a problem a lot of times in the corporate world you just have to continually sit there and bang on it, and I really like the fact that I can get up and I can go do something else like go work out or go outside for a bit and kind of take my mind off it. That really helps me focus so when I come back I’m refreshed and I can really sit down and solve it quickly, rather than if I just sat there for a day.
Probably all of us have had this happen, when you go home at night and you come back in the morning and you solve the problem you were sitting there for four hours the day before, and you fix it in a couple minutes, or you solve the issue. So I like that flexibility about work.
I guess the final thing to kind of wrap up this topic I wanted to talk about was really how can you separate yourself from your work when you’re working from home, because the boundaries now are not as clearly defined. Because when you come home from the office, your home is kind of a separate place and you can kind of relax, but when you’re working from home, your office is just down the hall, right, and you’re kind of always drawn to go back and do work, or work for an hour here or there.
For me that’s really … That balancing act has been something that I’m continuously working on to figure out … Kind of define those core working hours still, even if I do work in the evenings and stuff like that, but try to restrict those to certain hours or certain maybe issues or things like that that I only address at those time.
Scott: Yeah. There’s a family life balance, as you probably know. If you work during the time when you can play with the kids too many days in a row, you’re going to get a lot of flack at home, so I try … I cut off at 5:00 or 5:30 every day, I do dinner with the family, I play with the kids until after they go to bed. After they go to bed, if I’m really busy I’ll let my wife know, “Hey, I’m going to have to work tonight. I’m really sorry,” make her know that I want to spend time with her, but at this time I’ve got to work.
Then if it’s not as critical but I still need to get some things done so I can sleep or just so I can meet my deadlines, I’ll wait until she goes to bed and then I’ll work on those things. That’s how I usually do it. I try not to … I like to get to a stopping point, and if I don’t sometimes I kind of take that with me while I’m eating dinner, I’m still thinking about it, but usually I cut it off and I’m good until everybody is in bed.
Robert: Yeah, I do the same thing, try to really define those times where I can spend time with my family. Because I mean there’s important things in all of our lives that we want to focus on, and work can’t be the sole thing we always do. You have to take the advantage of the flexibility and still try to figure out boundaries where it’s not bleeding over into your life.
A lot of people talk about there is no work/life balance, right? Work is life. There’s some truth to that, but you still have to kind of define those boundaries, and it’s something when you’re working from home it takes a little bit of time to figure out what works for everyone.
Scott: Yeah. Yeah. Those people who say that, they’re not married and they don’t have kids so-
Robert: You know, it’s funny. I’ll listen to podcasts of people who are being productive and they say, “I get up at 4:00 am and I meditate.” I just think once you have a baby, then let me know if you’re getting up at 4:00 am to meditate, because you’re probably getting up to feed a screaming child.
Scott: Yeah. Different kind of meditation.
Robert: Life changes quick.
Scott: Indeed. Thanks guys. Give us a listen on Sound Pad, iTunes, YouTube, and check us
out on social media.
Robert: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Stretch Goals Podcast. You can access the show notes for this episode and listen to other episodes by heading over to stretchgoals.fm
Robert Dickerson is the Founder and CEO of Mapout a mobile learning platform that uses video courses to educate customers and train employees. He helps companies develop and launch their products.
Scott Davis is the Founder and CEO of MobX, a mobile development software agency. He has 20 years of experience developing software for Government, Finance, Sports and the Telecommunications industry.