Have you ever watched a cat adapt to a new home? There are steps to help them quickly adopt their new surroundings (boxes, small rooms, etc.) but they generally scope out the floor, then move higher to furniture and counters, then start poking around stairs and closets. After a short amount of time, they have the entire place mastered – jumping from counter to ground and back up on the couch without pause. No problems at all.
That’s how I felt after diving back into a daily commute to and from an office after 12 years of working remotely. Wandering the halls, adjusting to new schedules and discovering my fit was surprisingly challenging. I wanted to get started working but I first needed to feel comfortable in my new work environment; it’s what I need to do to increase productivity.
Then, I thought back to the three elements that kept me productive when I worked outside of an office:
1. Find your comfort work zone
2. Get the right tools for your job
3. Adopt the ’90% of your work, 100% of your time’ principle
Find your comfort work zone
When I started my in-office job, my first few days consisted of me walking around the office, lost. Getting myself familiar with the location of the printers, the bathrooms, the kitchen, where my team sat, where my colleagues sat, which meeting room was which, etc.
Once I figured out my bearings in the office, I started to recreate my remote office in my new office: I removed most of the obstacles and distractions that I knew would get in my way of being productive.
A quick trip backwards…
When I first started working remotely (home, client offices, coffee shops, etc.), I was terrible at it. I had no control over time and I would be distracted by the smallest things (where did I put my Xbox controller?). I thought I had the entire day to work on things – a full 24 hours. “Eh, I’ll get to it later tonight”, I’d say to myself as I finished another season of Madden. When later came, I pushed it off until the next day.
I missed a deadline and quickly realized if I was going to make this work, I had to find the right time and place when I would be most productive.
I’ve always been a morning person, so I devoted the first four hours of every day to getting the most important tasks and projects done. With the quiet of the mornings and the excitement of getting so much done with so much of the day left ahead of me, I started learning how to cram even more into those first four hours.
Get the right tools for your job
From there, I started looking at the tools I needed for my job (marketing, business development, sales). It turned out, I needed very little – a bluetooth keyboard, an iPhone, an iPad and an Internet connection. I could now work nearly anywhere (thank you Apple for the long battery life!) and I was able to quickly pick up and go when needed.
If your responsibilities include additional tools to complete your work, I’d suggest grabbing the Reminders app (or other note taking / to do list application) and track your work for a week. Find out what it is you do (specifically) and what you need to do it. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
While having a trackpad, a coffee warmer and a big screen monitor are all nice to have, I bet you can actually do most of your work with a much more streamlined toolset.
That leads me to…
Adopt the ’90% of your work, 100% of your time’ principle
The last piece I added was a belief – something I could strive to do everyday that would make my life (and those around me) better. Here’s what I came up with:
Be able to do 90% of the work 100% of the time.
In other words, no matter where I’m at or what tools I have with me, I should be able to accomplish 90% of the work that needs to be done.
That final 10% shifts. Perhaps it’s an Illustrator build or some time-consuming coding or creative writing. My workspace for that last 10% needed to be specific (for me, it meant my Mac Mini + big display + big headphones) but I didn’t need access to that 10% 100% of the time.
Let’s jump back to today.
After moving into an office, and learning where everything was, I began rebuilding my remote office life routine in my new office life. First things first – I took everything off my desk. All that’s left is a phone and a laptop (and an endless supply of gum and hand sanitizer).
With everyone coming by asking questions, along with an increasing number of meetings, it’s easy to fall into the thinking that “the office is too distracting to work” and to pine for the “productive days”.
But after working remotely for so long, what I found is that the disruptions don’t come from others – they come from me. While others might be distracting, it’s up to me to let them be distracting.
(If you’ve ever worked in a coffee shop or a loud and busy area for more than an hour, you’ll know what I mean.)
People are always going to be stopping by. There are always going to be meetings to attend. The phone is always going to ring. The incoming emails aren’t ever going to slow down.
I just needed to deal with it. That might be blocking off time in my calendar. It might be staying in a meeting room after everyone has left to write up notes and deal with any emergencies.
For me, it was recreating my remote work life. I now work “remotely” 80% of the time – meaning I’m still in the office but I’m in a community space, in a meeting room or working somewhere that’s not my desk. I pick up my laptop and take it with me, and I use it until the battery drains.
(You’ll be surprised at how much time is gained by not sitting at your desk. People stop by just to chat, which is not a horrible thing unless you are up against a deadline. You’re not at your desk, they aren’t going to track you down just to chat.)
I’ve applied the “do 90% of my work 100% of the time” belief in my office. When I get back to my desk, there’s nothing there except for notes and papers I need to review. Just enough time to charge my battery and head to the next spot.
It’s a simple formula for success. The more efficient you are, the more you can increase productivity