Work From Home: Why you need to manage your T.E.A.M. and not just Time
18 March 2020 8:00 amBooks
Work-from-home (WFH) is great, innit?
No energy-draining commutes, no time-sucking meetings, no pesky co-worker conversations, no random birthday celebrations… and more family time… what’s not to love?
The dirty secret? For many of us, the office provides the necessary discipline to work. Actually work. And not fall prey to the three challenges of the home-office environment:
a. Distractions: Getting sucked into the unending temptations of the online universe (“Just one more video, and I’ll get back to work”) and other distractions.
b. Battling interruptions: Uniquely home interruptions such as the newspaper guy coming for his bill; the ironing guy for new clothes … and just when you are focusing on that critical proposal, a family member would ask for help with the printer. People assume that if you’re at home, you’re fair game and can be asked to do anything.
c. Managing low-energy periods: At office, the presence of others helps us power through the ‘low-energy’ periods (for instance that dreaded post-lunch nap, sorry dip, in productivity).
How can you cope?
In this long-form blog post, I’m sharing all the productivity lessons I’ve learnt from 5+ years of working from home.
(Disclaimer: There are much better sources of advice on this topic – for instance, the ‘Getting Things Done’ movement. I’m no expert on the topic. This is just a structured list of ideas that have worked for me).
Here’s a quick summary:
Break down your work into a prioritised list of tasks and record them
Break down projects to bite-sized, SMART tasks
Record tasks in the appropriate place based on urgency
Prioritise them using the Creator-Clerk framework
Manage your T.E.A.M. (Time, Energy, Attention and Mood) to complete the tasks
Time: Know your Biological Prime Time (BPT) and only schedule Creator tasks during this period
Energy: Create a conducive office environment and sleep, eat and exercise well to maintain energy for critical tasks
Attention: Know the sources of distraction and engineer your workplace to minimise its impact, especially during the BPT
Mood: Avoid unnecessary conversations and keep your mood positive
1. Break down your work into a prioritised list of tasks and record them
a. Break down projects to bite-sized, SMART tasks
At work, you have two kinds of tasks. Simple one-off to-dos (e.g. book Pune-Delhi ticket) and more complex ‘projects’ (e.g. prepare client proposal).
You cannot work on a ‘project’. You can only work on tasks that make up a project. But we often list down a ‘project’ as a to-do in our task list … and then get stuck – where exactly to start?
For instance, can you identify which of the following items qualifies as a ‘task’:
Research about healthcare in India
Make a plan for the company offsite to Goa
Complete auto-industry report
Answer: None of the above.
The above activities are all projects, that consist of a series of tasks within them. You need to break the project down into those tasks.
For instance, in the above cases, the following might be a specific task for each project:
Download and read annual reports of top 3 healthcare companies (A, B and C)
Speak to 3 vendors about Goa transport options and costs
Put down thoughts for ‘Competition financial performance’ section in ‘Industry Overview’ chapter
When you are ‘breaking-down’ a project into component tasks, there are 2 guidelines to keep in mind:
MECE: Between themselves, all the tasks should be MECE (Mutually-Exclusive-Collectively-Exhaustive)
SMART: At the lowest level, the task should be unambiguous and SMART (Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-bound)
The actual steps in creating a detailed MECE task list is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice to say that you should have tasks, not projects in your to-do list.
b. Record tasks in the appropriate place based on urgency
Now tasks don’t arrive neatly in a package at 9 am every morning. They are an unruly barrage of items that come at you with no order or frequency. If you just keep responding to each one as they came, you’d never be able to get critical work done.
Which is why you need a recording system for your tasks and thoughts.
Over many years of experimenting, I have figured out a system that works for me. Depending on the category of the task and when it needs to get done (today or sometime in the future), I have the following recording system in place:
Elaborating on the above, here’s what I do for the different categories of tasks:
For a meeting/call on a specific date or time, it’s easy – just record it on your calendar and then forget about it.
For ideas or tasks on specific projects, it’s best to have a ‘structured-sink’ where you can drop these ideas into. If you are working collaboratively on a project, you can use tools like Trello, Asana, Wrike et al. (TBH, I haven’t worked on most of these, since I mostly work alone). For self-work, Microsoft OneNote is a good option to jot down notes.
For future to-do lists or ideas on specific topics, I use Google Keep and Evernote. Keep is my generic note-taking tool, in which I have a range of notes, both personal and official – for e.g. my address and bank details for quick sharing, shopping lists, check-list for travel etc. On the other hand, I use Evernote almost exclusively for work ideas. I really like its ‘Notebooks’ feature and I use that to put down ideas by category. For example, the ‘Notebooks’ on my Evernote are given below:
Physical Notepad: This is probably my most important task-management tool. Previously I would note down the day’s tasks in my normal work notebook. The issue with that is the work notebook also has a ton of other stuff – conversations notes, thoughts for a presentation, doodles etc. It then becomes difficult to flip back and look for your to-do list, among all the other notes. That’s when I decided to buy some small notepads – which I exclusively use for the day’s tasks only. That makes it easy to find the to-do list for the day and previous days. And it enables you the satisfaction of ‘ticking things off’ the list!