As our world has almost turned upside down overnight businesses are shutting down, offices are closing, and people are “sheltering in place.” Almost instantly, our entire economy is now remote or WFH (working from home). Many small businesses and startups have been working remotely for years. They are operating business as usual, but most people who do not usually work remotely can find themselves struggling. I know most of my large clients have teleworking policies, but that might be working from home one or two days a week. Now, everyone is remote every day of the week, including kids normally in school and daycare! This may not be a big deal for a week or so. Since I live in the Northeast, getting stuck at home for a week after a snowstorm is not unheard of. But we are not talking about a week. We have no timeline. No answers. And no end in sight. We literally have to take this COVID-19 outbreak one day at a time.
Humans, by nature, need rules, hence why we have laws in the first place. Traditional work environments offer us rules and discipline, such as office hours, shifts, HR policies, even dress codes, and uniforms. While working from home for a week may seem liberating, many people are going to struggle and experience increased anxiety as the traditional rules they are used to no longer exist.
To cope and maintain productivity, we have to create new rules. We have to build self-discipline and put up our own guard rails.
If we took a poll today, I would predict most people would give themselves high marks on self-discipline. They are wrong, and I can prove it. “50% of all new health club members quit within the first six months of signing up according to the International Health, Racquet & Sports Club Association.” A number that would likely be far higher and far sooner if most gyms didn’t require a 6 month contract. So how do we cope in this new world requiring more self-discipline than ever?
1. Create new routines for you and your family. The best way to create self-discipline is to develop new routines. In the morning, get up at the same time every day. Establish several actions you might do to start your day, such as stretching, reading, journaling, fixing a healthy breakfast or smoothie, showering and getting dressed. To help myself get into a productive routine, I started getting up at 6:15 am. I first make my bed, prepare a light breakfast, shower and shave, do 15 minutes of Yoga, and get dressed similar to what I would typically wear to work. I do not hang out wearing workout clothes all day. Block your day and be very intentional on stopping work at specific times, and create similar evening routines.
2. Be accountable to each other. Studies have shown over and over that being accountable produces results. Sit down with your spouse or partner and talk about how to hold each other accountable to your goals. Collaborate on helping each other. If you live alone, find a co-worker that can be your accountability partner. Three of my staff and I meet everyone Monday at 5:00 pm to discuss our progress the previous week and announce what we are going to accomplish this coming week.
3. Find safe places to work and concentrate. This is going to be the hardest for many since most (if not all) coffee shops and public spaces are closed now. These closures have been hard for me since I spend a lot of time in coffee shops due to my travel, but also because I concentrate better with people around me (yeah, it seems counter-intuitive). Working from home can be hard if your kids are around making noise or continually interrupting. Find a safe zone, mark your territory and create rules and boundaries of when you can be disturbed. My sister converted her guest room into a fully functional office this weekend. And order a pair of nice noise-canceling headphones. I tend to work well with classical music.
4. Keep the TV off, limit social media and news. I cannot emphasize this enough. Do not turn on the TV! Set distinct rules when the TV can be on. Stay off of social media and the Internet as much as you can. We all know that social media and the web will suck hours away from you before you know it. Use web blockers like Freedom that allow you to block websites and Apps. Turn on Do Not Disturb on your laptop. Protect your time, as it is a precious resource for you. To be productive it is imperative to eliminate all distractions, including notifications. I have gone as far as removing all social media and email from my iPhone to protect my focus.
5. Keep moving. Getting up and moving throughout the day is not only good for you physically, but it is also excellent for mental cognition too. Steve Jobs was famous for walking meetings, as it provides your brain with the ability to wander and can put you into a creative state. Make this part of your day. Schedule it. Perhaps take that 30-minute update conference call while you are walking. In addition to taking walks, I use my Apple Watch to “close my rings” every day, which is easy if I take my 30-minute walk and am reminded to stand up every hour. I have an agreement with myself to close my rings every day, no excuses. Trust me, there have been many times when I’m doing jumping jacks at 11:00 pm at night.
We all need rules to operate, and in these times, we have to embrace self-discipline more than ever. Find someone that you can partner with and create an environment where you can concentrate, distraction-fee.
In fact, go for a walk right now and brainstorm new routines you can start today! Then stick with them.