For those of you who know me (or have read me), you know that when I moved to Ecuador I had no plans yet for work. This caused me much anxiety some days, and other days none at all. Last month, however, I was presented with an amazing opportunity: a short term contract to work remotely + travel to Guatemala to implement a workshop. Bonus: it was my first time traveling abroad for professional work, and my best friend from my masters program was hired for the same contract.
This professional experience was just that – an experience. I won’t lie, I was incredibly nervous to be in a leadership position among 40+ native speakers, and to capture the essence of their narratives in my role to support dialogue facilitation and take verbatim notes. Luckily I overcame this fear on-site, and it was incredibly rewarding to have professional and personal discussions with the participants as they reflected on their experience in the field and on life in the Northern Triangle.
As previous posts have noted, working abroad is not inherently glamorous. In essence I had the perfect gig: work remotely part time, and get paid to travel to work one week in Guatemala. This work style, as many of you work-from-homers know, takes a good bit of discipline, self-control, and effective time management.
A few lessons learned working remotely:
1. Make goals for daily and weekly tasks (but don’t beat yourself up if they don’t get completed)
Working from home means that you need to be extra cautious with your time management. One tactic that helped me stay organized and focused was to create goals by the week and by the day. According to those goals, I would make a correlating to-do list each day of work. To make time management even more effective, I would break up the day for tasks I would like to complete in the morning and in the afternoon. Like anyone with a sense of time management knows, it is essential to prioritize. Of course, there will always be bumps in the road. Unexpected e-mails, urgent tasks, or maybe the sun is shining and you need to step outside. The point is, beating yourself up for not completing all of your tasks for the day won’t make that day’s progress any better. Thus, keep your eye on the prize and do the best you can with what you have.
2. Set physical boundaries
It is easy to get caught up in an assignment and have the determination to finish it. Unlike other positions, however, you can’t simply walk out of the office and keep the project on your desk. Thus, the tendency to become a workaholic/fill the hours of your day swimming in assignments is much more likely. It is important to create physical boundaries – by this I mean setting limits on physical spaces and on the clock. One advantage of working from home is that you get to set up your own schedule and work the hours that suit your style. Don’t let that get the best of you. Additionally, creating limits on physical spaces can help your mental space. Working from bed is awesome, but not when you want to consider bed your place of rest. Creating an office space at the kitchen counter and on the couch worked wonders for me. Bonus: get outside! Working on my balcony with some fresh air is definitely a highlight.
3. Step away from the computer
It is so easy to become a laptop zombie as you are hard at work on a task. It is always a good idea to press refresh on the brain power. Step away from the computer, just for a couple of minutes. Use this time to get yourself re-organized, do some stretches, and hydrate!
4. Freedom is yours! Break up your day
I’m under the belief that 8 straight hours of work does not produce the most productive results. Personally I prefer to break up the day – two hours here, three hours there – and have bursts of mega-productive work sessions. Wake up early (coffee), work for two hours, go to yoga, work three more, cook lunch with my boo, and put in a few more hours in the afternoon. Filling your day with human interaction and movement is critical to balance the work-from-home dynamics.
5. The price of coffee will add up
At first I was really excited about cafe hopping and getting my work done. The prices sure do add up, however… especially when you decide everyday is the day to treat yourself to a new latte or pastry. Lesson learned: pick an AM or PM cafe session and give your french press at home some lovin’.