As I read Katrina Alcorn’s book, Maxed Out, about her nervous breakdown and subsequent downward spiral into anxiety and depression, I thought, I can relate to her story. And I was sure that many working parents like me could, too.
My breaking point came when I was on maternity leave, simultaneously caring for my infant son and attempting to re-wire our rescue dog, Harper, a habitual biter who had to be tethered to me at all times to prevent future attacks.
One evening, I set out to go to the pharmacy and got in an accident in our driveway—slamming my car into my husband’s parked vehicle as I backed up. I was beyond exhausted—so tired my bones hurt—stressed out, and constantly on edge watching over an unpredictable dog while caring for two children who were clearly my priorities.
Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be my sanity or my children’s safety, so we decided to return Harper to the shelter. A few months later, we were relieved to learn that she was re-adopted.
I could breathe a little easier.
But just when I was getting into the “mother-of-two” groove, my maternity leave was over. I was about to return to the office, which was a little over an hour commute by train each way. Luckily, my parents lived only three minutes down the road at the time, so my mom became our primary caretaker while I was at work.
Even with extra help, it was a struggle to get out the door every morning. I had to feed my children, lay out clean outfits, wash bottles, stock up on diapers, wipe breakfast crumbs off the kitchen counter. Most mornings, I left the house with wet hair pulled up in a bun, wrinkled top, and a poor excuse for a bagged lunch that consisted of a banana and yogurt. By appearances, I did not have it all together, and if I was being completely honest, I knew that I couldn’t “have it all” or even juggle pieces of the elusive whole very well.
Then my husband got a new job and we moved even further from my office. There’s no public transportation where we live, and my team is based across the country in Indianapolis, so it was the perfect time for me to start working remotely.
Fast on the rise, telecommuting increased 79 percent between 2005 and 2012 and now accounts for 3.2 million American workers. And research tells us that far-flung employees are not only more productive, but they’re happier too.
I was instantly grateful for my newfound situation, which allowed me to do the work I loved while still being available for my family. But I also knew that to be good at telecommuting, I had to change a few things about the way I approached the work week. Here’s what I learned:
1. Get up and get dressed. I instilled a morning routine that was so simple it became a habit. Now that my children are both in elementary school, I have a cup of coffee alone outside on my deck and then make all the beds in the house. Next, I eat breakfast and journal for about 15 minutes, teasing out any worries from the night before or getting ideas down on paper, setting forth clear and obtainable goals for the day (see point #2).
2. Check off three tasks a day. You can’t accomplish everything in eight hours, but you can finish at least three priorities on a given day. First, check your calendar for meetings or appointments so that you can work around them. Then write a short list of what needs to get done, including urgent deadlines, to give yourself a visual outline. It also helps to set aside an hour in the afternoon to answer emails instead of responding to them one by one so your inbox doesn’t become a constant distraction.
3. Make human connections. Tools like Skype and Microsoft Teams help me feel instantly connected to my team. Scheduled phone check-ins with direct reports and managers also keep the lines of communication open and help you address concerns before they flare out of control. I even started a virtual book club with a few work colleagues because let’s face it, flying solo can get lonely and talking to other like-minded adults about anything—fiction, current events, home decorating—makes you feel like you’re a part of a community.
4. Give yourself a break. Here’s the thing: there will be work-from-home days that are fluid and seamless—the stuff work dreams are made of—as you throw in a load of wash while you wait for a conference call to begin or log off at exactly 5 p.m. to prepare a home-cooked meal. There will also be those days when you need to stop everything and answer a call from the school nurse or type a meeting agenda with a sick child on your lap. Take time throughout your day to have lunch, go for a walk, or call a friend. Mini brain breaks go a long way in ensuring your productivity for the long haul.
Flexible work is in demand, inching out the typical, perhaps soon-to-be antiquated, 9-to-5 office setup. According to a Harvard Business Review study, U.S. workers say they would consider taking a lower-paying job with benefits like flexible hours and the option to work from home over a higher salary.
What are your thoughts on the remote working trend? Let us know in the comments below.
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