More people are working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic than ever before. While many workers are happy to cut out their morning commute and wear sweatpants to work, some employees are struggling to stay motivated. Between the temptation of Netflix, the distraction of kids and pets, and anxiety about the state of the world, it can be tough for newly-remote workers to stay focused.
It’s hard to get into “work mode” when you’re working from your living room couch surrounded by the chaos of home life. However, you’re still fortunate enough to have a job and the means you have deliverables you are accountable for. As many workplaces lay off their employees, you need to demonstrate your value, and that means holding yourself accountable.
According to Paul Saunders, the co-founder of James River Capital, remote work is synonymous with accountability. While real-world workplaces have built-in accountability, you have to keep yourself motivated to succeed in remote work.
Let’s dive in to Paul’s advice for employees who want to stay productive and mentally alert while working from home.
About James River Capital & Paul Saunders
Along with his business partner, Paul Saunders acquired James River Capital back in 1995. In the 25 years since founding the company, Paul has served as CEO and Chairman of the Richmond, Virginia, company.
Today, Paul puts his 30+ years of experience in finance to work for James River Capital’s products. His goal is to find ways to balance portfolios to reduce risk and optimize return. Using alternative investments, James River Capital optimizes these investments for both parameters.
With over 25 years of experience in management, Paul has learned how to train his employees to stay accountable as they work remotely. As a manager, he has to trust that his team is equipped to handle the challenges of remote work. While the honors system is a big component of working from home, you do have to demonstrate enough value to stay gainfully employed. Here are Paul’s five tips for work-from-home accountability.
Five ways to boost accountability while working from home
It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of Netflix and Instagram if you don’t have tangible goals to keep you focused. Goals give remote work a purpose. They motivate you to keep pushing through and keep you working, even when you’re tempted to take a nap or a longer lunch break.
What goals do you have for the day, week, month, quarter, and year? While you don’t know how long you’ll be working remotely, it’s helpful to set short-term and long-term goals so you stay motivated and alert.
According to Paul, managers shouldn’t be breathing down your neck right now. However, they do expect you to stay on task, and goal-setting is the best way to crank out high-level work.
Keep a to-do list
If you aren’t already tracking your work tasks, now’s the time to start. Begin your workday knowing precisely what’s expected of you. Assign to-dos by order of importance, eating the elephant early in the day so you build the right momentum. If you don’t want to tackle huge projects at 8 am, start with small tasks, like checking your email.
Although paper to-do lists are okay, Paul has seen better results at James River Capital with digital tools. Asana, Monday, Trello, and other project management apps will help you track your tasks, collaborate with teammates, and show your manager what you’ve accomplished.
It’s also important that you stay realistic. Don’t put too much on your plate; otherwise, you’ll eventually burn out and get overwhelmed. On the flip side, you don’t want to run out of work by 9 AM. It might take you some time to balance your workload, but it will eventually settle and you’ll be better for it.
Track your time
How do you spend your time? It’s easy to fall into a glut of emails or run-on meetings in an organization that’s new to remote work. Track your time so you see where you spend most of your energy.
Remote employees can learn so much about themselves when they use free time-trackers online. This isn’t about letting your manager record your screen or anything; the purpose of time tracking is to help you better manage your time to stay accountable.
Start by batching similar tasks. That might mean checking Slack and email in a batch. Time how long you spend on each batch of tasks. The added structure will help you stay productive while you work from home.
Accountability starts with your boss and coworkers. But as a remote worker you aren’t getting as much face time with your boss or coworkers right now. You have to make an effort to communicate effectively within your organization if you want to stay accountable.
A good way to assure success with this is to schedule regular check-ins with remote employees and managers. Ask your manager how often they want to meet you, through what medium (Slack, video chat, phone call, etc.), and what you need to bring to the meeting.
Always ask your boss for his or her expectations. What do they need from you right now? How can you improve your work while working from home? Regardless of your boss’s management style, you need to communicate with them. After all, this is the person who signs your paycheck. Stay accountable to them.
Distractions happen in an office environment for sure, but your home is full of distractions too. Between your phone, the TV, kids, and your spouse, there are plenty of boundaries in the home environment that kill productivity.
It’s your responsibility to minimize distractions so you can stay accountable, and that means setting boundaries. Try these four tips for minimizing distractions:
- Limiting your phone use: Set a timer on your phone to limit social media access to one hour during the workday. You can also block these apps during work hours if they’re too much of a distraction.
- Creating a schedule: A schedule keeps your mind healthy and alert during these uncertain times. Give yourself a sense of normalcy by committing to a set wake-up time, determining your work hours, and scheduling in important tasks like cleaning and exercise.
- Carving out an office space: You probably don’t have the luxury of a home office but you still need a private space that’s just for work. Push that dresser out of the corner in your bedroom. Put a TV table and kitchen chair in the corner of your room to use as a workspace. It’s not fancy but it will help you stay focused with fewer distractions.
- Take breaks: It sounds counterintuitive but taking 15-minute breaks every few hours will boost your productivity. Check-in with your kids, grab the mail, do a load of laundry, or just relax. Use the breaks as your opportunity to return to work with less on your mind.
The bottom line
You aren’t expected to run at 100% during these uncertain times but you still have to deliver on your work responsibilities. Unfortunately, it’s easier to sweep things under the rug when you work remotely. Instead of drifting through remote workdays in a haze, hold yourself accountable. Follow James River Capital’s five tips to not only stay more productive when you work from home but to stay focused and motivated during such a critical time.