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For many right now, adapting to and managing a home-based office is the new norm. I’ve been thriving in this work environment for decades so I thought I’d offer some simple yet effective habits to be more productive, effective, and healthy at work. Here are a few nuggets – experiment and keep what works for you!
Create a dedicated workspace so all of your materials and supplies are easy to find and use. Losing paperwork and materials will only cause frustration and waste time. Let others in your household know when you’re power-working. When I worked at a university I had a little sign on my door with my “open door policy.” That sign indicated that if the door was wide open, come on in! I’m ready and willing to be interrupted and enjoy your company. If the door was closed halfway, I’m focused but can be interrupted for important questions and conversation. Finally, if the door is closed, I’m power-working. I can’t and don’t want to be interrupted because I have a looming deadline or need to focus on the project at hand. Other colleagues who don’t have a door and work in cubicle-land, printed photos of a traffic signal and told people Red light = stop. Do not enter. Do not interrupt. Yellow light = exercise caution. Knock gently but know I’m focused and don’t have time for a lot of chit chat. Green = go. Extrovert with me!
Watch your coffee intake.
When you make a pot of coffee at the office, you’re sharing the whole pot with others. When you’re at home, you can accidentally consume 12 cups. I might be talking from bad experiences here… 😊
Take breaks – physical, mental, meals.
If you took snacks to the office, you probably measured out the number of Wheat Thins in a baggie. You may have brought one apple and one banana. Now you’re in your home with an entire pantry and refrigerator right in the next room. It’ll be easy to stand in front of those giant vessels of food and snack more than you normally would. Plan your snacks. Every day I have a small snack at 10 a.m. to break up my morning. I call it a “Tennie.”
An association client of family physicians once told me, “Sitting is the new smoking.” Be sure to take physical stretch breaks so you don’t spend hours on end hunched over your desk. Even if you have to set a timer, get up and move at least once an hour; preferably more. Sometimes I have to set an alarm on my phone to remind me to do that.
Mental breaks can be overlooked but equally, if not more, important. During these stressful times when people can’t stop talking about how social distancing is affecting them, take care of your stress levels and pay attention to your own anxiety. If you’re up to your eyeballs in posts, newscasts, and friends/family talking about the virus, let them know and focus on self-care. Moving meditations like a quick walk around the block work for me. Use simple apps like Calm, Breathe, Simple Habit, and Down Dog all offer short (or long) guided meditations to clear and calm your mind.
Calendarize what’s important to you.
When you find yourself saying, “We should do lunch,” to a colleague or want to get together for coffee, add it to your calendar. I’ve set Zoom and Google Hangout dates with others so I see faces, work collaboratively, connect as humans and not just voices on a phone, and laugh.
What’s important to me during this time is to support small businesses. I’ve committed to ordering take-out from my favorite mom-and-pop restaurants and “have lunch” while on those calls with friends, family, and close colleagues. Heck, I would have gone out to lunch with them anyway, but now I’m eating across from them at my desk and not in the restaurant.
Bookend your day.
This is a critically helpful tip that I’ve used for years. At the beginning of each day I review my daily and weekly to-do list and reset by creating a realistic course of action for the day. I focus my first few hours on the important work, then I start email. Long ago I read Julie Morgenstern’s book, “Never Check Email in the Morning.” Basically, she said that email is an “uninvited guest” and just because it lands in your in-box doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing to address. It’s a helpful message, even for those of us in member service industries.
Finally, I end my day by filing papers, clearing my desk, and making tomorrow’s to-do list. It’s a great way to transition to dinner and my family since the commute is basically 20 steps away. Without a drive home from a workplace, I need that time to decompress and switch my brain to home-mode. And, the next day I get to start all over with a clear, uncluttered desk.
Hang in there!
A mentorship can help advance your professional goals, but the first step is to find a mentor who suits you. Here are some common mentorship roles and questions to ask before choosing a mentor.
Many people might cross their fingers and hope for the best when they go looking for a mentor. But hope and luck shouldn’t be a strategy for professional growth.
The truth is not all mentors are the same because not all relationships are the same. Don’t get locked into thinking a mentor is an all-knowing being who sits at the top of a mountain sharing morsels of wisdom. Mentors can take many different shapes and forms and play many different roles in your career. Here are a few to consider:
Coach. Like a sports team, this individual knows the rules and has a good sense of the skills and attitude needed from the entire team to succeed. She gives regular feedback on skills and works to help you focus your abilities. Coaches are good at refining skills and providing regular—and sometimes tough—feedback to help challenge your professional growth.
Connector. This person seems to know almost everyone. He has both deep relationships and wide connections. It may feel like the connector has volunteered or worked in every area of the organization and knows thought leaders. This person walks into a room and remembers everyone’s names—mixing, mingling, and networking are the connector’s superpowers.
Resource partner. This person loves information. She is the person who reads voraciously and shares models, ideas, and research from books, articles, podcasts, and websites. The resource partner is deeply curious and always on the lookout for new information to strengthen and transform you, your team, and your organization.
Agent. This person loves to connect people to the right opportunities. Once you share your professional development (PD) plan with the agent, he will recommend specific skill- and knowledge-building opportunities, connections to initiate, and conferences to attend. The agent should know your skills and interests to get you engaged and moving. He will help advance your career by advocating for you. Everyone needs a cheerleader and advancer, and the agent will do this well for you.
Develop the Mentoring Relationship
Once you determine the type of mentor who would suit you best, to maximize her talents and perspectives, start your PD plan so she can offer quick and easy feedback. The plan doesn’t have to be formal, but it should be structured enough to let the mentor know how you might spend your time and conversations together. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Where will I be in five years? Look at the growth of your profession and organization. Get in line with your association’s strategic priorities and build your wish list of professional skills and available opportunities ahead. Ask what types of continuing education and formal coursework are supported in the company to both build your personal skills and strengthen your association. Remain current and enthusiastic and make yourself indispensable.
What do my colleagues think of me? Asking for consistent feedback is important. Talk to supervisors, colleagues, and volunteers, and find out what they think of your work. If you have taken any leadership- or personal-development profiles, what are you discovering about your skillsets? Is there anything that should be honed? What are some signature strengths that add value to your role and organization? Be sure to share this information with your mentor, and focus your PD plan around strengths and weaknesses.
Where is my resource base? Consider your social networks and create a list of people who can support you in your PD efforts. Who are some loose connections (e.g., people you might not know well but have connected with at a conference or on LinkedIn)? How can those connections be strengthened? What might you learn from some of those individuals?
Remember you do not need one all-knowing mentor. You can have several mentors who play different roles for your PD plan. Colleagues have different amounts of time and energy to devote to others. Know how much time you want from your mentors and the role you would like them to play in your professional growth.
Written for the American Society of Association Executives. The link to the article for members is: https://www.asaecenter.org/resources/articles/an_plus/2019/february/how-to-find-the-right-mentor-match
Photo credit: Christina Morillo, Pexels