Productivity lessons for getting in the (time) zone

Or - how to not get snowed under when down under.

 

Last year, I had the opportunity to work from home. Quite literally, work from my childhood home in Australia, on the other side of the world. Starting at 4pm and finishing after midnight Monday to Saturday had its pros and cons. Here is what I learnt about routine, working with an international team, managing time zones and tactful consumption of caffeine. 

Routine is your best friend, but friends change

I feel my best mentally and physically when I get into a rhythm. I like a quiet Sunday to Wednesday and a jam-packed Thursday to Saturday. Working in a different time zone from the UK, however, saw me kiss that routine goodbye. It was opposite day every day. I was suddenly spending a lot of time with senior citizens, parents and uni students at the beach, in shops and in cafes. Having free time in the day is a luxury the average corporate type doesn’t get. I mean, not queuing at the bank or post office was a treat! So to make it work I had to adapt my natural rhythm and make a new routine work for me. Tricky, but not impossible.

You can’t really schedule teamwork

Being in a digital team requires us to communicate effectively online. Even when physically in the office we do most of our chat online. While I was away, we made it work with our daily stand-up calls, Slack channels and email. But I realised that I missed the ability to sit down and work things out together. I learned you can’t gauge everything through a call, while not being able to casually bounce ideas off team members was frustrating. Calls are usually used to confirm actions, not play around with ideas. In order to make remote working successful, I learnt to be open to the odd unscheduled team Slack call. Creativity waits for no-one.

Winding down isn’t a luxury, it’s a must-have

In the beginning, when it was time to clock off, I was usually exhausted. I started out having a coffee after dinner each night, but that meant I was having over 7 cups a day. So I decided to stop drinking caffeine by 3pm and switch to herbal tea. Making these switches and sticking to a regular sleep pattern kept me healthy (and sane!) The average person finishes work then has time to wind down before going to bed. But when there’s nothing to do but go to bed, I found listening to a podcast could really relax my alert mind. Often when I clocked off for the day I had already missed the opportunity to do something social, so a podcast gave me a sense of being around others. And listening to one with presenters you wish were your actual friends also helped, such as The Writer’s Voice or The High Low, two of my favourites. I learnt that winding down is a necessary part of the post-work day, not something that can be skipped.

Ultimately, there’s no substitute for working together in person

This experience was a giant challenge, but I learnt a huge amount along the way. And while I’d be able to do it again, it’s taught me that there’s no real substitute for being together with your colleagues in a room, even if it’s not every single day. Remote working is hard, across time zones it’s even harder, but in person connection will always be incomparable.