The dream of working remote includes waking up without an alarm, taking a slow morning to journal and be creative, and tending to all those plants you’ve collected over the past year. But in reality there are dirty dishes in the sink, your child is Zooming with a class full of kids playing musical instruments, and someone is asking you what’s for dinner as you are trying to draft a Very Important Email.
In this presentation Kathleen, a seasoned remote worker herself, will be sharing her very best tips and insights on:
- Creating structure when you feel scattered
- Tackling a never-ending to-do list
- Establishing boundaries with family, clients, and coworkers
- So you can get more done in less time
- And be more productive personally & professionally
Would you rather read a transcript? Here you go!
Hi! I’m Kathleen Shannon. Co-founder, partner, and creative director at Braid Creative. A branding agency located in the Paseo district of Oklahoma City. I’m currently living and working from the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan.
10 years ago this summer my sister and I began daydreaming about creating our own branding agency after working for many years at an advertising agency together. I had already been freelancing from home for a year and I remember telling her… working from home is really nice. Just a couple months later she had quit her job as a creative director and VP to start up an agency of our own out of my dining room.
I remember my first day of freelancing. It was the summer of 2010. I woke up without an alarm. The sun was already out. I made myself a french pressed coffee and did some journaling. Then I went on my back porch and potted some plants. I hadn’t even started my work for the day and was already LIVING THE DREAM.
I remember I was transferring a pothos from the plastic pot it came in when a man came around the corner into my backyard. He said he was with the city and that my garage needed to be painted because the paint was peeling off and I could be fined. (Then he told me my shoulders were crooked and explained that he had a side-hustle as a massage therapist and could fix that for me. I politely declined.)
This story sums up what it is to work from home. You go into it thinking it’s going to feel like some sort of retreat where you’re working but it’s CREATIVE and FUN and DREAMY. And then before you know it you’re getting some sort of fine from the city.
Or if it’s not that it’s dishes in the sink. Or a kid needing help with homework. Or someone asking you what’s for dinner. Or any other real life distraction that is decidedly NOT DREAMY.
But here’s the truth: working from home CAN be a dream, but you have to do the work to make it so. It requires focus, structure, boundaries, and habit and routines. And that’s what I’m here to share with you today.
My branding agency has grown beyond me and my sister in my dining room. There are now 8 of us. We have a beautiful office space, which is it’s own kind of dreamy, in the Paseo district and we’re working remotely from all over the country.
In 2020 working remotely became a necessity as we all began to navigate a global pandemic. Working from home became mainstream and the challenges it posed became everyone’s problem. I felt lucky that I had had some practice. And I no longer had to explain how Zoom worked to my clients!
Even after things continue to evolve and open back up working remotely (or some sort of hybrid model) is here to stay.
During our time together I’m going to share what I’ve learned about working from home over the past decade. I’m going to share a lot of actionable ideas – not all of them will work for everyone and that’s okay! You have to find your own way – but try at least one or two of them and see how they work for you! Let’s dive in:
Remember a few minutes ago how I was talking about the dream of waking up in crisp white sheets to the sun rising and birds chirping? Let’s go there for a minute. Let’s get dreamy.
If it’s available, I want you to close your eyes and visualize what your ideal work day looks like.
- What time are you waking up?
- What is your morning routine?
- When do you have meetings? Who are you talking to? What are you meeting about? How does it feel?
- When are you doing your most creative work? Where are you? Use your senses! What does it look like? What does it smell like? What sounds are happening?
- What are your work hours? When do you get started? When are you stopping? How do you close out your work day?
- What are you doing when you aren’t working?
- What are you wearing?
Now that you’ve visualized your ideal work day it’s time to make some of it a reality. Take the next week to implement just ONE item from your ideal day. Maybe it’s a morning routine habit – like journaling. Or maybe it’s lighting a candle before you get started for work. Perhaps it’s time blocking your meeting hours and your deep work hours on your Google calendar.
Then try it out – commit to integrating just one small thing into your day to make it a little bit more dreamy.
I was once working with a creative entrepreneur who always dreamed of going for a long walk before getting started on her writing work. For a full year she had been DREAMING about this morning walk and feeling bad about herself for never making it happen. She finally carved out the time to go on this walk after getting her kids to school and guess what… she HATED it! I’m telling you this because your ideal work day will take some trial and error but you have to actually TRY it on for size and see what works for you!
What’s your job description?
In my job I wear a lot of hats (literally!) and many of my clients are either multi-hyphenate entrepreneurs with a lot of different interests, skills, and passion OR they are experts who still wear many hats because they’re working solo or have a very small team and simply have to do a lot of different things to run and grow their business.
When we’re branding our clients we’re always trying boil down their positioning to what they want to be known for. And this relates to you because knowing and sharing what it is that you want to be doing all day will help you attract the right clients and find focus in your work.
Before you can share what you want to be known for I want you to get clarity around your own role and job duties. I want you to write your job description. Whether you’re working for someone else or have been running your own show for a while now this exercise will help you find focus around what you REALLY want to be doing.
Take out a sheet of paper.
Start out by writing down your name.
Then write down all the things you love doing in your job (or would love to be doing). This might look like:
- Meeting someone over coffee
Now try this:
If you could only do one thing all day every day what would it be?
Now I know you’re doing some things that you don’t love. And I want to make space for that. On another sheet of paper I want you to write down EVERYTHING you do in a day (or week) – no detail is too small. It might include:
- Answering emails
- Coordinating projects with vendors
- Answering client calls
- Billing & invoicing
- Production work
Now answer this:
If you could STOP doing one thing what would that be?
Now you might have a little more clarity around what you love doing (or want to be doing more of), what you’re actually doing, and what you do not want to do at all anymore.
Using this information I want you to now give yourself a job title. It might be creative, or it might be straight forward. And then I want you to write one sentence that describes that job with more specificity. It could even be what you really love about your job.
For example, I am a partner and creative director at Braid Creative. I love connecting with our clients by creating content like podcasts, blogs, and social media posts, and designing brand platforms.
Getting really clear on what I like doing and what I’m best at – and being able to articulate that to my business partners, clients, and team members – means that I get to do MORE of what I love, delegate out the things I’m not so great at (that is someone else’s core genius) and attract the right kind of clients and the right kind of work.
The same can be true for you! Does this mean that you won’t ever have to do stuff you don’t like doing? No. Even your dream job is still a job. Hard conversations, a full inbox, managing tricky clients, and dealing with letters from the IRS is just a part of it. But all of that stuff is worth it when you feel in control of your creativity.
Knowing what you are best at and being able to articulate it will help you create boundaries around your creative work and even open new opportunities with your colleagues and clients.
This means you can start to hang up some hats that don’t fit and start only wearing the ones you really love.
Creating healthy boundaries is the best way to manage your time, energy, and money. Boundaries will help you contain your focus and be more productive.
Before I share more about actually creating boundaries let’s chat a little bit about how you know you need boundaries.
- You’re working more hours than you want
- You’re not hitting deadlines and things are falling through the cracks
- Your calendar is packed with meetings and no space to do the things you love
- You have no time for life outside of work
- You are saying yes to things you don’t want to do
- You are saying no to things you DO want to do
- The work you do doesn’t fulfill or satisfy you
Do any of these sound familiar?
Boundaries can be elusive if you don’t define them. So I want you to think of your boundaries as a garden. You only have so much space for the plants you want to grow. You have to water your plants and nurture them. And you have to protect them from pests and invasive weeds. Going back to your job duties you will be able to see what gives you life and what drains you.
Following up on your job description now I want you to write an employee handbook for yourself
(even if you work for someone else I want you to do this! At the very least it will help you understand what you really want out of your work life):
- How many hours a week are you expected to work?
- If you work extra how are you compensated?
- What are your work hours?
- What is your pay? What determines a pay raise?
- What are your self-employment benefits?
- How much of your paycheck do you save?
- How much of your paycheck do you donate (and to where)?
- What are your company values? How do those values show up in your work?
- What is your dress code?
- How many weeks of vacation do you get per year? (And where are you going!?)
- What is your sick day policy?
When you can create your own personal policies you start to become responsible for how you work. You create and prioritize your own expectations of yourself rather than being reactive to what other people want from you. And guess what? When you create boundaries for yourself it doesn’t make people like you less – it makes them respect you even more.
Just like anything it will take practice to implement and enforce boundaries. Try taking just one line item from your employee handbook:
- Maybe it’s adhering to your dress code (even if you’re working from home and nobody is going to see you all day)
- Maybe it’s blocking off your vacation time for the year RIGHT NOW so it’s doesn’t slip by
- Maybe it’s setting up a recurring donation to a cause you care about and automating it!
- Or maybe it’s turning off the notifications on your phone so you’re not tempted to check email after hours
Tackling the to-do list
In the last segment of what I have to share with you today we’re going to talk about tackling your to do list. When it comes to finding focus and productivity at home it’s all about getting your work done, getting paid, and shutting down your laptop so you can enjoy the freedom and flexibility that comes with not being in an office from 9-5 every day.
These tips and tricks won’t work for everyone so it’s all about experimenting. I want to give you a few ideas to try!
- Time blocking (personal and professional) – if you want to make time for something, whether it’s deep, focused work or going for a morning walk – simply block it out on your calendar and show up for it just like you would an important meeting.
- A to-do list (at Braid we use a Google doc) – make a to-do list and check it twice! Experiment with breaking down your to-do’s into smaller increments so you know every step it will take to accomplish your daily goals.
- Post-it note (just three things!) – if your to-do list is overwhelming but out a post-it note, write down just three things that you need to tackle TODAY and stick it to the edge of your computer monitor.
- Do the thing that will get you paid right now – when I don’t know where to begin I start with the thing that will allow me to get paid right now – whether that’s onboarding a new client or wrapping up an existing project. Do the thing that will enable you to send out that invoice!
- Set a timer – I personally love working in 90 minute chunks but you can get so much done even in 15 minutes. Open up the timer on your phone and set it for 15 minutes – use every minute of that time to work on the thing that needs to be done. When the time goes off you might find that you’re in a flow and can keep going!
- Cowork with a friend or team member – even when I’m working remote sometimes I find having a little company holds me accountable to getting stuff done. I will hop on a Zoom call with a coworker or business bestie for an hour or two. The cool thing about coworking is you can share your work in progress and get some brainstorming and feedback in the moment.
- Productive procrastination – sometimes you’re going to have a hard time getting started on a project and you will want to procrastinate. Even right now as I’m typing this I’m procrastinating on a brand platform I should be designing but I’m using the time to upload this post for you! This is what I call productive procrastination – where I’m not working on The Thing I should be working on but I’m doing something! I’ll take it as a win.
Happy working from wherever you are!