How to stay accountable to yourself when working remotely

Gleaming bathroom tile, spotless kitchen counter, shining wood floors, and no stray socks to be found… This was the fruit of working remotely. Frustratingly little work work, as in the work that actually paid for groceries.

Keeping track of the day in my head, I had thought that my hours logging into my home office were pretty good. In the morning I would sit down at my makeshift desk and open my computer. So far so good. But every time I answered an e-mail, some errand or chore would pop into my head.

I’ll remember to do that later, I promised myself while constructing a mental to-do-list.

As the day unfolded, the mental list of ‘to-dos’ elongated. I stood up for a harmless stretch and glass of water, realizing that the counters should be wiped down. Returning to my desk, which may or may not have moved to the couch, a laundry basket looked at me three-quarters full.

I should probably throw-in a load of laundry.

That glamorous idea of a remote lifestyle shattered. Having so much personal freedom – and so few chance interactions with colleagues – felt like drinking from a firehouse.

We face immense decision fatigue when working from home. Work routines can feel completely at odds with home routines, so that nothing seems to work right.

In a home-office environment, all things home and office can feel pressing. The tyranny of the urgent rears its monstrous hydra-heads with dozens of tasks that demand immediate, drop-everything-and-answer responses. They might be a news article, an e-mail or a dish in the sink. Big-pictures projects requiring deep, creative work can fall to the wayside.

In my head, I was super productive. I could point to the bathroom and think, look at all the things I accomplished today. Why couldn’t I move the needle on big projects?

A simple system for prioritization and self-accountability optimized my new-found time freedom.

The solution – that I still use to this day – keeps me accountable to my intentions and prevents hours from flying by: a map of the day.

Recording a map of the day lets you see where you intend to spend your time, and how you actually spend your time. If you haven’t tried mapping your time before, now might be a great time to give it a try.

I’m sharing my personal day mapping worksheet below.

3 Reasons to map your day:

  1. Objective accountability: By consistently writing down how your day is unfolding, you build an objective picture of where your day’s time was spent. You begin to get a sense if your Facebook breaks really are just 5 minutes – or if they actually send you down a 30-minute rabbit hole.
  2. Pause before over-committing: If you’re at all like me, you fight the urge to commit to every cause that comes up, or try to tackle a two-week project in one afternoon. The Planning Fallacy – the cognitive bias to underestimate time for a project – is a real challenge! When you map out your day, a realistic picture emerges of how much time you have already committed and how much time is left in your day.
  3. Lessen decision fatigue: Decision fatigue is another cognitive phenomenon that leads us to start our days with great intentions and end-up with a two-hour binge on Netflix. When you map out your plan for the day ahead of time, you can start tackling your work priorities with a flexible picture of everything you’ll accomplish in the day. A pre-planned map prepares you to spend valuable decision-making energy on vital work projects.

If you’re looking to turbo-charge your new working from home routine, take a 5-day challenge: use the day mapping worksheet for your next five work days. You might observe some new patterns about how to maximize your most valuable asset, time.

DOWNLOAD THE DAY MAPPING WORKSHEET

I learn from this day mapping worksheet everyday. I’m not even close to perfectly recording everything in my day, but placing this worksheet in my line-of-sight keeps me on track. I hope you find it just as life-giving as I have, or that you find another way to manage work-life demands with elegance and ease.

The best part of my blog is hearing from you all, my readers. If you’re working from home, let me know how you are *totally crushing* this whole work-home craziness. Or if things are going off the rails, what are those challenges?

I’m so excited about this opportunity to transition well into a work-from-home rhythm. Wishing you a healthy, productive and purposeful day!

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