David Vincent, Director of Public Relations, Rooster Strategic Solutions
Chances are you’re working from home now. And there’s an even better chance you don’t know when – or if – you’ll return to a “regular office.” You may feel like you’ve got a handle on things now that you’ve been working remotely for a while. But take a few tips from some working folks who have been doing this for generations – farmers. They work from home because they WANT to. They build their lifestyles around and into their workspaces. And the tips they have can make you more productive and certainly happier as you navigate through your own remote adventures.
Set your morning routine and stick to it. I have a lot of friends who are farmers, and I don’t know of a single one who wakes up and runs outside to start working. They get up early, certainly, but before its time to work they drink their coffee, check the weather and the markets, and eat breakfast with their families. One of the best perks of working from home is that you don’t have to get up and rush out to fight traffic anymore! Think of the things you did before you started working from home. Take a shower. Get dressed. Make your lunch. Then add in some things that bring you joy. Because you no longer have a commute, you have time to enjoy them. Read a newspaper. Check your social feeds. Walk around the block if the weather is nice. Whatever it is, finding a way to start the day on a positive note will help preserve your mental health, and having a morning ritual helps you identify when it’s time to “start working.”
Put on your uniform. The internet is ablaze with stories and photos of remote workers caught on Zoom in pajamas, undergarments, or even less. It’s funny, but it’s true – one reason people enjoy working from home is the option of leaving the tie, blouse, or dress pants in the closet. But when a farmer puts on boots, jeans, a t-shirt with a pocket and a favorite seed corn cap it’s a signal that it’s time to go to work. “Dress for Success” isn’t just a corporate mantra, it’s based on sound science; studies show that what you wear does affect your attitude and performance. At the very least, consider wearing what you used to wear on Casual Fridays; a nice pair of jeans and a polo shirt will make you feel more prepared and more professional than fuzzy pajama pants, gym shorts, or sweats.
Leave home. And by home, I mean the kitchen. If you don’t have an area in your home carved out specifically for work, you need one. When you go there it signals that it’s time for “work.” There’s a reason that farmers don’t have barns attached to their homes; one is for work, the other isn’t. Remote workers need that separation, too.
Take regular breaks, and don’t shortchange them. Farming is the kind of profession where you can’t be afraid of long hours. It’s hard work, plain and simple. But most farmers will tell you that being on your own clock means that you can take a break every now and then on your own time to recharge your batteries a little. I know of one family that makes it a point to eat lunch together every day, most oftentimes outside. It’s their favorite part of the day. Science suggests that we need these breaks in the day, to disconnect from your phone or computer. In fact, one study suggested that you should optimally try to schedule 5- to 7-minute breaks every hour. That may seem like a stretch, but maybe it isn’t. Try it for a few days. Set your alarm to go off each hour and get up for a few minutes. Stretch your legs, grab a healthy snack from the kitchen, play with your pet if you have one. If you have the option, take at least one break outside; exposure to sunlight and fresh air will make you feel like a new person.
Learn new skills. One of the things my friends tell me they love about farming is that there’s something new every day. And it’s true. A farmer has to be equally adept at engine repair and data analysis, and expert in both agronomy and IT. Constantly learning new things keeps your mind sharp and makes the day go by faster. It’s easy to feel like you’re in a rut when your day is one long Zoom call – but take the opportunity to expand your skills, particularly in the area of communication. As a very sharp young farmer who falls squarely into the “early adopter” category tole me recently: “Don’t just use Zoom, master it.” Get comfortable with Slack, Google Drive, Trello, Asana, Basecamp, or WordPress. You’re likely sitting in front of a computer more than you were before; might as well make the best of it!”
Shake up the scenery on occasion. All of this wonderful technology we have at our fingertips these days can be both blessing and curse. It takes clenched teeth and strong resolve to resist its siren song. But the upside is that you can – quite literally – work anywhere and everywhere. So why not take the work to Starbucks or the local diner once in a while? Identify and focus on specific tasks that you can do in a public setting, like writing, brainstorming or just crafting and answering emails. Save the lengthy phone conversations for when you’re back in your home office. You’ll be surprised how you can channel your concentration on many different types of tasks when you quit trying to stay on top of everything at once. And just being in the presence of other people can be uplifting and refreshing. After all, working remotely can be very lonely. If you tend to be an anti-social type and find the presence of people too distracting, then move your work out to the patio or picnic table. Go to a local park. One farmer I know has a favorite spot along a beautiful creek, and he makes a point to spend at least a couple of hours there working several days a week, usually perched on a boulder with his laptop. “I can get more meaningful thinking done in two hours at that spot than I can in two days of my regular work routine,” he says.
Involve the kids. Ok, this is a touchy one. Most “how to work remotely” stories will tell you that it’s vital to separate your role as “Parent” from that of “Employee,” and that you should have a dedicated area that you go to when you “work” and that you can leave when it’s time to “go home.” And this is true. Except for when it isn’t. Farmers work longer hours than just about anybody I know, and some of their work is dangerous. But almost every farmer will tell you that one of the perks of being a farmer is that it’s a family-based occupation. Farm kids work hard, too. They’re involved in the operations as much as their school and age will allow, and both farmers and kids are better off for having these experiences. This doesn’t mean you can involve your kids in every phone call, every meeting, or every hour during the day. They’d be bored stiff, and you’d go crazy. But I believe that there is a place for kids in your new work-from-home routine. When I see my colleague’s children on Zoom calls it makes us all smile. How is that bad? Yes, you should ensure that they know that “mommy or daddy is working.” Have them help you make a poster to that effect that you can hang on the door. Eat meals or snacks together. Take breaks together. Put a puzzle on the kitchen table that you can all work on throughout the day. Working from home gives you far more access to your children than you ever had when you were in an office. It’d be an awful shame if you didn’t take advantage of that. After all, people on their deathbeds NEVER wish they’d spent less time with their kids.
Know when to shut the barn door. In other words, know when to call it a day and transition back to home. This is apparently hard for new remote workers; one study showed that full-time remote workers are actually putting in an extra 26 hours per month, which is a full day of extra work per week. It doesn’t have to be this way – but it’s up to you to set boundaries and enforce your schedule. And just as it’s important to start the day with a morning ritual, it’s equally important to have a regular routine at the end of day. Obviously, you’ll want to turn off your computer and your phone. Yes, you can.
Cut yourself some slack! Whether you work on a farm, in an office, or in your basement, there are going to be good days and bad days. It’s important that you cherish the former and dust off the latter. Remember the two-pronged tenets of stress management: (1) Don’t sweat the small stuff. (2) It’s ALL small stuff. When I look back over my fast-paced and stressful 45-year career in the advertising and public relations agency world, I remember a number of family vacations that were upended and canceled at the last minute due to some critically important meeting, deadline or new business presentation. I remember and regret the lost vacations and quality time with my family, but I cannot for the life of me remember what the deadlines, meetings and presentations were about.