working remotelyEd: our theme this month is content. But you can’t come up with good content if you have a work environment that’s not conducive to being productive. Here, Karelyn Lambert, a very important part of SBC, shares her lessons learned on climbing this mountain.

It has been over four years since I started my telecommuting journey. Looking back, I guess time flies when you’re having fun.

It hasn’t always been easy, but I have been fortunate to not only grow as a business person, but to form relationships with some pretty groovy clients that keep me busy and are always encouraging (yes, Shonali, you are one of them!).

If you are just starting out in the telecommuting world, toying with the idea of taking your job virtual, or just curious as to what it takes to be a virtual assistant, here are some tips for working remotely.

1. Establish a routine and office hours

We all know the age old office standard of working 9-5, but how do you maintain office hours  when your office is your home?

This is one of the things I struggled with for a long time, and by “long time” I mean I have just started to get this right in the last year or so.

When you work from home time seems endless, but in reality it isn’t.

If you want to have a life outside of work, you have to establish some “office hours.”

Now, I’m not saying you should stay tied to your desk during business hours, but you should have a general schedule and routine. Drink coffee while reading emails, then pause for a quick breakfast. Take a lunch (even 15 mins) and take breaks when necessary.

Finally (this was the real kicker for me), establish a general closing time. This can be a range such as between 3:30-5 pm rather than a “set in stone” time to give you wiggle room. Of course emergencies will occur, but you’ll reduce the frequency of late days at the “office” with a general schedule.

2. DON’T put off until tomorrow

In my teenage years I had a magnet on my fridge that said, “Why put off until tomorrow, what you can put off until next week?” Although it was witty and made me smile at the time, it has got to be the worst advice I’ve ever heard, and I’m ecstatic that magnet has ceased to exist.

Procrastination seems harmless in the moment. I often used to tell myself, “It’s not due until this day, so today I can play.”

However, the issue arises when the unexpected occurs – you get sick, your Internet ceases to work, you have a family emergency, etc. Then those little tasks that were “no big deal” and “could wait until they were due” become a big problem quite quickly.

One of the perks of being a virtual assistant is that you work on deadlines, but it is up to you to decide when most of the work gets done. After four years of adjusting my schedule, I’ve learned one thing about deadlines: they are better met early than not at all.

So if there’s something you could be doing, do it today when you have time, because you never know what tomorrow may bring!

3. Make a plan

You know what you have to do, but how do you transform that scrambled list of deliverables into an actual checklist? I use to work off of written lists, spreadsheets, and sticky notes. This was ultimately a recipe for disaster.

Shortlists and notes serve their purpose, but when it comes down to making sure that nothing falls through the cracks, you need to have a “road map.”

Luckily the tools are readily available. There is literally no excuse not to use programs such as Asana, Capsule CRM, and Google Calendar. Most are free or have free versions available. These programs will help you map out deadlines, prioritize tasks, and make a plan so easy to follow, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t thought of using them sooner.

Also, nothing beats the feeling you get when you literally “check” an item off your list.

4. Treat others as you would IRL

Cyberspace is vast. That can be either scary or comforting, depending on the circumstances.

The main thing to remember is that the person at the other end of that IM or email or phone call is a human being just like you. Everyone wants to feel appreciated and respected. Polite greetings and small talk can go a long way.

Make every person you speak with feel important, say please and thank you, ask how their day is going, and be mindful of your tone and language in all communication. You never know when that person you emailed or communicated with for client A, may become client B.

5. STOP stressing

There are only so many hours in the day. Why waste a good bit of your energy with the “what ifs” and “OMGs?” Issues will arise, some days everything will seem wrong, but you can either control your feelings or let them control you.

I am a worry wart by nature. Anyone who knows me knows this. It was when I took a hard look at myself, and realized that stress was creating more problems than solutions, that I was able to move away from this attitude.

Everyone stresses, but there are too many things to be done to let worry control your schedule.

I like to envision myself going into work mode every morning. It is in a way my super hero persona. I become “Karelyn the VA,” who sends emails and demolishes checklists in a single bound.

Maybe it’s a little less fantastical than that, but you catch my drift. Stress is unnecessary and a major time suck. Put on your game face, make a plan, and get to work. Worry never accomplished anything positive.

Do you work remotely or are you considering taking the virtual leap? What advice would you give to others looking to use cyberspace as their permanent office space? Please share in the comments below.

Image © Karelyn Lambert, used with permission