Truth: Work isn’t a place, it’s what you do

The truth about working anywhere

I’ve learned several truths since I became an anywhere worker in 2007. If you’re considering the move or manage virtual workers, consider the following:

Truth: Work isn’t a place you go, it’s a thing you do.

Work is a state of mind and a collection of activities, not a location. It’s a difficult transition to make mentally and one that I thought I would have adjusted to a bit more easily. I was wrong.

After years of commuting an hour or more to work, I now had a commute of less than a minute (on most days). My brain did not get into work mode as quickly as I had hoped. At first it would take an hour to get settled and focused. Not surprising it turned out to be the same amount of time I used to spend in the car commuting to the office.

I thought at first it was my home office. Maybe it wasn’t set up right. Maybe I needed a better chair or desk or monitor. I started to work in different locations outside of the house just for a little variety. I’d spend time at the local coffee shop, a client’s office, or even a hotel lobby. Anywhere that had free wifi, a table big enough for my laptop and a few folders, and an outlet so I didn’t run out of power. Sometimes it worked, for a little while. But these locations weren’t always the right environment for the task at hand. If I was on a conference call or having a private session, I needed to be in a private place.

Then location became even less of a concern – I bought an iphone. There it was, my entire computer in my pocket.Now my commute was about 2 seconds. No time or distance need be traveled. I was always at work.

My brain was still not making the transition to work mode as quickly as my 2 second commute. And then I realized I needed to make the shift mentally first from work as a location to work as an activity.

Once I made that shift, I knew what was next.

Long gone were the triggers I had as a location dependent worker. My brain didn’t have the clues to get into work mode. Driving to the office, badging in at the door, and turning on the computer were common and repeatable behaviors that helped us transition to and from our work mindset.

Now with our entire office in our pocket. We need to create different triggers both to start and to end our work sessions. I needed to create different triggers.

I didn’t want to get into a too structured routine, but I did want to be able to put myself into the work mindset at any given time. So I began to experiement with triggers. First it was getting dressed and sitting at my desk and reading emails. But that was replaced with reading emails in bed once I had my iphone. Then I tried getting a cup of coffee and sitting at the kitchen table. That worked for a while too, but I was still making the location part of the trigger.

Finally I was able to create a 3 step trigger that I can do anywhere. Well, anywhere that has coffee. That’s one thing I don’t think I’ll change.

Any time I need to get into the mindset of work I first take a few sips of a fresh cup of coffee; then I take several deep breaths (count to 5 for each inhale and exhale); finally I write for 5 minutes without stopping. What do I write about? The task at hand. I use the 5 minutes to get all of my ideas, thoughts, worries, concerns and questions out on paper. Now my mind is focused and ready to work.

To leave the work session, I simply do another session of deep breathing exercises. Sometimes I’ll also do a closing writing session but this time I list what I’ve accomplished and what went well. In a way it’s a mini coaching session.

It’s a small action that has big impact. Of course, it also helps to put away all of my devices so that I’m not tempted to check email one more time.