Working from home would be an introvert’s dream… working alone from home, quietly without interruption, no one swinging by my office and bothering me, right?  Well, let’s just say it’s not exactly how I imagined! Maybe you are like me and this telecommuting is relatively new to you.  Maybe you are like my wife and have been working from home for many years.  Or maybe telecommuting is still a dream for you. This episode will have thoughts from me, an employee newly working from home, along with an entrepreneur and mom who has worked from home for many years. This includes tips on staying productive with email and in other ways.

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David Hall
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Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Quiet and Strong Podcast, Especially for introverts.  I am your host, David Hall and creator of quietandstrong.com.  This is a weekly podcast dedicated to understanding the strengths and needs of introverts. Introversion is not something to fix, but to be embraced. Normally we will air each episode on Monday morning.  Be sure to subscribe.

Like many of you, I’ve been working from home for several months now. You’d think this situation would be an introvert’s dream… working alone from home, quietly without interruption, no one swinging by my office and bothering me, right?  Well, let’s just say it’s not exactly how I imagined! Maybe you are like me and this telecommuting is relatively new to you.  Maybe you are like my wife and have been working from home for many years.  Or maybe telecommuting is still a dream for you.

Being in quarantine has given me plenty of time for reflection. What is this new situation like for introverts? How about extroverts? These are certainly challenging times. I have a hope that things will change for the better soon and our ability to fight this virus will be greatly improved.  We are all in this together, across the whole world. We’ve all been impacted differently – whether physically with the health of ourselves or loved ones, financially, emotionally, or socially.  But as we navigate our personal struggles through this or any challenge, when we emerge, what will we have learned?

I feel fortunate that I am still able to work during this time of pandemic.  I am working my regular job fully from home. I am now occupying this same spot all day long that was usually reserved for short periods after work writing my blog or paying the bills or sending a quick email.  I have never completely worked from this same spot ALL DAY, EVERY DAY before. Many introverts would enjoy this, right?  Well, there are definitely some pluses and minuses.  I hope to return to work soon, but I can see that working from home may become a more regular part of our society. I could see in the future putting in a day or two at home and then going into the office a few less days each week. 

There have been some definite benefits. I can get out of bed at 7:58 am and still make it to work on time at 8:00 am.  I save a couple of hours each day by not commuting and I am not spending money on gas or other things.  I don’t need to shave or spend time ironing a shirt. Or if I am dressing up I just need to iron the front of the shirt. I have gone into the office a few days during this time and after working from home it really seemed like a pain to pack everything up to spend the day in the office.  I do need to remember to get up and move around from time to time since I do not get much exercise during virtual meetings.  Another benefit is our kids are forced to spend a little more time with us and we have more game nights and movie nights as a family.  Although they do also get tired of mostly just seeing us. And then I am wondering with of all us at home am I able to really judge if I would like to do this all of the time in the future.  It can get loud here and sometimes it is strange when you are home but not available for your kids that are also home.  

So what about introversion and working from home?

We all need connection

It’s a common misconception that introverts don’t want connection with others.  As human beings, we ALL have the need to be connected to others.  The needs and amounts will vary between introverts and extroverts and person to person.  As an introvert, I am naturally turned inward often and need some time alone each day to think and recharge.  Normally when I am in the office I try to have some time to myself to work on projects, but want, need, and enjoy working and collaborating with colleagues on a number of things.  As I said, I currently see my wife and three kids who I love, but am feeling some isolation from my work colleagues and others, yet sometimes not enough isolation from the “coworkers” at my home. 

Emails and phone calls were already a large part of my work, but I am relying on them even more. I can use my cell phone, my “softphone” (office number), Skype for Business, Zoom, Google Chat, or any number of my email accounts to work and stay connected. I love technology.  It is extremely helpful to “share” documents and work on them collaboratively in real time.

I am in plenty of virtual meetings now.  I don’t really like being on camera, so I trade off between showing myself or just using my headshot. It really is nice to see people on camera to feel more connected.  I also have done a couple of virtual “meetings” with my extended family, but I would definitely like to see them in person as well.  Virtual meeting will continue to play a role no matter if we are working remotely or not.  I can definitely see less travel to meet with those not in the same location.

After all, we were all forced at the same time to adapt to virtual meetings. If this is part of your new reality, are you getting tired of saying “can you hear me ok?” Or being told you are on mute.  This just happened in an important presentation I was giving.  I was switching off with another presenter and I was starting again with something brilliant only to be told you are on mute.  This does happen to everyone so I try not to worry about it too much and laugh it off.  However, the worst is when you are just trying to jump in and participate and don’t realize you are on mute and are wondering why isn’t anyone listening to me?  This can be too familiar of a feeling for introverts sometimes.

There are benefits to virtual meetings.  In a meeting or a one on one with a co-worker or a client you can share your screen and this can be very helpful as most of us are visual people.

What is the funniest thing that happened to you in a virtual meeting? One thing I will say is in you are going to have an activity that involves getting up a little warning is appreciated.  One meeting the facilitator said now let’s all get up and stretch.  I definitely kept my camera off.  I am always dressed but the top and the bottom of my outfit doesn’t always match. I have been in plenty of zoom calls where I have seen a child or a pet pop in.  Sometimes it is just a paw or a tail which can be kind of funny!  My family is constantly asking me if my camera is on because they don’t want to be in the meeting.

I have always received a plethora of emails and find that it can be a challenge to keep up sometimes.  There are urgent emails, not so urgent, good to know, interesting, junk, and too much spam!  Over the years I have come up with systems for managing my email and am forever tweaking my system.  At the time of this writing, I have been telecommuting for a few months and it seems that there is even more email than before.  To reach me now at work you can call me, text me. send me an instant message, see me in a virtual meeting, or email.  You will no longer pass me in the hallway or stop by my office for a moment.  Much of what was in-person contact is now going to email.

As an introvert, email is sometimes a great way to communicate.  I can take the time I need to think about and compose my thoughts and my email. It is also a record of the discussion that can be retrieved later. However, I am now getting more emails than ever and it can be a bit much at times.

Time chunking versus multitasking

As responding to emails is an important part of work, you may consider “time chunking” where you set chunks of time to work and then periodically set times just to work through your email so you can find focus. Otherwise, if you are paying attention to every email that comes in you may be interrupted every minute! I know people that are very proud of their ability to multitask, but I find that I work best and am most efficient when I can focus on one thing at a time. The truth is that everyone functions better with less multitasking.  We can truly only pay attention to one thing at a time. According to John Medina in Brain Rules:

“Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50 percent longer to accomplish a task.  Not only that, but he or she also makes up to 50 percent more errors.”

Instead of multitasking, Medina calls it “task-switching.”  Since people can only have one thought at a time, in order to attempt to do multiple things at the same time, they switch back and forth between thoughts.  Some people are better at task-switching than others, but no one actually has the ability to think about more than one thing at a time. So focusing on one thing at a time by chunking your time to work on certain things and then other time to work on email can be far more efficient.

Now that I am working from home I still have work interruptions, but don’t have the unpredictable in-person interruptions.  These interruptions are not all bad, but I am finding that without them I am getting more accomplished.  However, there are different interruptions being at home with the family or other distractions.  My wife and my kids are all home, and with that comes a lot of distractions. Sometimes I have to ask them to turn down the TV or turn off the blender while I’m in a meeting, or I have to go to another room if both my wife and I are in meetings at the same time. As we are forced into this different environment what have you learned about your productivity as an introvert or extrovert?  Were you previously getting the focus you need?  Should you work on finding more focus now and in the future? So what would time chunking and email look like for you?  Should you check and sort your email every hour?  Or could you get away with doing this a couple of times a day.  Of course, if you are in a customer service job, your expectations may require very frequent or even constant responses to email.

Time chunking may require that we change the culture and expectations of those around us. Have you ever had someone pop into your office and ask “did you get my email?” when they sent it 30 seconds ago? It’s as if you should be watching your email every second. Again, this can be a very inefficient way to get anything done. How about send me the email and if it is urgent you could also (or instead) instant message, text, or call me.  And please consider what is really an emergency.

Inbox Zero

As you take time in chunks it is important to take time to process all of your emails.  Often this is called “inbox zero.” Do you try to work out of a full inbox?  Do you scroll endlessly and hunt for important emails?  This doesn’t work well for me and often things get missed when I try to work this way.  I need to take the time to bring my inbox to zero.  I find David Allen’s methods helpful for either organizing my to-do list or my emails as he outlines in Getting Things Done.

For each email, I need to decide if it is actionable.  If no, then do one of the following: either trash it, add it to a someday/maybe list, or store it as reference material.

If it is actionable, then I need to decide if I should do it now.  Allen has a rule that if it can be done in two minutes or less, then do it now.  Or you can delegate it and put it on a waiting for list for later follow up.  Or you can defer it and decide when you will work on it.

Checking my email at regular intervals has proven to be a much more efficient way to do things.  If I let it all pile up in my inbox, important items might be lost between all of the spam and non-essential emails. Also, when you have brought your inbox to zero it can be very satisfying to see the “no new mail” message.

After hours expectations

I do think we all may be a little too accessible by email.  It is easy to find and reach out to just about anyone and at any time.  Do you respond to emails at any time of the day?  What is expected of you at work?  In general, I am not answering emails once I “leave” work for the day.  Currently, in telecommuting, leaving work may just be switching rooms in the house.  But once I leave work I want to now be present with my family or whatever it is that I am doing.  I shouldn’t try to have a conversation with my daughter while I am trying to answer a work email after I have left for the day. This can be a challenge for the entrepreneur. I  When does work end? Sometimes it may never end as you are taking care of customers and pursuing new business.  It is still important to set some boundaries, so you can be fully present when you are engaged in other things. I have some thoughts from my entrepreneurial wife that I will share in a bit. 

I think it is amazing that I can fully access my emails and just about everything for work on my phone.  However, I do not turn on my work email notifications on my phone, as it causes way too much distraction all day long.  I normally don’t check my work emails after I have left for the day unless there is a good reason.  Just as above, if you work with me and you have an emergency after work hours, please call or text me.  Same when I am on vacation.  Don’t count on me checking my emails.  I may check them just to stay caught up, but if it’s urgent, I tell people to call or text.

Sometimes I  work late or on weekends to get caught up or get something important done.  I try not to make this a habit, but it happens. There have been times where I sent an email to a colleague late at night or on a Saturday, not expecting a response until the next day or the beginning of the week.  Too often I would get a response right away and while I was appreciative, I felt guilty for the person working after hours.  Recently, I started using the scheduling feature in Gmail. There is a down arrow on the “send” button which gives the option to “schedule send.” And you can pick any time that you want to send it.  Often I schedule for first thing in the morning,  So even if I make the choice to work after hours, I do not need to make someone else feel that they need to work after hours too. 

Email is a great way to communicate, but if you are not careful it can be overwhelming and you can fall behind.  Find which organization strategies work for you and have email be an important part of your day, but not the focus of your day.

So my perspective is largely from someone who has a full-time job.  I of course have plenty of side projects, working plenty at home whether that be putting in some extra hours for my job or working on my blog and book or helping my wife out with her business. However, I have not been regularly scheduled at home for my full-time job like I am now. My wife, Cari, on the other hand, has had her own business ever since we started having kids many years ago and she’s seen the good and the bad working from home. Cari has had many things to juggle and in her case, if she doesn’t work she doesn’t get paid. Cari is a photographer, graphic designer, marketing expert, mom of three and also a fellow introvert. She has experienced the busyness of being a mom while working with customers and continuing to build her business.  She has had to figure out work boundaries with her family, extended family, friends, community members, and others. She has also had the struggle of finding that needed quiet time for work as an introvert. And this past year she has also had the four of us at home and the quiet time can be hard to find. We are in her space. I have been discussing this with her and I must say I understand her challenges a bit better than I did before. 

Cari has been working from home and for herself for more than 16 years – with everything from babies and toddlers, employees working with her in our house, and right now, with two teenagers, a preteen, and her wonderful husband all home together!  

She’s had different responsibilities and job types during this time, including being paid for working on an hourly basis, being a project-based independent contractor, and even managing an online store with regular hours and phone & chat-based clients.” 

What do you like most about working from home?

She loves the independence of working from home, and for the most part, being in charge of her own schedule and projects to focus on – of course, depending on what her clients need at the time. Even in an hourly situation, you do have a certain amount of autonomy (unless I am also home and talking too much and coming up with other things for her to do.

What do you need as an introvert?

“For Cari, it’s hard to focus in a chaotic environment, especially when there are a lot of distractions.  When you’re home, distractions can come in the form of children and spouse, household chores, friends, Facebook, Amazon, or whatever you are paying attention to that isn’t work.  If I can quiet those distractions, and surrounding noise, I’m more able to focus on the work at hand.  Cari thinks that I am not as worried about household chores during my work day.  This is probably true.

Several years ago Cari told me she had a wise boss who used to say, “If you’ve got something that is taking all of your attention, go take care of that thing, then come back and focus on work.” Take care of your distractions, and then work hard while you can!”

What are the particular challenges that you’ve experienced over the years?

Cari says that it is great to work from home as an introvert when you’re home alone, but when you have a houseful of people in the same space, things get a little more tricky. You have to set up some expectations and boundaries to make sure everyone is entertained and fed, but also not interrupting you every 2 minutes.  When Cari worked from home with two small boys, her headset had a red light, and the kids (probably about 3 and 1 years old at the time) knew that if they needed something they shouldn’t talk to her until the red light went off (unless it was an emergency of course!). Our 3-year old was pretty sensible, so he would try to quietly “act out” charade-style any messages if they needed something, like when they were hungry whatever.  And of course, there are times when your clients and customers just have to understand that you have to take care of life’s little emergencies.”

What do you want other people to know about what you need?

“Depending on your particular job, you probably need to make sure that those around you understand that you have to work.  If you are talking with customers or in teleconferences or video conferences, they may need to be in another room, or have headphones on if they’re using an electronic device. It’s helpful to make sure dependents have their needs cared for before you start (snacks, entertainment, etc.), and then ask that they respect your time at work by not disturbing you, and not making a lot of noise or commotion. Sometimes this is an easier task than other times. You can put up a timer if you have scheduled breaks so they know when they can ask for your attention.  

If you don’t have regular hours that you are accountable for, it’s a bit easier.  For example, Cari often stays up late to do work (the parts of her work that I need quiet computer time for) so others are not around.  But if you need to be “working” during specific times, do your best to limit distractions so you can be there for your work during the times you are accountable.”

***

 I have watched Cari work hard, but also enjoy the independence of working from home.  It has been an interesting and challenging time for me and probably most of us. I have learned some great lessons from Cari that I used during this time.  Even though you are home, you are still working and sometimes you have to remind yourself and others of that. Also, as an introvert, you need to find that quiet time for focus, especially if you have others in your home. Meeting Your Needs

So how is life different for you now?  Are you thinking of ways that you would like to make some changes as we return to normal or a new normal? Are you getting the right balance between alone and social time?  Do you have the time you need to focus each day?

Whether you are working from home or not please stay safe and well.  Working together things will work out.

Thank you so much for joining me.  I look forward to further connecting with you.  Reach out quietandstrong.com, david@.  I will add social media channels to the show notes. Send me topics or questions and we can address those on the show. So many great things about being an introvert and so we need those to be understood.  Let’s keep the conversation going.  Get to know your introverted strengths and needs and be Strong!

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