One of the things that drew me to career coaching was the dream of working from anywhere. Theoretically, I can work from anywhere as long as I have cell service and wifi. In practice, this has proven to be not entirely true. There have been several occasions where I have I sat down to take a call or get some “housekeeping” done, and an unforeseen factor throws a wrench in my plans and I think, “Oh s#@*!”
Here are some of the pitfalls I have stumbled into while attempting to work from “anywhere.”
#1 “Can you hear me now?”
A couple months ago, I had two appointments scheduled back to back: a phone call with a potential client and a weekly MeetUp group. Since the MeetUp group is held at a coffee shop, I figured I could arrive early, do my phone call and then join the group. I arrived early and got my snack and coffee. I found a place to sit where I wouldn’t disturb anyone else. I pulled out my notebook, plugged in my headphones, and waited for the call.
My phone rang, and I greeted my potential client with enthusiasm. I was all ready to knock his socks off with my coaching prowess. Instead I heard him hesitate and say, “I’m having a hard time hearing you. Where are you?” I glanced down at my phone and discovered with horror that I only had one bar of service. I apologized and asked if I could call him back in 2 minutes. He was very understanding and after hanging up, I gathered up my things and rushed outside. In a panic, I realized my only immediate option was to sit on the bench outside where at least I had service, but now needed to compete with trucks and honking horns. Which leads me to….
In a city with 8.5 million people, New York City gets loud, and there is no master volume control. There are cars, other people talking, barking dogs, music, and any numbers of noises to contend with. The Big Apple isn’t the only place this is a challenge. Regardless of where you live, once you leave your home or office, you can’t be guaranteed quiet enjoyment.
It’s not just noise. While working “in the wild,” you are also subjected to all kinds of distractions. New chair, new lighting, new time zone, oooh look at that shiny thing over there!
…What was I saying?…
#4 Where the hell is my…?”
Let’s imagine you have found a coveted comfy chair in a moderately calm coffee shop. You have a beverage, and you have opened your laptop. You have pulled up the Word doc you are about to work on, and you are ready to start typing, but you suddenly realize you left the notebook that has all your research notes at home. And to add insult to injury, the “low battery” notification pops up on your laptop to remind you that your charger is still plugged into the outlet next to your couch. Forgetting just one item can make or break your productivity on the road.
Safety Rails to Protect You from Pitfalls
None of this is to say working on-the-go is impossible or doesn’t have its advantages. With proper planning, you can be both mobile and productive. Here are few safety rails to keep you on even ground.
Find out if, when and how you'll have cell service and wifi.
I now arrive early to see if I’ll have cell service at a given location and a quiet place to sit when I need to make a phone call. I’ve also signed up for a Skype number and use Facetime (iphone users only) when wifi will be more reliable than my cell service.
No, you can’t turn the volume down on a crowded airport terminal, but you can do a few simple things to reduce your distractions. Wearing ear plugs will eliminate most of the noise around you. As a work around, you can just put your ear buds in, which also act as a universal “do not disturb” sign.
If you are among people you know (visiting family or on vacation with friends) simply ask for some quiet time. Let them know you have scheduled some quiet work time for yourself, and ask them not to disturb you for an hour or two.
Make a Specific Task List
Once you have verified your connection to the interweb and blocked as many distractions as possible, pull out your super specific “working-while-mobile” task list. This is a to-do list that outlines exactly what you are planning to get done. It heads off that moment of “what should I work on?” which can be a productivity death sentence when you are surrounded by distractions.
When putting together this task list, keep in mind the physical and technological limitations of your environment. Working in a hotel room, on a beach, in a park, and on a plane will each present settings with different limitations. Plan work that is conducive to the setting. For instance, bus rides are terrible places to make phone calls. (The person sitting in front of you agrees with me!)
Also remember that limitations can actually be an advantage. When I don’t have an internet connection, I have no choice but to write blog posts or catch up on reading. It can actually focus my work flow instead of reducing it.
Create a Packing Check-List
Once you have your trusty task list, use it to put together a check-list of what you’ll need when you walk out the door. If you’re bringing devises, you’ll need chargers. If you have a conference call, you may need a pen and a notebook.
Note that this exercise is to ensure you bring exactly what you need, not everything you could possibly need. Whatever you pack you’ll have to carry.
I often take a moment before I leave my house, to close my eyes and visualize my day step-by-step. As I play out the day in my mind, I usually remember something that I would have otherwise left behind.
Set Realistic Expectations
The final and most important step to being productive while working “in the wild” is to set realistic expectations for yourself. Understand that it’s likely you will get less done once you leave a controlled environment. Accept that there will be unforeseen events that will throw you off course. This is a game of trial and error.
Sometimes you’ll plan way more than you can get done. Sometimes you’ll get way more done than you expected. Become aware of which distractions created the biggest obstacles, learn from your mistakes, and plan differently next time.
(Written from an undisclosed location with a beautiful view and minimal cell service.)