Leadership advice

How can journalists stay focused working from home with laundry, dishes, kids distracting us?

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

How do I stay focused when I can see the laundry/dishes piling up, the dog has his leash in his mouth, and the kids are on extended spring break? 

Here’s the dirty little secret — no, make that clean and virus-free little secret — of working from home: You will work as much and probably more than before, but you have greater control of your time.

As long as you make your deadlines and respond in reasonable time to important inquiries, it doesn’t matter if you walk the dog or toss a frisbee with your kids right in the middle of the darn day. Trust me, I learned this when I made the transition from 25 years in a newsroom to my home-based and in-person teaching for Poynter and now Loyola Chicago and the Freedom Forum’s Power Shift Project.

You’ll discover these imperatives:

You should overcommunicate about the important things. That includes your availability, your health and the status of your assignments. When you’ve established trust with your partners, they expect the best and you never let them down.

You will work at crazy hours because it works for you. A late night writing binge may be the tradeoff for afternoon calls to elderly relatives who are alone, frightened and need prescriptions filled. As long as you make deadlines, you are just fine.

Feedback on your work is more important than ever – so bosses, please take note. On normal days, newsrooms aren’t great at feedback, but we have colleagues around us who critique and cheer us on. Alone, we may feel like we’re posting into the abyss. Team leaders and colleagues should double the feedback they usually give. Not the length of it – I know you’re way too busy to give lengthy critiques but short takes can go a long way toward keeping people feeling good about their work, or about the edits you made to make it better.

Get up and move around. Your neck, back and butt deserve to stretch. It’s really easy to get desk-bound while writing, producing or editing. Without the normal buzz of office-mates around you or invitations for a quick coffee, you can become sedentary. It’s not healthy.

Save your work. You may be working from a home computer or laptop. Make certain you constantly back up everything you produce so power outages, your own occasional brain farts or your beloved children playing with your machine don’t destroy your work product.

Have questions? Ask away.


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