Transcript

Episode 161: Making a Fully Remote Work Life Work for You—with Ali Pruitt

Deb Zahn: I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. In this episode, we're going to talk about how to successfully have a fully remote work-life, how to actually make that work for you so that you ultimately have both the livelihood and the life that you want. 


I brought on someone who's an expert in this and someone who actually helps other people organize their work-life and figure out what they need to do in order to be able to enjoy all that freedom and flexibility that consulting can actually bring. I'm going to be talking to Ali Pruitt and she is going to get into all kinds of details about how to set this up correctly, but also make sure you don't get in the way of having the life that you want. So much good stuff in this. Let's get started.

I want to welcome to my show today Ali Pruitt. Ali, welcome to the show.


Ali Pruitt: Thanks so much. Thanks for having me. I'm excited for our conversation today.


Deb Zahn: Let's start off. Tell my listeners what you do.

Ali Pruitt: OK, so what do I do? I'm a remote work productivity consultant with a focus on work/life balance. What I learned as leading a fully remote international team was that you can have the best ecosystem in place, the best systems and processes, even as an individual, as a consultant as well, you're going to have your processes, but if you are not being effective and efficient during the time you're prioritizing based off of your values and your goals, then you tend to work very reactive instead of proactive. You're plugged in all day and then you're not really enjoying life. You're not really reaping the benefits of...I mean, we make this decision to live this lifestyle because we want freedom and flexibility and yet we're not really enjoying it. And so I help people overcome that, roadblock that hurdle, and they can enjoy life.


Deb Zahn: I love that. That's so important for consultants because you're right, they're after the freedom and flexibility often, that's what I hear, but it's not a naturally occurring phenomenon to actually enjoy it. I will tell you personally, I'm very excited about this. I largely live a fully remote work lifestyle, but I moved from the city to the suburbs to a rural area because I wanted to enjoy life, and I was worried I was going to take all my bad overworking habits and bring them with me, and I did.


Ali Pruitt: Yep.


Deb Zahn: Then I had to figure it out, so I think even if someone isn't even fully remote, this is helpful for them.


Ali Pruitt: Totally, 100%.


Deb Zahn: When you say "fully remote work," for the folks who can't picture that, what does that actually look like? What does that look like for you?


Ali Pruitt: Yeah, for me, fully remote, it's why I named it Fully Remote with Ali, my business, when you get to the point where you are working remotely, your systems, your processes, everything's in place, you've got your goals, you're working effectively, you're working efficiently, you're working less hours, whether that's four, six hours, whatever that is, right, that's your goals, and you are enjoying life. That's the whole point of being fully remote. It's the full lifestyle. It's the integration. It's the balance. It's a better quality of life because you've embraced the remote work lifestyle.


Deb Zahn: I love that. I love that it's not just defined as, "And you're on Zoom all the time," which I think is the remote that folks are used to these days.


Ali Pruitt: Hopefully you're not.


Deb Zahn: That's right. Let's get the bad version out of the way because you hinted at this when you were introducing this topic. If somebody says, "I want that kind of a lifestyle, I want that kind of a life," but they don't really have a plan or process for doing it, what are some of the pitfalls that people tend to fall into?


Ali Pruitt: Oh, gosh. Well, I think finances is a big aspect to that, right? That's not something that I try to pretend like I'm an expert in. I know financial advisors, so that's always a piece of the journey, and making sure that you've set up yourself to be able to transition as a consultant to do your own thing. But the having routine, not just systems for your work, but systems for your life as well, you have your work goals, but also having personal goals. That's where the balance comes into play and creating the routines and the processes for both, to be able to balance both, to be able to achieve what you want in both areas of your life. Even if you want to say, "Oh, well, work is part of life," yeah, OK, but there still is a separation. You still connect to do work and then you disconnect to enjoy time with your kids to go walk on the beach, to go play basketball, hang out with the girls, whatever, right? Making sure that you have a really good routine helps with that.


Knowing that you don't have to grind, right? I think there's definitely this thought that we have to grind, and we don't. It's about working intentionally working with purpose, working with focus and focusing on what's the most important thing, right? I think a lot of consultants, entrepreneurs, and so on, they get, it's that shiny object syndrome, right? We're all over the place, all the things that we want to do, and really honing in on what is the most important thing, OK, and that's typically getting clients, which then you go into all of the different aspects of fear and how fear plays a part as procrastinating on certain types on doing the sales calls, right, or in doing the sales messages and things like that.


I think becoming very self-aware is huge in this, self-aware, and asking yourself when you're progressing on something, "Why is it?" when uncomfortable feelings are coming up, right, and then doing the thing. Accountability, support, having a support system and accountability group, whether it's a mastermind or something, really super helpful to get involved into. They're going to help you weed through the things that aren't important, especially if they've been there, done that as well. Those are just some of the things that came up off the top of my head.


Deb Zahn: Yeah. Oh, I love that. That's a ton of really great, useful stuff. Someone should re-listen to this and just jot all that down. For folks who want to start, and there's a whole bunch of things they could do, a lot of which you just listed, but they want to start to move down that path, what would be the first thing you would tell them to do?


Ali Pruitt: Don't get caught up in your brand colors.


Deb Zahn: Thank you.


Ali Pruitt: The first thing I would say is get very clear on what it is that you're doing for people, how you're helping people, and focus on doing that. Focus on the value for people. It really does come down to just getting out there and connecting with the people. Again, creating that routine, creating a strategy. A lot of people do not take the time to strategically plan for what it is they want. I work with so many people who don't know their values, and because they don't know their values, they're creating goals that don't really line up with who they are. They're wasting time and energy on work that doesn't really matter, so you get clear on your values, then you get clear on your goals, and then you break those down into actual tasks and you work towards those, creating a routine based off the strategy that you've created. Again, the biggest thing at the end of the day is helping the people, sales.


Deb Zahn: Yeah. You said a whole bunch in that, and I want to unpack a few of those things because I think they're really important and profound. Let's start with values because I see people skip that part a lot almost as if, "I got to build my business," and then their life and their other meaningful things are, are secondary. When you're working with someone, figuring out their values, what are the types of questions you're asking them to try and get them to really think about it meaningfully?


Ali Pruitt: The first indication as to how I know that people don't know their values is they don't have boundaries. They're saying they don't know how to say no, they're saying yes to just about everything, and if that's the case, then that's because they don't know their values. They don't know what to say no to, they don't know what to say yes to. When I'm walking through a client through their values, it's not just your values pertaining to work, it's your values as an individual.


If you have a family and family is one of your top three core values…I have an exercise that walks you through 300 different values and how to narrow them down to your top three core values, and if family is one of those top three core values, yet you're grinding it for 12, 14 hours a day, and you're not really spending time with your family, yeah, you can justify that and say, "Well, I'm doing the grind now for my family so I can spend time with them in the future." But it doesn't have to always be that way. If your values are your values, if your family is a top value for you, then that needs to reflect in your life today because otherwise, you are putting so much energy into something that you don't value or that you're not putting energy into something that you do value to refresh you, to replenish you, to rejuvenate you.


Deb Zahn: With the issue with boundaries, which, of course, is one of the major pitfalls I think a lot of consultants have, and certainly, a lot of new consultants are like, "I'm desperate to get work. I can't say no to anything," and it's not really a habit for a lot of folks to set boundaries, so how do you help folks understand, one, to want to do it, and two, to understand what it's going to actually do for them to be able to have boundaries?


Ali Pruitt: Yeah. I speak about boundaries and it's so important to me because it's something where there was a time in my life where I had terrible boundaries. I didn't have boundaries. It's something that I'm still working on, and as I work on it, there's deeper and deeper layers to how boundaries play out in your life. What I have discovered is when you lack boundaries, there's a good chance you also lack self-worth and self-love. It's kind of interesting because people come to me, wanting me to help them with time management and productivity and work/life balance, but what it often is is just simply learning to choose yourself, to choose you, to choose your health, to choose yourself.


One of the things that I do is called a calendar blueprinting technique that I teach. First and foremost, we put on our calendar what is important, yet we don't put time for ourselves. We don't put our lunch, we don't put our breaks, we don't put our breakfast, morning workout, whatever. Most people aren't even doing those things if they're not on their calendar, right, and so it's first about putting yourself first and putting yourself first on your calendar and starting to hold yourself accountable to that and learning self-accountability throughout the programs that I have. That's usually the first step is just really just driving it home with them that you are the most important person in your life. I am the most important person in my life. If my life doesn't reflect that, then that's an indication that I actually don't truly value myself.


Deb Zahn: Yeah. I think that's a powerful point you're making. I remember years and years ago when I was in my 20s, I was trained to be a self-defense instructor for women.


Ali Pruitt: Wow.


Deb Zahn: One of the exercises they had us do is we all went in a circle, and they took an old, beat-up shoe and put it in the middle of the circle and we started talking about defending it and everybody's like looking at each other, like, "Why would we defend that?" Then we had a conversation about how we treat ourselves and hold our understanding of ourselves as if we're an old, beat-up shoe not worth defending.


Ali Pruitt: Totally.


Deb Zahn: So how do you qualify yourself for defense? It's the same way with boundaries. I love that. If there's one skill any consultant should learn, it should be boundaries. They have their values, they've peeled some of the layers into what their behavior is. What do you have them do next?


Ali Pruitt: Next, well, actually, I have a technique called the daily RECAP. It's something that I have them do at the end of their workday. With some, it involves into a end-of-day/end-of-week/end-of-month routine as well, but it's just a big piece. It's really about reflecting. RECAP actually stands for an acronym, Reflect, Evaluate, Celebrate, Adjust, and Plan. There's a psychological breakdown so that when you do this, you actually feel good, you feel accomplished, which then helps you to be more motivated, and you don't feel like you're on that hamster wheel, knowing that tomorrow's going to be just another day like today.


When we take the time, and again, it kind of goes even back to taking the time out to know your values, to strategically plan, to set time aside to plan, all of this is just as important for productivity and success as doing actionable work, and so is taking the time to reflect. When you can reflect on your day, you can adjust, and you can improve. You can't adjust and improve and change if you don't reflect. What is that, you keep doing the same thing, expecting a different result, and you get insanity, right? I help people not to live on the hamster wheel of insanity.


Deb Zahn: That's right. Just saying, "Whew, I'm glad that day's over," and then say that again at the end of next day. You're getting into a piece that I also know is so important is how people structure and organize their day so they, I'm going to say get stuff done because it's a PG-13 podcast, but get stuff done. What are some of your go-to, other than putting yourself in your calendar for organizing your days to be efficient?


Ali Pruitt: Yeah, I think the biggest thing, and this is where my daily RECAP and my calendar blueprinting along with just some of the coaching that I do come into play and it's teaching people and I also have a bit of a project management background as well. It's really getting people to understand that you only have 24 hours in a day. You think that, "Well, yeah. OK. Of course." But we don't live as if we have 24 hours in the day, we live as if we have like 50 hours in one day, and then wonder why we're not getting everything accomplished, right?


Deb Zahn: Yeah, yeah.


Ali Pruitt: So it really is helping people to shift their mindset. The calendar blueprinting really helps them to map out their days, not in a way where the calendar controls them, but in a way that it's a guideline and a framework with the boundaries, very visible on the calendar, the meetings on the calendar, the doctor's appointments, these things, and what you're doing is you're actually subtracting time from the 24 hours, and you start to see that and you see that you only have about three hours to actually do task project work, two hours for client calls, or whatever, right? Then you can actually schedule for that instead of schedule yourself for eight hours because you just created a to-do list, you didn't take the time to think through how long each of those items were going to take, and you just said, "I'm going to do all of this today." You didn't do all of it, you did one or two things, which is realistic, and then you've ended your day feeling terrible.


Deb Zahn: Yeah. Wait a minute. This sounds awfully familiar to probably days I've had recently. I pay attention to what I put on my calendar. I actually do put lunch and exercise and those things in my calendar, but I often find things just take longer than I anticipate, and I would like to be more realistic. I hear the same thing because I encourage people to do time blocking and you make sure that they've actually organized their day before they just jump into it. That's a common thing I hear is, "Well, everything takes longer." If everything always takes longer, then there seems to be a learning in there to pull out. How do you help people make those adjustments so they're not just saying, "Well, I'm going to time block again. Oh, but look, the same thing happened", or, "Oh, maybe it got a little bit better, but it's still a bit of a train wreck"?


Ali Pruitt: Right, yeah. That's really where the daily RECAP comes into play because it's something that they do at, usually it's the end of their workday. It's something that I also call the poco a poco approach. It's Spanish for "little by little."


Deb Zahn: Little by little, yeah.


Ali Pruitt: Something that became very real to me as I started traveling, well, first it was in Colombia, and then from Colombia, came to Mexico. I didn't know Spanish beforehand. At first, I really didn't think I would learn much more than the basics that I needed because I didn't think I would be in these countries for very long, and the pandemic hit, and then now, I've been here for over two years in Mexico, and so I was like, "OK, well, it's time I really learned the language."


I started learning it. It's like any type of goal that you have, or new habit that you want to form, or change that you want, we can very easily give up when we're not reaching the goal when we think that we should reach it, but I couldn't give up. I'm in the country. I really didn't have a choice. The response that I would get from people, Mexicans, Spanish speakers, I would say, "Oh, mi español es muy malo.” My Spanish is really bad. Lo siento. I'm sorry." They would say, "Ah, esta bien. Poco a poco.” It's OK, little by little." They were just so kind when they said it also, which that in itself was a part of my kindness journey, right, learning to be more kind to myself. I just saw how important poco a poco was in all aspects of life.


Even coming back full circle to the daily RECAP, it's a poco a poco approach to adjusting to reach your goals, so again, it's Reflect, Evaluate, Celebrate, Adjust, and Plan. Every day, little by little, you're reflecting and you're doing the other things as well, but then you're adjusting, and so you're seeing, "OK, this consistently is taking me an hour instead of 45 minutes. Do I set a timer, say, 45 minutes and take more of the timeboxing approach, and say, 'Nope, at 45 minutes, I'm done,' or do I change it to an hour, right, and make it more realistic?" It's living aware and intentional and the daily RECAP really helps people to do that.


Deb Zahn: I love that. I actually really love that. One of the things that I also know that you talk about on your website is also focus, which during the pandemic, I know a lot folks, including myself, struggled with, but also just the focus when you have kids. I've been talking with a lot of women my age, including myself who are going through menopause, and focus is really difficult, or whatever it is happening in people's lives as well as their natural state or unnatural state of focus. How do you help people think about where focus fits into this approach?


Ali Pruitt: Yeah, so a lot of it does depend on what season of life you're in, like you say with menopause versus kids and so on. But first thing I tell people is when you're working in the office, you're there, let's say eight hours a day, right? Studies have shown, I have articles that can back this up, I don't know all the numbers off the top of my head, that people actually are only working and productive maybe three hours out of the day on average, give or take.


Deb Zahn: Wow.


Ali Pruitt: But we then transition and start working from home, and we think that we have to be working and productive for eight hours to be the equivalent of what we would do in the office. But when we're in the office, people come up to our desk, people knock on the door, there's constant interruptions. You get up to go to the bathroom, you fill your water, you do the water-cooler chit-chat, all of these things. Now, you're working a couple of hours a day, right? Now, you've switched. You're home. You're in front of a computer, and you're telling yourself you've got to do eight hours, 10 hours, 12 hours, right?


Your brain does not want to work more than 90 minutes. There's something called ultradian rhythms, actually, and throughout the day we have rhythms. And after 90 minutes of deep-dive work, your brain does not want to work anymore. You'll notice you'll start fidgeting, you'll lose focus. You're losing focus because what's happening is while you're doing that deep-dive work, lots of different chemicals, I call them productivity chemicals are released. And they're hanging out around the outside of your brain. They just kind of keep building up, so when you're working like two, three, fours straight without a break, you're just fogging up your brain.


Now, if at that 90 minutes, you take a true break, not a pick up your phone and continue to keep your brain engaged, but a true break of 20 minutes, go outside, grab a snack, do something creative, maybe sit down and put a puzzle together or just something, then your brain will release those chemicals, and when you come back and sit down again, you're going to feel more refreshed. If you're struggling with making progress in an area, you'll find that you're going to make progress a lot quicker because your brain is now more refreshed.


There is a lot of little, just even knowing how the body works really helps to kind of do some focus hacking, I guess you could say. In different seasons of life, menopause, again, understanding how the body works, and giving yourself the permission to take breaks because again, when you're in the office, you're really taking breaks and getting distracted all the time, so it's OK if you get distracted. Don't be so hard on yourself. Listen to your body.


Now, there are things to help your focus when you're wanting to sit down and you need to work on a project and you're going to do the 30-minute focus, right? Set yourself a timer. That's always really helpful. Understand that it usually takes you a couple of minutes for your brain to switch and start to focus, so if you don't sit down and within the first 60 seconds, you're like totally honed in and focused, don't beat yourself up about that. Give yourself grace. Be kindly to yourself.


Think of it this way also, the speaking kind to yourself also comes into play with this, if you are working with someone and they're telling you, "Man, I'm having a really hard time focusing," how would you respond to that person? Would you be encouraging and supportive and maybe give tips or something like that? Or would you say, "I can't believe you're not getting focused, I can't believe you're not..."? You wouldn't do that because it would not motivate them, yet you turn around and you say that to yourself and wonder why you're not motivated and not focused. You're all over the place because you're treating yourself poorly.


Deb Zahn: Yeah, and then no wonder you can't focus. I think this is also helpful because I've been talking with folks who have ADD or ADHD and their brains crave novelty and so they're not going to sit down for five hours solid and hook into something, they have to build time in for going out and doing something else, taking a bike ride, doing something that's actually novel for their brains to do what's helpful. I hadn't actually occurred to me, "Oh, maybe people without that neuro-divergence actually also need to do that as well," but gosh, that sounds lovely.


Ali Pruitt: Yeah. Really, when you're looking at being productive, you want to have a strategy and self-care and rest really needs to be a part of that strategy. Your brain works better when you're taking breaks. Your brain works better when you have creative outlets. Your brain works better when you're getting out in nature, when you're doing other things that you love when you come back and reconnect to work, ideas are going to come much easier. You're going to be able to be more focused and efficient. The curiosity that we have when we have hobbies and we're getting out and we're doing things that we love, that curiosity is strengthened, and we bring that back to our work environment as well, which helps to be more innovative, have better ideas also.


Deb Zahn: It's almost like you're saying this actually can give you a stronger consulting business if you did that. This sounds suspiciously like that.


Ali Pruitt: Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.


Deb Zahn: Wonderful. Well, I love it. No kidding, this fills me with joy. I think the permission part is so critical and that's sort of a mindset switch that folks need to make that, "Oh, yeah, this is going to make things better, and I should give myself permission to do this."


Ali Pruitt: Totally.


Deb Zahn: Let me ask, where can folks find you? If they hear this and they're like, "I want what she just described," where can they actually find you?


Ali Pruitt: Yeah, the easiest place to find me is on LinkedIn, Ali Pruitt, remote work productivity consultant. I do have an Instagram, I'm not super engaged there, but Fully Remote with Ali on Instagram, and then my website, fullyremotewithali.com.


Deb Zahn: Great. We will include all of that in the show notes. Let me ask it, you're the perfect person to ask this question to because obviously, you think about it, you help others, but how do you bring balance to your life, however it is you define that?


Ali Pruitt: Very complex question, actually.


Deb Zahn: It sure is.


Ali Pruitt: I do it by listening to my body. I think that's what I have learned to be the most important thing. The very first step to being able to have balance is being able to listen to my body, and for me and my personal journey, we're one person, so who we are when we show up to work is who we are and we show up in every other aspect of our life, and for me because I experienced burnout was because I lacked boundaries, it was because I had the need for external validation and people-pleasing and all of this, this actually all came from childhood emotional neglect, which we all have to some degree or another, so there's no shame in that. For me, I call it my healing journey. It's just learning to be very self-aware, learning to do the work, learning to dig, and not being afraid to do it because in that journey I'm becoming my very best self.


One of the things that I realized was as a child, I learned to disassociate from what I was feeling from my body, and that's been a journey in itself to learn to understand, to one, to reconnect with my body, to understand what it is that I'm feeling to understand what the signs are because my body will tell me when I am not balanced and you can get to the point where you can get really good, where you can feel it on a daily basis when you're not balanced instead of months later, and you're down the road and it feels so terrible that you're just now feeling it, right, so I can tell now on a daily basis when I'm not balanced. One of the very first things is my jaws start clenching just a little. I can feel it just little like, "OK. All right. Let's take some time."


Deb Zahn: That's great. I love the idea of catching it early. If I'm ignoring my body, it's almost if my body is trying to do me a kindness and say, "OK, let's turn it up a little bit. Cause she's not paying attention. OK, she's still not. Let's turn it up a little bit," until my eye starts twitching uncontrollably and I'm on Zoom calls and my eye is going like this and I'm like, "OK, I heard you. I understand what's happening. I'll catch it early next time." But that's wonderful. I think bringing it back to who we are as human beings is also so powerful, so I really appreciate you sharing that because so many people do experience trauma. There's no shame in it. There's no shame in talking about it. I certainly have. It influences all the choices we make around what our lives are like.


Ali Pruitt: Yeah, yeah. Often, they say people who are high achievers, it's usually because they are trying to prove their worth and their value from some sort of childhood emotional and neglect or trauma. There's no shame in being, "OK, I'm a high achiever." Cool. But if you are not balanced and you're not taking care of yourself and you want to change that, I think that the first start is looking within and looking at what's brought you to this point. Why do you feel this need to achieve at such a high level and to grind all the time, or to even maybe distract yourself with work, right?


Deb Zahn: Yeah, definitely. Well, Ali appreciative of you coming on and sharing this because this is truly healing work for everybody. Thank you so much for joining me. You have a little friend in your lap that I think we should introduce as well.


Ali Pruitt: This is Lola. She's my little Chihuahua from Oaxaca City. She's a pandemic dog. I got her just after the pandemic started. She's two years old now.


Deb Zahn: I know people are like, "Deb, it's a podcast. We can't see." She's adorable. I'm a cat person, and I'm telling you, this dog is adorable. Ali, thanks again so much for coming on.


Ali Pruitt: Thanks for having me. I really enjoyed the conversation.


Deb Zahn: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or if you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up and a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything. But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is, one is, if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those.


And then the last thing is, again, if you've gotten something out of this, share it, share it with somebody you know who's a consultant or thinking about being a consultant, and make sure that they also have access to all this great content and all the other great content that's going to be coming up.


So as always, you can go and get more wonderful information and tools at craftofconsulting.com. Thanks so much. I will talk to you on the next episode. Bye-bye.