With the recent world events causing many to work from home, I figured what better time than now to share my some of my tips. This may be your first time working from home for an extended period of time, but I have been remote for the past 13 years.
1. Start with a routine
Whether you are a morning person or not, get into a routine that works for you and stick to it. This will help get you motivated for the day. I try my best to go to bed at a reasonable hour so I can naturally wake up around 5/6 a.m. feeling refreshed. I start my day enjoying two cups of organic coffee with Organic Valley Heavy Whipping Cream and Unflavored Collagen Peptides while catching up on emails, blogs and world news. This really helps me wake up and get ready for the work day.
I’ve had my trusty Keurig B60 for a decade or longer. I’ve been waiting to find a good coffee/mocha machine that is easy to clean and can be automated. If you have a machine that works for you let me know.
A routine could be as simple as taking a shower, getting dressed for the day or even going for a walk.
2. Create a daily goal
I start every day with a simple goal of what I want to accomplish. It can be something I want to learn or a work task I want to get done like:
- Complete a feature request or comment on an issue
- Inbox zero
- Meditating for 10 minutes during lunch using Calm
- Reading a page of a book
Just create a small goal that is accomplishable as it will make you feel more productive.
3. Work asynchronously
If possible, try working asynchronously. This means that you prioritize smaller similar tasks and complete them without interruption. Unless a message is super important it’s okay to respond to it a few minutes later along with any other messages you get. It’s proven that switching tasks is not productive.
If you have a hard time with time management, there are techniques like Pomodoro which may help you stay focused.
4. Keep your calendar up-to-date
If you have a morning standup meeting (e.g., scrum) pay attention for meetings or demos that may not have been sent via a calendar invite. I always add these to a calendar with any applicable time zones. Not doing so may mean you miss an important discussion.
If you keep to a schedule and know when upcoming meetings are you might be able to take a flexible lunch hour to get a haircut, mow the lawn before it rains, or have a quick lunch with a friend.
I also keep an eye out for coworker travel plans to the office. This allows you to spend time with other remote employees with whom you communicate with daily. It’s super important to stay social even if that’s not your personality! I cherish all the memories of visiting the office and having fun with those who you work with day to day.
5. Avoid burn out
It’s very easy to get burned out by working super long hours to make up for what might feel like an unproductive day or to get a task done. Just consider the fact that working in an office may have more distractions than working from home. Making it a super productive day even if it doesn’t feel like it.
There will always be a never ending supply of work, that will be there tomorrow. So leave work at work and disconnect to enjoy family/personal time at the end of the day. It really helps if you have an isolated space like a spare room where you only work from. At the end of the day close the door and walk away.
6. All about the Optics
Also, make sure to check what is in your background of your camera and mute yourself when not talking.
Just remember to look directly into the camera and smile ??. It goes a long way to build relationships and show that you are listening! Meetings don’t always go smoothly and you are not the only one who may be experiencing technical difficulties.
7. Take a break
It is perfectly normal to take a break after working a few hours, diagnosing a hard problem, or you just need some fresh air. I find the most difficult problems are resolved upon returning from a short break. It’s like having a second pair of eyes on a difficult problem.
Get up and take a walk to the mailbox or around the block to clear the mind (and pie in moderation never hurts).
Every one needs a few minutes of me time to decompress!
8. Exercise your body, eyes, and mind
I’ve always been told by my eye doctor to take breaks and to look outside in the distance. It’s not good for our eyes to constantly focus on screens that are close to us.
It really helps if you have an amazing office view! It’s amazing what you’ll see when you take a look outside. In the video below I saw two male ducks fighting for love one summer day (looks best full screen @ 4k, tune to 2:30 for an up close fight).
Did you know that ducks form seasonal bonds?
Working out, meditating, and eating clean really helps keep your mind sharp too! You have the added advantage of removing food temptations from your diet by working at home!
9. Set family expectations
A lot has changed since I first started working remote in college. It can be difficult for a partner or family member who has never worked remote before to understand the work life dynamics. Although you might be home, you are not free all the time for home tasks. I’m guilty of forgetting to switch the laundry during a break because I’m so concentrated in my work.
If you have dedicated work hours stick to them. If you have flexible hours, than consider starting your day early so you can get tasks done that may need to be done before the weekend starts. This may include mowing the lawn or getting groceries.
It can be easy to get distracted by the smallest of things! I’d recommend eliminating as many distractions as possible such as a messy desk or enabling screen time on your phone. Just make your environment comfy to be in for long periods of time without added distractions.
I’ve found that distractions can change day to day, so try and learn what triggers you. For example, one day I might be able to concentrate while playing music while others I need it to be dead silent.
Here are two music playlists that oddly enough help me concentrate:
Try narrowing down what music you can play at a reduced volume that doesn’t distract you in your day to day tasks. I’ve automated my speakers to change the sound levels during the day so I don’t wake a sleeping bear ??.
I’ve taken this a step further when I’m having a really productive day. I will start diffusing a specific scent (like mental focus). Scents can trigger memories and emotions which I find help me get back into a productive state of mind. The human body is truly amazing.
Lastly, it can really help to work with a coworker (e.g., pair program) to do a task if you are struggling (we all have these days). This helps ensure active participation while working through complex problems.
This doesn’t mean that you will be twice as productive, but you will be more productive than just yourself!
11. With Great Responsibility…
I absolutely love working from home in my own personal space. But one regret I do have is not taking full advantage of working remote by leaving my house more often. For example, I wish in the past decade that I:
- Traveled to more remote destinations while working. In 2016, my wife and I traveled and worked remotely in New Zealand for a month. This was an amazing learning adventure! I’d wake up early and work for several hours at the start and end of the day. It was a blast experiencing different cultures and breath taking scenery, but it takes extreme discipline.
- Taken a cross country sight seeing train while working through the scenic landscapes.
- Spent more time working from my parents who live a few hours away and are not getting any younger.