I have been working from home since the Fall of 2018, much to my absolute and utter delight. However, with many of my colleagues and professional acquaintances now faced with working from home when they usually go into an office, I thought I’d write down some of the things I have had to figure out in order to stay productive.
As with all advice, your mileage may vary, so make sure you read and think before you act. Like you always should when someone else gives you advice. Because that’s just a reasonable thing to do.
Have a dedicated work space
If you don’t usually work from home, having a dedicated work space may not be an immediate option. If that’s the case, identify a place where you can temporarily have a command center- even if that’s a specific couch cushion and a lap desk, or part of a dining table. But make it one place and go back to that place every day.
In general however, making a dedicated space in your home where you can sit at a desk and write, study or work is something I can safely put in the adulting 101 column. Consider it an investment in your productivity, which can contribute to your overall well-being.
No matter where your space is in your home, go to it every day for work. The consistency and routine is important.
Take a shower. Get dressed. Have the same morning routine you would have if you went into the office. This will put you in the right mindset for “work”.
My personal approach: I bought five of the same shirt and five pairs of leggings and I put those on every day as my work uniform. YMMV, just don’t stay in your pajamas.
Keep a list
Write down everything you want to do in your day- including any exercise you want to do, or musical instrument you want to practice, or even a bill you need to make sure you pay. Write down the work you intend to finish that day. Anything you don’t do that day goes to the next day, and that kind of self-reflection is a nice way to start your day.
This especially helps me when I feel kind of blah, or overwhelmed about any one thing. When I feel that way, I go to the next item on my list. This is really important, and has been an important coping mechanism for me, so I’ll say it again: When I don’t know what to do, I go to the next item on my list and I do that. Sometimes, my brain just needs a little more time to think about the problem, and when I come back to it later, I’ll find it’s a lot easier to think about!
It’s also really satisfying to check off the to-do box.
If you’re not the notebook type, you can do this digitally as well. If my partner and I observe that we’re having a hard time shipping work, we’ll put our to-dos in a Discord “daily-work” channel on our family’s server, and be each other’s accountabilibuddy.
To give you an idea of what that looks like, one of the days this week looked like this:
Now we can both see what we did and didn’t accomplish, and it helps us check in with each other and support each other more completely.
Work with your energy
I am most focused first thing in the morning- so that’s when I write the most code. When I find that my attention starts to wane, or I start to make silly mistakes, I will switch to something else that requires a little less of my mental energy, like updating my JIRA board or scheduling meetings.
Some folks like to get the admin-type work out of the way first, as sort of a warm up, and then write code. Do whatever works for you, just be aware of your own energy flow throughout your day.
Maybe your energy is down because you need to eat! But, if you find yourself reaching for snacks a little too often, you might have to employ a few tricks:
– put unhealthy snacks far away from you so they are harder to reach
– put healthy snacks within reach
– use an app that helps you log what you eat. I use an app called Rise, where I take a photo of what I’m about to eat and a nutritionist rates my eating habits.
No really, stretch. Before you sit at your desk, slowly bend down and try to touch your toes. When you sit down, do some arm and hand stretches. Neck rolls. When you get up for more water, stretch again.
This is obvious yet especially important advice if you are not working in a space that is dedicated to work, which may be a little less comfortable as a result.
Timers and alarms are your friends
Set good boundaries for yourself by using timers and alarms. About to go down a rabbit hole? Set a timer for yourself so you don’t lose the whole day. Set alarms that help you remember to take breaks for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Finally, have an alarm that tells you the work day is over and it’s time to do anything else. Setting this boundary is really important when you’re working from home- it’s easy for the lines to blur and suddenly you find yourself working on something at 11pm when it should be on tomorrow’s to-do list. There will always be more work to do.
A successful career is a marathon, not a sprint!