sebastiandaschner blog


Tips on working from home

tuesday, march 10, 2020

I’ve been working from home as well as remotely (or wherever I happen to be) for the last five years. I want to share some tips and experiences that helped me.

The added freedom and flexibility we get from working remotely can greatly improve our productivity as well as pose some challenges on how we manage our time.

Get dressed

... and take a shower, ideally before lunch. I can’t productively work in bed or in pyjamas and it makes a big difference how I feel whether I follow my daily routines, such as making the bed, brushing teeth, meditation, making a morning coffee, even though, or especially, when nobody forces me to. The more freedom you get in how you spend the time, the more important it gets to self-impose some structure.

Know your daily energy levels

You’ll have different levels of energy and productiveness during the day.

For me, I’m highly productive for the first two, three hours the morning, have a huge low in the early afternoon, and will be more productive again in the early evening before it gets too late. I’m scheduling my working tasks accordingly. The morning is reserved for high quality work time like writing, studying a new technology, thinking, solving a programming challenge. Basically any “deep work” task. I almost never allow meetings to be scheduled during that time — depending on the timezone, and I don’t check messages until the late morning. And I don’t put my phone off flight mode.

In the early afternoon, I usually take a longer break of at least two hours, combined with taking a walk and enjoying Vienna’s architecture, or doing some work around the apartment.

Initially, it would feel weird to take longer breaks, however, when you’re totally free to schedule your time it just doesn’t make sense to try to be productive during your “low energy times” and force yourself through them with a lot of caffeine. Rather, follow your personal energy schedule, try to accommodate your coworkers' schedules, and optimize your time according to other constraints.

Leave the house

... especially when you’re not forced to. It does make a difference to just get some fresh air, have a change in perspective and environment, and avoid feeling lonely at home. You can even continue working from a coffee shop, library, park, or wherever.

Monitor and control your eating habits

I’ve always found it much easier to eat more healthy and balanced at home compared to some corporate office. When you’re in full control of your environment you can set yourself up for success by only having things around you that you actually want to consume. If you’re afraid of overeating on sweets and snacks as well as sugary drinks, easy: don’t buy them in the first place. Sounds simple and it is, when there are only healthy things in the fridge you require literally zero willpower to grab them instead of some tasty, sugary sin. You control your environment so you should leverage that. There’s a good book on that topic: Willpower Doesn’t Work by Benjamin Hardy.

If you’re a coffee lover, I’d invest in some proper coffee equipment, which by the way doesn’t have to be expensive; a (comparably cheap) filter, Aeropress, or french press, together with a good grinder and nicely-treated coffee beans can get you further than an overpriced machine …​ writes the person who has spent four-digits amounts on coffee gear — but coffee is a whole topic on it’s own :-)

When it comes to eating, I’ve found that eating too heavily just eliminates my energy and productivity, thus I mostly do intermittent fasting until the late morning and only eat a handful of natural snacks such as nuts, berries, or fruits, until the afternoon. And you can force yourself to drink enough water by placing a bottle or big carafe within reach of your workplace.

Take breaks

Breaks will make you more productive. Especially when you can focus without distractions it’s equally important to take creative breaks. As a developer, I like to challenge the often underused other half of the brain by doing something that sparks more creativity than most of the analytical work that we’re doing. I sometimes play the guitar and got myself an electric piano, not because I’m particularly talented in music, but because of the joy and mental break it gives you. One thing I try to avoid is using my breaks to spend even more time in front of a screen, e.g. on social media, TV, movies, or series. So instead, go out, take a walk, enjoy nature, go for a run, do sports, read a book, practice a language, try meditation, etc. I believe there are tons of inspiring activities that we can pursue.

Schedule your day the day before

If you haven’t done that before while working in an office, you might find it helpful to plan your day according to your tasks and obligations. Being in an environment that might easily distract you with other things to do around the house can put you off easier compared to a corporate office. To stay on track it can help to schedule the day’s timeline, not only with meetings and obligations, but also and especially the times dedicated for specific tasks. I found this very helpful to focus on the next thing at hand and ultimately get more done. Instead of deciding what to do in the morning, I highly recommend to review and plan the next day in the evening, in order to freshly start with the most important thing.

Take a nap

This one needs no explanation. Take advantage of the environment for productivity boosters.

Optimize your workplace

... for what you need. You control your environment so feel free to build the office that you’re the most productive in. It makes a huge difference to have an ergonomic setup with a large, correctly elevated monitor, a good keyboard and mouse, and ideally a standing desk. Instead of sitting the whole day, invest some money in your body and posture and try to stand and move some more. While I haven’t personally tried it out, some friends even recommended getting a treadmill under the desk :-)

Optimize your virtual meeting setup

Get yourself a decent microphone and webcam, and make sure your audio doesn’t feedback, your conversation partners will appreciate it.

And for those cool enough, you might even try a green screen video setup :-)

Make meetings more effective

It makes a huge difference to see each others' faces, at least in the first few minutes of the meeting so you know you’re actually talking to another human being, so turn the camera on. In general, folks, let’s be more respectful of each others' time. It makes meetings more effective to spend the minutes before the scheduled starting time to prepare the agenda, note points and potential questions, prepare the setup, and connect you to a reliable internet (e.g. Ethernet).

I usually avoid being in meetings that have no clear agenda, could be replaced with emails or short posts, or have too many attendees. If you’re forced to attend a meeting that is mostly listen-and-watch, you can optimize the time spent by doing a task that requires little mental energy, such as something around the apartment.

Make communication more effective

It’s easy to be caught into Slack, email, or other forms of communication, especially when we’re remote and trying to stay connected with people. While asynchronous communication facilitates our way of working, it’s also crucial to shut down any notifications and distractions while being focused on a task. Instead of being “always on”, it makes you more productive to connect and check your messages only once per defined timespan, get back to every open question, and then continue working on what you should work on. For most teams and working modes it’s fine to communicate your time windows with your colleagues, how they can reach you and how quickly you will get back to them (e.g. within 60 mins) in case they need you.

Don’t judge yourself

... for your schedule and breaks. Initially, it would feel weird for me to be at home while working and I would judge myself for being “not productive” while quickly going to the kitchen or the toilet. Being in an office makes you feel like you’re “doing your job”, simply because you’re there, regardless whether you’re actually productive or not.

However, when you’re working remotely, even just for a few hours, you’re probably much more productive than when you’re spending a whole day at an distracting office with a lot of colleagues to chat to, background noises, and so on. Don’t feel bad for taking breaks, which will actually make your more productive, and scheduling your time and day accordingly. Distraction-free working time is one of the best we can get as developers.

 

I hope you find these tips helpful and inspiring. However, the arguably most important thing is to see what works for you, do some self-reflection, journaling, and continuous improvement. Everyone works differently in their own way.

 

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All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my employer or colleagues.