So you're working from home: a primer, part 1

PUBLISHED ON 2020-03-09 — PRODUCTIVITY

With so many people suddenly working remotely, I thought I’d share some tips that I’ve learned over the years as I’ve worked from home. As many are discovering, it’s not just a matter of opening up your laptop on your couch and getting to work. There are lots of distractions and differences – some subtle, some not – when working from home.

Getting ready and winding down

If you’ve been working from an office primarily, you probably have a commute. However stressful or relaxing it might be, it’s a period of transition. You’re gearing up for work or mentally setting it aside. I’ve learned that I can’t just stop working for the day and dive into “home mode;” if I do, my partner gets work-me instead of partner-me.

Try to build a “commute” into your day. This could take many forms:

  • Chat with your partner
  • Make yourself a longer breakfast (news reading as you see fit)
  • Take the dog/iguana/cat/self for a walk
  • Do some light straightening/cleaning up
  • Write an email to a friend

This puts some time in between work and the rest of the day, giving your brain the mental buffer that it needs to prepare or relax.

Preparing your space

I am lucky enough to have a room that I’ve made into an office, but I realize that this isn’t an option for everyone. Wherever you choose to work, make it your space for work. This might mean setting up a monitor, or putting your notebook, whiteboard, fidget toy, and chapstick nearby.

If you do have a desk, lay it out as close to your office desk as you can. Keep it as clean (or messy) as your office desk usually is. Take some time to check your ergonomics; you’re going to be here for some time, not just nights and weekends. Things that don’t annoy you in the off time will suddenly become intolerable during working hours, so try to anticipate them in advance so you can fix them.

Getting down to work

Working from home requires a bit more discipline than working in an office. Everything that you like to do in your off time is now at your fingertips! So that means there are lots of – ooh, shiny object! That would look great on my side ta – distractions. Your brain will still be putting together grocery lists, brainstorming ideas for dates, and thinking about the last episode of <insert favorite TV show here>.

In addition to preparing the space you’ll be working in, get into a ritual of setting things down. Physically put away your tablet, turn off or suspend your gaming rig, clear your work space of non-work stuff. If something is still nagging at you, get it done and set it down. With the example of a grocery list, round it out on your phone or notebook and then set those behind you.

Keep yourself accountable. Each day, in your team’s Slack/chat/IRC, say what you’re aiming to accomplish. This is your work version of a gym buddy. Or, you can ask someone on your team to be your work buddy, and you can keep each other accountable. Introvert? Make a checklist instead, and check off those items (preferably with a flourish, but you do you).

That’s part 1! In part 2, I’ll talk about collaboration and productive meetings.

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