Working From Home

May 18, 2020

For the last 3 months, I’ve been working from home full time. Like for many others, it has been a real struggle at times and has forced me to admit that I am not as disciplined as I was hoping. Some things you can control yourself, and some you cannot. If my neighbor is reading this, please learn some new songs with your accordion!

When the pandemic started and I started working from home, I didn’t have a desk or a dedicated area for work, and I suffered. I worked from the couch, the floor, the bar table in the kitchen.... none of them worked. And there are two main reasons why.

Ergonomics

My body was getting destroyed working in these weird positions and after a couple of weeks, I would need to spend half of my days stretching just not to be blinded by pain. It’s fair to say a disclaimer here: my body has its issues on the best of days, my knees ache, my back is tight and I can barely touch my toes. The starting point is not great but the quarantine was not helping. Ergonomics is the science of making things comfy. To read more about it, check out this article. Or if you want to setup your desk, read this.

Me on a particularly long meeting

Structure

Our brains need structure and routines to be efficient. When I didn't have a dedicated workspace, I had to keep moving into different spots every day to keep my body limber. But the problem was that my brain did not have the structure it needed. So I ordered a desk, chair and a monitor. I decided to get my workplace set up right! This was a easy decision for me, since I had wanted a dedicated place to work at home for a while. I ordered an ultra wide Samsung monitor, which will also charge my MacBook with the USB-C it uses to connect. That was the big feature I wanted, less cords and clutter on my desk.

If you have the room, I’d recommend and electric desk. I didn’t get one, because I couldn’t find one that I liked the look of. That’s why I went with this IKEA Kullaberg desk and the Kullaberg chair that goes with it. Now this is where I spend my days working.

My workspace

I get that some people live in small apartments and don’t have the room (or the money) to make a dedicated work space for themselves. This is where my second tip comes in: make routines. If you have read any number of self help books, you have heard about the power of routines. If you haven’t, I recommend reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, it has great tips on how you can build habits that last.

My choice of building habits to be more productive while working from home: a solid morning routine. I experimented with a lot of different things last year and the beginning of this one, but now I have settled on a solid one for me:

  • Wake up - no screens in bed
  • A big glass of water and my pills
  • Coffee - I like to make mine using the V60. Something about making pour over coffee is therapeutic and calming
  • Journaling - 5-15 minutes of free form writing. No judging, just getting those ideas and thoughts on paper.
  • Planning - a to-do list for the day in my bullet journal. To read more about my bullet journal setup, you can read this blog post (and on Medium).
  • Meditation - 10-30 minutes. I know a lot of people think meditation is some spiritual rabbit hole they don’t want to get into, but there are plenty of studies on the effects of meditation and mindfulness.

This routine takes me about an hour in the morning, which I think is the perfect amount. It’s a calm wake up with some time to be by myself and gather my thoughts before starting to work.

When working, I use focus sprints. Focus sprints are a method of allocating a specific amount of time to work, followed by a break. It’s easy for me to waste hours kinda working. I get distracted easily and that means I won’t be focusing a 100% on the task at hand. That’s where my bullet journal to-do list and focus sprints come in. I set a timer for the time I think the task will take. I have the timer visible on my desk and I will work on the task for that time, if I don’t get it done in the estimate, I note that and refine my estimate. This allows me to be better at estimating how much time I need for certain tasks. This also means I won’t take to many or too little tasks.

For me accountability is a big thing and that’s where Forest app comes in. When you set a timer in Forest, you are planting a virtual tree. If for some reason you pick up your phone and leave the app during that timer, the tree will die. If you are successful, your forest will have a new healthy tree. If you are not, there will be a dead one in there. Using the app keeps me accountable on actually focusing during my focus sprints... and not scrolling through Instagram or Twitter.

Emails

For some reason a lot of people think emails etc needs to be answered immediately, in most cases not true. Think about the emails you send every day. Do you expect an answer straight away? Or during that day? Or some point next week? We put extra emphasis on things that don’t matter. If you get a lot of emails and need to reply to them, I’d suggest allocating time for them. Monday’s and Fridays, from 10am to 11am. If you think people might be suffering because they are waiting for an answer, put an automatic response communicating that you only reply to emails during those times, now people will know what to expect and you have more time to work on things that matter. There’s a difference in being productive and being busy. Work smarter, not harder.

There’s one more thing you should do every day. There should be a clear start and end to your workdays. This is a big thing for a lot of people, especially when working home home. You want your brain to be able to relax after work and to be focused during your work hours. A simplest way to trick your brain to do this is to say out loud “work starts now” at the beginning of the day and “time to stop working” at the end. Might sound stupid, but it’s the routine that matters. Your brain will learn the association and it will make your days a lot better.

I hope these tips help you! If you have any questions, tweet at me.

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