Last week I shared with you 5 productivity tips for working from home. I hope you didn’t take them too seriously. Who doesn’t need some laugh especially in difficult times?
Now let me share what I really consider good ideas for working from home. Or just for working. Or just for being from home. Special thanks to a former colleague who asked me if I have some good advice for him now that he started to work fully remotely.
Have a plan!
I’m not really motivated by my surroundings but my goals. I know how it sounds. But think about it. If you sit down in front of the computer and start to work because you want to achieve something, it’s so much different from sitting down and work because your boss might pass by and catch you playing the good old snake all day. Do you think it’s boring? I saw people doing that!
Of course, you cannot stay motivated all the time. There are ups and downs. If you rely on motivation to sustain your productivity, you’ll fail. You need discipline. You need systems.
I always keep a moderately refined task list. Having that list I know from what I can choose if I need to pick a new task. They have tasks of different kinds (building a presentation, coding, tooling, documenting), so I can even choose a bit based on my mood, based on the time I have available.
At the same time, I have an accountability partner. You can read more about it here.
In practice, it means that each evening I set 3 goals for the next day, and at the same time of setting the goals, I report back whether I succeeded with the previous ones or not. It’s just human nature that you want to succeed, you don’t want to lose face, you don’t want to lose the momentum you built.
Have a dedicated office at home
Some of us have small homes, some even smaller. It’s not always easy to find a good place in an apartment that was not furnished, not designed for accommodating one or two offices apart from you and your family in case you don’t live alone.
Introducing a dedicated corner might require some sacrifice, it might even induce a conflict as I referred to it last week. Yet, I tell you to just do it. Create a dedicated office for yourself and equip it with all you really need.
We all have our limits, but considering our means, don’t be cheap on your setup. I postponed buying a proper chair and a desk for months because I thought I’d have to return to the office soon anyway. My back started to hurt. I bought a quite simple chair from Amazon for about 90 Euros and the smallest desk from IKEA and it’s just great. (I already had the screen and the necessary accessories from the office)
Many people say that when you’re working remotely, working from the same place helps to draw a line between work and personal life. We all know that that line can be somewhat blurry.
I have my time management system that prevents me from overwork, but I admit that for many devs a dedicated home office can help to find a healthy balance. I’m convinced that such a healthy balance is essential for productivity.
Yet, to me, a well set up home office is about something even more important than productivity. It’s about health.
Leave longer slots for free for deep work
Last week, I suggested spanning out meetings all week long so that you have some time to calm down and there are no days with too many meetings. I think it’s not an awful idea per se, it has its own rationals. But it has serious implications. If you let a meeting sneak into each morning and each afternoon you won’t even have half a day to carve for deep work.
You won’t have any time to do the deep work you’re paid for.
Hence my advice is to try to batch your meetings and leave some half days free. Usually on Monday after 3 pm I have no meetings and I try to keep the whole Tuesday afternoon free. Sometimes I can even get Friday mornings for myself, but that’s rare.
It means that my Wednesdays and Thursday are packed with meetings. Some of them are even useful and joyous - I like mentoring and one-on-ones with my manager.
By the end of those days, I sometimes feel that it’d be better to actually span those meetings our for the whole weeks and I don’t want to hear any human voice in the evening. Not even my family, not even music with vocals. I try not to show it though. My wife and kids have nothing to do with the endless meetings.
But I know that it’s worth it. Those tiring days give me the possibility to have extra-productive days or at least half-days when I let nobody stop me from reaching a state of flow.
But it needs some extra setup.
Limit your interruptions
Meeting-free slots are worth exactly nothing in case you cannot use them well. One of the main reasons for not being able to benefit from them is constant interruptions.
Notifications from Twitter, the messenger going wild because your wife sends pictures of the kids playing on the beach (thank you!), incoming mails from the tax office and from long-time-no-see friends!
A ticket notifier, a new mail about the weekly timesheet, a colleague checking in without telling what he needs even though your status is nohello.com, then all the notifications from the company instant messaging system.
How to deal with them? How to stay productive?
Mute all these notification, better to say disturbing interruptions. Turn on the do not disturb mode everywhere you can.
The world is not going to collapse. And if it still does, it’s not because of your break from notifications. You cannot be THAT important.
Of course, it’s nice if your colleagues know about your productivity habits. They should understand that you’re not avoiding them, you’re not avoiding work, you’re actually trying to be productive and deliver important features.
A good way of handling sustained productivity and urgent(ish) matters is using the pomodoro technique. Work for a given period of time closing out all the interruptions - usually 25 minutes, but it can also be the double - and then take a few minutes to walk a few steps, stretch a bit and check if there is anything urgent on the different channels that requires you right now, right there.
Giving yourself uninterrupted time and work deep on complex topics will skyrocket your productivity and if communicated right it might change your colleagues’ working habits too. You won’t even become more productive but you’ll become a force multiplier!
Eat and drink healthily
Is this really a tip for productivity? Hell yeah! What did I tell about that abundant lunch that induced a food coma?
Avoid that. Of course, you have to eat, but better to eat smaller portions. I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, also if you practice OMAD, ignore my words. I simply speak out of my experience. Have a decent lunch, I don’t even say a light one, but don’t overeat.
Don’t stay hungry for too long times because you’ll think about nothing but eating. That’s not the recipe for productive work or fruitful meetings. Leave your intermittent fasting for the night and the morning.
What works for me is 5 meals a day. I have some muesli or a small sandwich for breakfast around 7 AM, a yoghurt around 10 AM, I have a hot meal for lunch at noon. Around 3 o’clock I eat some fruits and usually take a sandwich for dinner around half past 6.
Before we introduced the yoghurt and the fruits into our daily schedule with my wife, we had bigger portions and by the lunch or dinner, we were starving. (Of course, we were not REALLY starving…)
With our new “diet” we both became more productive and we lost weight.
One thing to keep in mind is the quality of food. I don’t think everyone should eat bio or organic food, it’s simply not sustainable. But we should avoid overly processed food. We should prepare simple yet delicious meals for ourselves instead of eating canned or frozen food. If I could learn a bit of cooking, anyone can.
What about drinks? Getting into work with a hangover is not fun. That’s what my friends told me… But that’s not what I wanted to share.
Drink enough water.
Humans often mix up the feelings of hunger and thirst. Instead of taking a snack, drink a cup of water. Most probably your lack of comfort will go away.
I don’t want to summarize different studies about the benefits of drinking enough water, but here is one, if you want to read more about it.
What I do want to share is something else. If you drink more, you know, you’ll have to let the water go. And while I wrote last week that it hurts your productivity, it’s actually not true. It helps you in different ways.
You’ll have to go out more frequently, so you’ll take more breaks and that’s good for your back, that little movement will help you stay more healthy.
Besides, often when you stuck all you need to do is to give it a break. Stand up, walk away and the solution will come soon.
Thank you water.
I drink both tea and coffee. I’ll not protest against them. But just a couple of days ago I realized that when I drink my morning coffee without my wife, it’s a bit too much. If I drink alone the whole content of our french press, I might end up in a state that is far from productive.
Drink caffeine with moderation.
Coke et al? I don’t even waste time writing about them…
Being productive, keeping our physical and mental health while working from home is not rocket science. All we need to do is making some decisions and respect them. Invest some money to set up an office for yourself, make sure that you have uninterrupted periods of time to reach a state of flow and achieve your plans. Also, learn a bit of cooking, it will never hurt you and will make you more healthy and sexy. Whether you are a gal or a guy.
How do you keep being productive from home? Let me know in the comments section.