Working from Home without Losing Your Mind

I’ve been working from home for a little over two years, and adapting to this new work style has really been a challenge.  Honestly, I don’t think that working from home is always the easiest, or even the best, for everyone.  Before taking a remote position, it is definitely a good idea to consider some factors about your own personality and make sure that you have everything you need. If you are a person that really needs a lot of interruptions (in a good way) and interaction with other people, then maybe working from a Co-Working Space would be better than trying to work from home. Some of the ideas I use to keep productive and active while working from home also apply to co-working, but others may not.

Go To Work

The first thing I recommend when transitioning to working from home, based on my own experience, is to set up a dedicated space to work from.  While this could be a dedicated nook somewhere in the house, I recommend really building yourself an office.  I turned a guest bedroom into a dedicated office for me, and find that to be very helpful.  During my office hours, I’m usually here.  That’s not to say I don’t switch things up from time to time (more on that later), but for the most part I do my work here in the office.

By having a dedicated office I can leave things as they are in the evening and return to work the next morning without having to tear everything down and set it back up.  Before I had my office ready I worked from the kitchen table, and it was a real pain to put everything away every evening before dinner and then get it out every morning.  One of the great perks to working from home is that you don’t have to travel to the office – I prefer to use that extra time to sleep or work out, instead of setting up and tearing down every day.

It’s also important that this space be very comfortable and inviting. For me that means I need to take a few minutes every week to clean things up – dust the bookshelves, empty the trash, and vacuum the floor.  If the space is inviting you will be more apt to go there and be productive. I like to put up photos of me and my friends traveling, as well as some houseplants. Make the space your own, and decorate it with things that make you comfortable and happy.

Find a Work Spouse

It’s really important to keep office relationships real.  If you have no personal connection to your company you will probably not be very productive for them (and they will probably not keep you around). For me it’s more than just the daily stand-up chat – I reach out to my colleagues multiple times per day – sometimes just to share a song from my playlist that I’m really enjoying.  When you are in an office you share music, chat over lunch, go on breaks together, so this social aspect of the company needs to be replaced with something. Don’t be afraid to chat with colleagues – they will probably appreciate having someone to talk to!

That being said, I also think it’s important to travel to the office at least a couple times a year.  I was very fortunate that my company offered me a flight home every quarter.  With the time differences and jet lag I have found the trip to also be very draining – so now I go back about twice a year as I feel that is a better tradeoff schedule based on my own lower productivity while jet lagged.

If your company doesn’t offer this perk, try talking to your supervisor and seeing if they can accommodate some sort of visit schedule.  This time in the office at your company is important not only for you, but also for them as it gives them a chance to get to know you, too.  Obviously this isn’t a reality or benefit if the entire team is remote, but in that case, I would hope that the company either has some pretty aggressive video meetings, or some kind of a company/team retreat where you can get caught up.  Don’t skip these trips as they really help build more cohesion in the team.

Take Lunch

Unless things are really on fire, I generally follow my alarms. For me, I work from 8 to 4 with an hour for lunch, so I have an alarm set for 8am, noon, 1pm, and 4pm.  At lunch time I generally put things down and leave my computer. I think it’s important to get away from the desk and have a little time doing something else.  Most days I simply turn on the news and eat my lunch… sometimes I read a book or listen to music. If the weather allows, I go for a walk with my dog. I definitely try to always get away.

This time away from my computer energizes me and gives me a fresh perspective on my projects.  While I’m concentrating on other things I sometimes have AHA moments about the things I’m working on.  Furthermore, due specifically to my own personality, I am eceedingly more productive on afternoons when I have taken a good break for lunch.  If I stay at the desk to finish something super important, I generally get less accomplished in the afternoon.

Mix Things Up

When I worked in the office there were new things happening every day, but sometimes these small changes go unnoticed until they cease to exist.  The random box of donuts or the company picnic are important parts of company life, too.  These little things make coming to work fun and interesting. When you work from home, however, it’s usually impossible to partake.  You see the random email about donuts in the kitchen, but you can’t have any…  or the happy hour that you can’t go to. I think it’s important to have a little bit of a variety in your day.

For me this can mean a couple of different things.  Sometimes when I go to lunch I take my laptop, and then stay through the afternoon (as long as I don’t have any meetings that need video conferencing scheduled).  At first I tried to schedule these for specific days, but later I realized that for me it’s more the variety that matters and how I’m feeling that day than some number of days in or out of the house.  If I’m dying to get out of the house I visit a cafe and work there.  If I’m in the cafe and trying to concentrate, but am too distracted, I head back home.  Regardless, going to the cafe and getting out when I need to re-invigorates me!

Another tool I find useful when I need an interruption to help me process something in the background is to play some coding games.  As long as you’re not using them for hours while you’re supposed to be working, they are making you a better programmer, and can be that random thing that helps you solve a problem that otherwise had you staring blankly at your screen! If I’m staring blankly for more than five minutes, I head over to code wars or kata, and solve a simple problem.  After 2 or 3 minutes doing that I come back to the real work I need to do and usually have some fresh ideas.  If that doesn’t work I try calling a fellow programmer on my team and talking through the problem. Often just talking through it helps me see what I’m missing and get some fresh ideas for a solution.

Honestly I have considered working in a co-working space multiple times due to my personality and my need to interact with people, but over the last two years I’ve found that paying attention to these details has allowed me to thrive in the environment and enjoy working from home. I don’t intend this article to be exhaustive or all encompassing.  Who knows – I might have a totally different perspective on these things in another year. Rather I hope ideas will spark you to think of some simple ways to learn to thrive in a remote position.

What things do you do to help with these difficulties? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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