How to Work From Home Without Losing Your Mind
(You can read the original article on Medium here)
I’ve been working from home since late July of 2015- so about 3 years now. By this point, I feel pretty qualified to give some advice on how not to lose your mind when you work from home. Working remotely certainly requires a unique skillset and stronger work ethic than what most are used to.
I think remote work is best when everyone on the team is also remote, or if you’re alone doing freelance. In my previous job, I was the only designer working remotely, and it was very easy to feel left out. It often felt like a burden to ask the others to set up a video call for me when everyone else was local. But in my current job as an Adobe Creative Resident, all of the other residents also remote, which has made such a huge difference!
The amount of remote workers are ever-increasing as advancements in technology make it possible. Whether you’re just starting out on your own, or you need a refresher, hopefully everyone can benefit from these tips!
Get Ready Like You’re Going Into an Office
First and foremost, I think the thing that’s helped me stay productive the most is getting ready like I’m going into an office. Every. Single. Day. For me, that means actually getting out of my pajamas and putting on some nice-ish clothes. No way am I going to wear a button up and khakis, but anything other than athleisure. I also always put on makeup. You never know when a video call, conference, or networking opportunity might pop up, and I want to be ready. If I don’t put on makeup, I know it’s going to be an unproductive day.
Set Up a Professional Workstation
Sure, you can work from your bed, but having a real, legit workspace that you love makes a huge difference in productivity. Aside from appearing more professional during video calls, having the right aesthetic for yourself improves your ability to focus.
My setup in my old apartment was a nightmare. I had less space there, so for awhile I kept my desk in my bedroom, which looked very unprofessional and was too cramped. I ended up getting a cheap desk from Ikea and working in my living room. I would bring it out each morning, and put it away after work each day since there wasn’t much room. It was a terrible routine.
Now, my current apartment is a 1-bedroom with an open floorplan and a bit more space (not much though!). I keep my desk in my living room since I don’t have a separate room for an office, and it’s been working out perfectly. If you’re considering moving, make sure the room where your desk will be has plenty of space. If your room feels cramped, your mind will too.
Investing in a nice setup, particularly a nice desk, really motivated me to make better work. It should be something that’s sturdy and solid so you can arrange all of your monitors, laptops, chargers, etc on it, knowing that they’re safe. If you’re like me and your job requires you to sit all day, invest in a good chair. I was more focused on aesthetics when I was purchasing mine, and my chair isn’t cutting it. Make sure your chair is comfortable enough that you can sit in it for long periods of time. Honestly, I wish desk chairs were as heavily marketed as mattresses are, because they’re pretty much the same! Also make sure that the armrests aren’t too high (or are adjustable), so it can roll under your desk. Mine currently can’t so it sticks out pretty far, which is a bit annoying.
Think about what you’ll be doing most days. Will you be video conferencing? If so, put your desk in a professional-looking space that isn’t too noisy. Make sure your desk and surrounding area is uncluttered, not only so others don’t think you’re a slob, but also so that it won’t distract you while you work.
Other important items are noise-cancelling headphones (also perfect for planes), a widescreen monitor to hook my laptop up to, and plenty of chargers. Since I do move around during the day, I keep a few chargers in each work station. And while I wear nice clothes while I’m working, I never wear shoes. So getting some comfy slippers is a must!
I linked all of the items I use at my workstation down below in case you want to find exactly what I have. Not in any way an ad; just thought it might be useful!
Change up your Location
This one has been a surprising realization for me, because I initially thought that once I had my “perfect” workstation, then productivity would inevitably follow. A nice desk certainly helped, but wasn’t a complete solution. Instead, what has really helped me is moving around from time to time. This way I don’t feel too stagnated and get burned out. I usually change locations a few times throughout the day. Generally first thing in the morning, I’ll work in the living room to check emails and such while I eat breakfast. I never work in my bedroom first thing, because I’ve already been sleeping there all night. Some different areas that I usually work in are:
my main “workhorse” desk
a super cheap Ikea desk that I can throw together or put away anytime in my bedroom
my couch or chairs in the living room
my tiny balcony outside
some barstools at my kitchen island (that are on the way)
communal areas in my apartment like the pool deck, terrace, or lounge room. I try to avoid my bed because I always get sleepy very quickly when I work there. But some days it happens!
Get a Pet
This one is optional, but having a little buddy sitting beside me all day is simply the best! Not only does a cat help fight loneliness, but it’s also good to force you to get up and take care of someone other than yourself. As a bonus, I like to take my cat on walks throughout the apartment complex- but that’s just me! Having someone to talk to other than myself, even if it’s not a human, helps keep me sane.
Set a Routine and Plan Your Day
Distractions are sometimes inevitable, but I’ve gotten pretty good at doing my best to avoid them. A super important part of staying on-track is to write down a routine for yourself. For me, I always get up at the same time, eat breakfast, take a shower, change out of my pajamas, and write my to-do list. Just like I would if I was going into an office. One very helpful thing that I learned from the book ‘Don’t Read this Book’ is to focus on only 3 main things that you need to get done that day. The rest can be added under the “to-don’t” list- things that can get done, but only AFTER you’ve completed your 3 main items. This makes sure your list is reasonable, because a lot of times having a huge list is overwhelming and you can lose track of which are the most important items.
Know When You’ve Hit a Wall
When I realize that I’m having a hard time working and I can’t concentrate, I’ll step back and take a break. A break for me might be sitting out on the balcony while eating a snack, playing with my cat, turning up some music and relaxing, browsing my phone or watching some Youtube. It’s important to recognize when you’re not moving forward and take a moment away from your work so that you can come back refreshed and see the problem with a clear head.
Plan Your Breaks
I use an app called ‘Be Focused’ which forces me to work in timed increments with breaks. But you can find any old Pomodoro app and it serve the same purpose. Some days I use the Pomodoro app all day and take small breaks incrementally, but other days I really need to churn out work in longer chunks of time. Regardless of the day, I always make sure to stop for lunch. This helps make a clear distinction between morning and afternoon, so I can sit back and analyze the progress I’ve made.
Write Down Everything
This isn’t really a working-from-home tip, but more of a general working tip. I’m pretty meticulous about the notes I take. I can be a forgetful person, so every single time I have a meeting, I write down bullet points about what we talked about, and what I need to follow up on. I’ve tried a TON of various note-taking apps, but I actually went back to Apple Notes because it’s simply the best at syncing cross-platform. I have 50+ different folders and subfolders in the notes sidebar, but the deepest I go is 3 folders otherwise it’s just not helpful. I even use emojis in the folder titles to help certain ones stand out. Let me know if you’d find it helpful to see a separate article on how I organize my notes!
Have a Virtual Water Cooler
Yeah, working from home has amazing perks like less distractions, but it can get lonely! Sometimes I can go a whole day without talking to anyone. Having a set group of people that you talk to regularly online each day helps combat that. Most of my friends in St. Louis have office jobs, so I can’t work with them in person. I try to get out of the house at least once each day. Even if I don’t have plans, I’ll make a point to go to the grocery store or run another errand.
Being very intentional about making plans and taking opportunities to get out and meet up with people is part of working from home that no one mentions. When I start to feel isolated, it’s as simple as planning a dinner or sending a friend a text. Or I’ll work at a coffee shop or a library for a few hours.
For me though, the difference in not feeling lonely has been finding work that I truly enjoy. When I’m pouring my heart into something that I love all day, I now rarely think about how I’m alone! You can also join a ‘virtual water cooler’ like a slack community. There are hundreds of different slack communities, and someone even made a list of them! Here it is if you want to check it out: https://blog.standuply.com/the-ultimate-list-of-400-slack-communities-2a7f3954f1d3.
I hope those tips helped! Let me know in the comments if you also work from home and have tried any of these tips or have other suggestions. And if you want to join me on the rest of my residency journey this year, follow me on my other socials below!
Links to my products:
My desk: Pottery Barn “Hendrix” desk (Looks like they’re out of the large one, but here’s the small one instead) https://www.potterybarn.com/products/hendrix-small-smart-technology-desk/?pkey=e%7Chendrix%7C9%7Cbest%7C0%7C1%7C48%7C%7C3&cm_src=PRODUCTSEARCH
My chair: “Helvetica” Leather Office Chair https://www.westelm.com/products/helvetica-leather-office-chair-h912/?pkey=coffice-chairs&isx=0.0.307
My headphones: Bose noise-cancelling headphones. I got these for free when I worked at HP, and Bose doesn’t sell this particular kind anymore, but I think these are them: https://www.amazon.com/Bose-QuietComfort-Acoustic-Cancelling-Headphones/dp/B00M1NEUKK/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1531856643&sr=8-4&keywords=bose+noise-cancelling+headphones&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER
My monitor: LG 34-inch widescreen https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1224171-REG/lg_34uc98_w_34_widescreen_led.html?ap=y&gclid=CjwKCAjwp7baBRBIEiwAPtjwxA98Jl6KBjYGuA3tiwJhjFn47C-NpfmtAWKYbZDgRLNjZ1ZtlMviihoCLkoQAvD_BwE&smp=y