It's these recommendations, and there are dirty dishes in the sink. There's a load of laundry at the foot of my bed waiting to be done. If I got my grill cleaned up while it's warm out today, I'd be able to use it this weekend! Did I check the mail today? I haven't heard the cat make any noises in a while. That's probably not a good sign. My partner really wants me to watch this funny segment from Colbert last night, which reminds me I'm a few episodes behind on Black Lightning. My kids will be home soon. I need to get them to clean their rooms today. Gotta remember to take my bike to this shop tonight for its first tune-up. Wait, what was I doing today?
Oh right, I'm working from home today.
Sound familiar? This is not a unique problem. You aren't alone, not by a long shot. Lots of people struggle with working from home in a way that allows them to focus and feel productive during the entire work day. On the other hand, some people have the opposite problem; they just don't stop working and suddenly it's 2am.
Working from home can introduce some terrible behaviors into our lives, but there are a few things you can do to help. While a lot of what I'm about to suggest ultimately comes down to good ol' fashioned willpower, thinking about the problem and planning for solutions is a huge step in that direction.
Step One: Schedules and boundaries
You need some physical, mental, and emotional boundaries separating work and home. It's important for you to have a way to feel like you're "at work" when you're working. For me, it starts with basic self care things. Take a shower, brush my teeth, get dressed in clothes I'd go to work in, all of the normal things people before going into a physical office. Whether you permanently work from home or you're only there occasionally, that basic start to your day makes a significant difference in how you feel about getting ready to work.
Though this next suggestion isn't something everyone can do, having a physical barrier between you and the rest of your life makes a huge difference in your home office. This doesn't mean a totally separate room that is only for work, although that does help. It's a good idea to have a physical space you can leave when you're done with work and not feel compelled to return to until the next time you are "going to work."
Being able to physically shut a door and "leave" work is the best representation of this. The biggest thing to avoid when creating this separation is drawing a line between the office and family space . If you sit on the couch with your laptop all day and work, and stay in the same spot to play a game or watch a movie with family, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate work and home. You start becoming more comfortable with picking that laptop back up to "check on something at work real quick" and that line completely dissolves. Avoid this above all else, if you can.
Everything starts and ends with boundaries. Once you figure out how to establish that work/home balance on your schedule, those boundaries start to make a lot of sense.
Leaving work is so important, especially when you work from home. My company is 100% remote, with people all over the globe working in wildly different time zones. It's not unheard of for me to get messages at 5am from some of my European colleagues, or 10pm from the folks who are working late in California. It's great to be available when it makes sense, but you need to be able to disconnect when you're not at work.
Turn off notifications for work chat apps when you're not at your desk, set work emails to only sync to your phone during work hours, and make sure you have a Status bar somewhere for people you work with to clearly see you are not at your desk. It makes a huge difference in staying present in what you're doing at home.
You also need to create boundaries with the people you share a home with. The people in your life need to understand you're actually at work and need to behave accordingly. That means no dropping in for a quick conversation or coming to get your help with something in the house. They need to treat you like you're not there, because mentally you're not.
Every time you're distracted by something at home, you have to spend time refocusing back to that "work mode" to complete a task. My family can see me at my desk and message me if they need me, but know not to come into my office space unless it's an emergency. They can talk to me when I leave that space for a break and this system works really well.
Everything starts and ends with boundaries. Once you establish that work/home balance on your schedule, those boundaries start to make a lot of sense. Overtime, it becomes easy to tweak them to suit your needs.
Step Two: Self Care
When I first put my home office together, I did so on the tightest budget I could manage. I grabbed the cheapest office chair, whatever headphones looked good, and the biggest desk I could get from Craigslist. Caffeine came in any form I could get it, and I ate whatever was in front of me when I had time.
It turns out literally all of this was a mistake, and with a little more careful planning and consideration for myself I would have been able to work from home with a lot more enjoyment and comfort. It's weird how often things like "take care of yourself" turn into a full time job when you're doing something like working from home, but it's important.
If you get all of your best work done with music playing like I do, you should have something better than the cheapest headphones out there. And if you're going to be sitting in a chair for a minimum of 160 hours every month, you should be using something comfortable -- not actively contributing to back problems.
Modway Articulate Ergonomic Mesh Office Chair
Simple and comfortable
Modway's Mesh chair is simple, breathable, and offers a lot of flexibility for making it fit you just right. And it comes in a bunch of different colors, so you know you're getting something that matches your space.
And a amazing price
This may not be a brand you've ever heard of, but the audio quality from Audio Technica is unmatched. Every set of headphones this company makes regularly competes with things way more expensive than you can get these. The M40x is a fantastic mid-range set of headphones that will feel comfortable all day and sound great the whole time.
Recommending desks is a lot more challenging. You want something that actually fits your space. Measure out where you want a desk to go, and make sure you've got a little bit of room on either side to add some storage. Getting a huge desk often means you're going to fill it with things you don't need and spend a bunch of time at the end of each week cleaning it off. Focus on what absolutely needs to be on your desk, and don't give yourself too much extra room to mess around. You'll be pretty happy with what you've got for a long time.
Take care of yourself, and you'll both feel better and work better.
The other hugely important thing to do when you're working from home is to be careful about what you eat. It's super easy to just pour a second (or third 😬) bowl of cereal and keep working, but that's not even close to good for you. Meal planning for the week is an easy way to prep yourself and stay healthy. It solves a reliance on fast food or junk food, though, realistically, repetition isn't always something everyone can commit to. And if you're like me and love being in the kitchen, there's a desire to really have fun with your food each night.
A huge solution for me was investing in an Instant Pot. Lots of people on the internet crow about how life-altering this gadget is. While I appreciate the multi-function capabilities of this particular gadget, it's not magic. But it is a solid slow cooker when I want to toss a few ingredients in a pot and have a meal ready at the end of the day, or when I want to make rice or hard-boil eggs to go with that meal. I can just swap out the inner container and have a full meal ready in what feels like minutes.
Cooking with a single device makes clean up a lot easier. Bonus, there are thousands of amazing recipes for the Instant Pot online, so there's never a shortage of ideas for me to look at.
Instant Pot 6qt
One device for everything
It's like a pressure cooker with microwave buttons. You can do a lot more with a single thing in your kitchen with a very simple tool. Combined with the impressive wealth of recipes on the internet, there's basically nothing you can't cook in this thing.
Again, the core of these recommendations is to find a version that works for you that doesn't involve hitting up 7/11 for three Go Go Taquitos for you to consume on your couch while trying to listen to your favorite album through the shitty earbuds that came with your iPhone every day. Take care of yourself, and you'll both feel better and work better.
Step Three: Get out of the house every once in a while
Sometimes the best part of working from home is not being home, and what that means for you is all about your personal preference. I love getting on my bike and riding to the harbor so I can write at a pier on the water. Android Central's Ara Wagoner spends many afternoons with her Chromebook in the middle of a Disney theme park. She just finds a nice place to sit, and writes or edits while enjoying the crowds. Several of my other colleagues love their favorite spot at the local coffee shop or bar, just to get out of the house.
For those of us who work at home full time, it's easy to go a week and realize you haven't left the house at all. Finding excuses to leave the house ends up being a big deal in that environment, but even people who occasionally work remotely can benefit from that change of venue. It's a small thing, and if you're not careful can end in accidentally spending a little more on Starbucks than you intended in a week, but can be enormously beneficial in keeping you from getting burned out at work or at home.
The right tech for working from home
A lot of my work happens in a web browser, which for a long time led me to believe I could basically do my job from anywhere on anything. It took me a long time to realize how wrong I was, and how much having the right tools really helped make me more comfortable and productive.
Over time, I developed a fairly simple "go bag" of stuff I rely on no matter where I am and started paying closer attention to the equipment I had around me. Everyone's needs are a little different, but here's what I bring with me just about everywhere.
A killer monitor
Treat your eyes right
A great monitor makes all the difference in the world. Good color calibration, nice crisp lines, and some additional features don't hurt either. Dell's high end USB-C monitor connects to basically everything, and does a great job. If you want a larger screen for a MacBook or just a solid single 4K display to ditch your two lesser displays, this is more that worth the money and will last a while.
There really is no substitute for a good monitor, especially if you're at your desk all day every day. Our friends at iMore have a great list of amazing 4K monitors if this one doesn't quite fit your needs.
I'm a Mac guy at my desk, but when I'm on the go nothing beats my Surface Go. It's so impossibly light and thin and compact, I can put it in anything and take it anywhere. I've even put it in the back of my cycling jersey and rode my bike to a park a couple of miles away to work for a while. It's a uniquely great machine for my needs, and as I've shared on WindowsCentral it gets a ton of respect around town.
I video chat, podcast, and record voice-overs for a bunch of different projects. I use a single microphone for everything, tweaked slightly for each thing. The Blue Yeti is a champion USB microphone with settings for just about every situation, and I can't recommend it strongly enough.
All of this comes down to making sure you enjoy what you're doing wherever you are. None of this is complicated, but taking these small steps together keeps you from being entirely miserable when you're working from home.
And seriously, take care of yourself.
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