June 5, 2019

Pajamas are for pros

Personal tips for remote workers

👉 You just got a new job — congrats!— and you can choose when and where to work at least two days a week.

👉 You are the new manager of a remote team. You had done this job before but only in person.

👉 You are freelancing, the next project is for a company in your city and they are open to have meetings using a video calls.

👉 You are now in a different time zone than your coworkers. You are used to talk with a lot of people daily.

There are a thousand configurations of remote jobs, mostly because we are creating them on the fly. Our needs are changing and Internet is helping us being creative with our schedules. How can you avoid becoming a serial procrastinator?

Routine is a remoter’s best friend

Think of yourself as Pavlov’s dog, and train your brain to follow some simple routines. Creating new habits or modifying old ones isn’t easy. Try to include new routines little by little to not overwhelm yourself. It takes time to readjust but it can be done.

Being a scientific-method-holic, I tried different routines to measure my productivity as a remote worker.

These are my routines, why I follow them, and how details have impacted my productivity and personal-professional balance.

Pajamas are for pros 👖

When you wake up, make sure you’ve really woken up.

I know working in your pajamas is tempting, but you risk accumulating a list of lazy new habits, which can be counterproductive for your daily work and your personal life. Find your own waking up routine. From my experience, a shower and a change of clothes set your brain in motion for the day.

It also comes in handy to be prepared for a video call.

If it’s your first time working from home, try following your commuter routine except for the commuting part. You’ll have the cozy feeling you don’t need to waste time on the road anymore.

Stopping to work is harder than getting started ⏰

This is a special call for those who live alone and don’t have a real world schedule reference, or those who had easily fallen in the when-did-it-get-so-dark-in-the-room wormhole.

When you work from home you can be working for hours. When your only distractions are your own, you get focused and you can forget everything else. Some of my friends get so focused they skip meals.

It’s OK to work overtime once in a while before a deadline. Add a little real life event here and there so you don’t forget about it. A good habit is setting a schedule — and an alarm, if you need it — and following it, which also helps your remote reliability.

Don’t forget to rest 💤

When you work from home you get tired differently than when you work in an office. You lose your energy slower and you can change your resting habits, even not getting enough holidays.

Your usual red alerts are different now. For example, if you see yourself being lazier than usual you can change your schedule to start an hour later and solve that for a while.

I’ve been in this situation and realized it when I was already burnt out. As a freelance if I say not now to a project I risk losing it. So at some point I chained project after project for two years and a half with no more than a couple of long weekends off.

Different locations for different activities 🍜

Establish a different location for work and for everything else. Physically separate your work space.

The ideal scenario is to have a room just for work, where you are only during work hours. But space constraints can make your home office a table and a chair, or just a chair.

No matter where I am, at home, a hotel, a friend’s house, an office, I never eat in the same space I work. Having lunch is my resting time, everyone needs a break, it’s better to make it a habit. Even changing the chair arrangement — literally having a new perspective— helps your brain rest for a while. Taking physical distance while having lunch helps you focus on your job after lunch. It’s a win-win situation.

Find personal music-mindset patterns 🎶

You can trigger a certain mindset with sound. Remember Pavlov’s dog and apply it to music. These are my focusing levels:

  1. Everyday tasks = Random music I listen to music while working. With everyday tasks I don’t need to listen to anything in particular. By trial and error, this is where I discover good focusing music for the other focusing levels.
  2. Kind of difficult task = One playlist I tend to listen to one album in loop. For six months it has been Solange’s, and now I’m in a Janelle Monáe phase. I discovered both while listening to random music, and they have helped me feel in a mental comfort zone to relax when solving difficult tasks. This is the equivalent of having a soup when you feel a little under the weather.
  3. Deadline is yesterday = One song or silence I have a playlist with a single song to play in loop. Yes, it’s crazy but it works for me. I’ve been listening to that song in loop to focus since I heard it in a Fringe episode. I also use silence as a concentration tool, but I need to be using my headphones to isolate myself.

The lamp trick 💡

A while ago I had a tiny apartment in the middle of a big city. It was less bright than I would have liked, but it was the first time I lived alone and I loved it. I worked at the tiniest table with a 50s lamp on it. The table was in the shadows and I used the lamp to see further than my screen reflection. Every time I seated to work I turned on the light. After a while, I had sleeping problems and turning on the light kept me focus during work hours. Unknowingly, I had conditioned myself to a new stimulus.

I rarely use this trick anymore because I live in a brighter house now. I still have the lamp though.

Meet with people 👯

If you think you need to meet people once a week, do it twice a week. I always add an extra social event to my weekly plans.

When you work in an office, you are surrounded by coworkers. You get to see people on your way there and your way back. That’s one of the reasons it is a good idea to work in a co-working space a couple of months a year, because we learn habits the same way we lose them.

We tend to think basic skills are there forever. Think about a language you learnt a while ago, or a middle school subject you were good at. If you don’t practice it your brain uses that space for something else. Don’t underestimate your ability to losing basic skills such as socializing.

Maybe you aren’t in your country or your friends are busy. Try a social hobby like practicing a sport or learning a new language. Events related to your discipline is also a good idea because you get to know your peers.

Look out of the window 🖼

When everything you watch, listen, read, write, and everyone you talk to are in one screen, this screen is your new comfort zone. You’ll have breakfast in front of it, and you’ll forget the outside world is comfortable too.

Breathe in and look out the window during breaks. You‘ll remain grounded.

👖 + ⏰ + 💤 + 🍜 + 🎶 + 💡 + 👯 + 🖼 = 💻 🔝