Living the Dream?

So the time has come, you’re finally working remote. It’s a dream scenario, and one you’ve thought about often. You’re finally getting to avoid the commute, set your hours, and work from the comfort of your own home. What could be better? After a few weeks, however, the overwork, technical issues, and myriad of unexpected distractions can turn this dream scenario into a nightmare. If you’ve ever felt lost while working remotely, just know that you’re not alone. In this article, we’ve given a few tips to help you find balance and achieve success while working from anywhere so you can get back to that dreamy scenario while being more productive than ever.

💻 Establish a dedicated workspace 🏠

Whether in the office, at home, or sitting in a coffee shop, creating the right environment is essential to achieving your goals. For those new to remote-life, learning to switch context can be incredibly difficult. One of the more common pitfalls turns out to be doing too much work! Often, this is due to the newfound lack of separation between work and home.

One simple hack is to create a dedicated workspace. This little trick can help train your mind into differentiating between work, and (just as important) rest.

Ideally, you’re able to create a dedicated spot where only work happens, such as an office or spare bedroom. If that isn’t an option, try to find a place where you can comfortably hang for a few hours. Anywhere you can fit a small desk/table should work. The main point is to have a space recognized as “work.”

⌛ Keep a Consistent Schedule 📅

I know this isn’t a way to win friends, but hear me out 🙏

Setting a schedule may sound counter-intuitive at first, but if you don’t establish clear boundaries, it often becomes challenging to switch gears. You may even find yourself working until late into the night, only to wake up and start all over again. Establishing a consistent schedule doesn’t mean giving up your freedoms. Strangely, it’s the opposite.

By crafting a schedule that works for you and your employer, you’ll be able to create space for the things that make you happy and, as a result, more productive.

One of the best parts of remote life is having the option to create a schedule that works for you. If you experiment a little to find things that work within your daily rhythm, I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Regardless of what your personal schedule looks like, the important part is to be intentional with your time.

🍅 Try the Pomodoro Technique ⌚

In the late 1980s, Francesco Cirillo wanted to find a more efficient way to study. He used a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato (Pomodoro in Italian) to aid in short, focused, study sessions. Fast forward a bit, and people around the world use this technique all the time. In fact, this article is currently being written to the tune of Lofi HipHop and the steady ticking of an actual tomato shaped timer perched on my desk.

The technique is simple enough:

  • Choose a task to complete
  • Set a timer for 25 minutes
  • Work (only) on that task for 25 minutes
  • Take a 5-minute break when the timer goes off.
  • Repeat for 3 more cycles (4 total)
  • Take a 20-minute break
  • Repeat

During a Pomodoro session, you only work on the task at hand. If anything else comes up, make a note and get back to the current task. If you lose focus, throw that pomodoro out and start again.

Initially, I was skeptical of this technique, and half-heartedly tried it a handful of times with mostly sub-par results. I would think to myself: “How can you do anything meaningful in 25 minutes”. A few years later, a friend strongly encouraged me to give it another try. So I decided to embrace the philosophy and give it an honest shot. After just one week, I felt less stressed and more focused. After two weeks, I started to feel productive. By then, I was sold.

While at home, it’s easy to get distracted. After all, there is laundry to fold, dishes to clean, pets to care for, the list goes on. In addition to making the work manageable, one often overlooked benefit of this approach is that it gives you permission to let yourself off the hook and focus for shorter bursts of time. After all, 25 minutes really isn’t that long, right?

🚴‍♂️ Exercise & Sleep 🌙

Study after study has proven that cognitive performance can improve through moderate exercise. Running just three times a week can have noticeable effects on focus and motivation. If you find yourself feeling fuzzy or tired later in the day, try taking a walk or a light jog. Besides focus and motivation, regular exercise can also help with maintaining energy, managing stress, and even getting better to sleep.

In addition, getting a good night’s rest is also key to reaching your full potential. When working from home, it’s easy to find yourself replying to messages, updating spreadsheets, and finishing that last proposal, while winding down for the night. Sometimes this cannot be avoided, but making it a habit can have adverse effects on your health. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that you stop using electronic devices at least 30 minutes before going to sleep.

As someone who neglected these two elements in the name of productivity, let me be the first to tell you. If you want to achieve your goals, healthy exercise and sleep habits are a must. If all of this seems overwhelming, don’t worry, minor adjustments can go a long way. Make small manageable goals. For example, if you want to get in shape, start with walking for 10-15 minutes a couple days a week. For sleep, try plugging your phone into a place that is difficult to reach from the bed. You don’t have to change your entire world, just make a few small adjustments and keep iterating.

💬 Communication is still key 🙌

It’s no secret that quite a bit of nuance is missed when you’re remote. Even with the clearest video chat, and incredible technological advances, it’s still easy to miss non-verbal cues.

When you move most conversations to Slack and email, it’s even easier to see how misunderstanding each other can quickly become an issue. However, it’s worth noting that many teams successfully communicate via messaging and video chat all the time. In fact, most of the Episource Engineering team has worked remotely for quite a while now.

When it comes to communication via messaging, the best practice is to slightly overcommunicate. Remember, the person on the other side often has multiple items competing for their attention, and they might not fully understand your message or the subtext. It is perfectly fine to check for understanding with a simple: does that make sense? Or, can you improve on this suggestion?

Furthermore, it never hurts to reiterate your point. While you don’t want to write another explanation, a simple follow up message clarifying your previous point is often welcome. In a nutshell, be proactive, and you’ll be rewarded with great virtual working relationships.