Categories
General

Working From Home

With the current COVID-19 pandemic (which you can read more about from the CDC for folks in the US and from the WHO for folks worldwide), more and more folks are working from home to avoid both contracting and spreading the disease. There are some great recommendations for folks working from home for the first time, like these from Matt Mullenweg, these from Beau Lebens, and these from Artur Piszek. And, since I’ve worked from home for Automattic for almost 10 years, I figured I’d share just some very quick recommendations from my experience.

  • Make yourself comfortable with a real desk. Yes, you can work with your laptop on the couch, but you’ll be doing this for a while. Get a comfortable desk setup with your screen at the appropriate hight, an external keyboard, and an external mouse. Your body will thank you.
  • Ditch the headphones if you can. You may no longer need to keep your music to yourself by trapping your head in a sound prison. Get some external speakers, or try out your computer’s internal speakers. Either way, it’s better for your hearing in the long term.
  • Set boundaries. Folks always say don’t bring your work home with you, and that’s still true. Set solid hours, let your family know what those are, close the office door if you have to, but don’t let work dominate the entire day and don’t let your home life dominate work hours.
  • Separate your work and personal environments. You may no longer have a dedicated office computer, but to avoid distractions, it’s still good to find some separation. For me, that’s separate browsers. I use Firefox for work and Safari for personal things.
  • To avoid more distractions, consider what priorities your social networks have. See my On Social Networks post for some thoughts on that.
  • If you find yourself stressed overall by work, try using a simple pomodoro timer, like Pomy.
  • Let in some natural light. I don’t have a window behind my desk, I find that distracting, but there are ample windows just off to the side.
  • Cut back on coffee. Coffee was a favorite distraction of mine in offices, but that type of distraction is no longer necessary at home. Not only is it better for your health, you may find you no longer need as much, and it will save you some money. Try just one cup a day in the morning.
  • Stand up, walk around, take a break. Is something loading? Stand up. Is a process stalled? Take a short walk. At least drink a few glasses of water throughout the day. That will force you to stand up and walk, and it will also force you to use the restroom more frequently.
  • Communicate. Talk frequently with your co-workers in their Slack-like app of choice, but also keep the water cooler going. Set up a backchannel with close work friends, Telegram is great for that. Basically, do whatever you can to keep work communication close to what it was before.

As for my desk in the above photo, besides the MacBook Pro, I’m using a Roost stand, a Das Keyboard Model S Professional (with Cherry MX blue switches), a Logitech MX Vertical mouse, an iPad Pro with a Zugu Muse case serving as a second monitor, a set of Edifier e10 speakers (that I rarely use anymore since the MacBook Pro speakers are now almost as good), a set of Sennheiser Momentum 2 headphones (for meetings and days I need to keep my music to myself), a Logitech Powered phone stand, a set of Baoding balls, an ErgoDox EZ Satellite, and the Desk Army (which is a bit smaller now).

That’s how I’ve kept myself sane for almost 10 years of working from home, and I hope it works for you too. Most of all, remember that getting into the flow will take time, you will likely start with lower productivity than you want and that’s ok. Take it easy, take every recommendation into consideration, but adapt it to what works for you, and don’t forget to share your new routine with your co-workers.

Categories
General

Separating Work from Home

Automattic is a globally distributed company, which means that most of us work from home all over the world. Often times, folks ask me how I can separate my work life from my home life as if it were some sort of monumental task. Fortunately, that is not the case, and while not every trick may work for every person, here are a few tricks that help me separate my work life from my home life.

Separate Browsers: Use separate browsers for work and personal, not just separate browser windows, use completely separate applications. When I use Chrome, I’m at work. When I use Safari, I’m doing anything but work.

Different Devices: Use completely different devices for work and non-work. It’s nearly impossible for me to do my work from my iPad, but I can do almost anything else from it, so I spend most of my non-work time on the iPad.

No Unified Inboxes: Make your work email ignorable when you’re off work. Since I spend most of my non-work time on either my iPad or iPhone, I use the Gmail app, which despite modern conventions in email consumption, still (thankfully) does not offer unified inboxes (each account is separate). This allows me to easily ignore my work email if necessary. If the Gmail app ever offers a unified inbox (like almost every other email app), I’ll probably use separate email apps. Note that I do use Airmail on my computer with a unified inbox, since I’m typically working when on my computer, and it’s just easier that way.

Control Communication Sources: Don’t mix work communications with personal communications. We use Skype a lot at Automattic, so to me, Skype is work. Skype is a popular communication outlet for family and friends, but not mine. If my family or friends want to get in touch with me, they have plenty of other ways to reach me. Skype is not for them. Similarly, I never use my work email for personal things.

Know Your Boundaries: It’s okay to bring some work home, especially if it helps you to avoid dwelling on it all evening. Sometimes, frustrating things happen here at Automattic, like they do at any workplace. It could be a disagreement with a co-worker, a user who wants something that’s impossible, or even an ad network that thinks it’s totally ok to not pay us for their ad impressions for over three months. If I didn’t share these things with my wife, I’d just stay frustrated and dwell on them all evening. Some people say that you should never bring work home with you, but that’s usually the worst mistake you can make if you’re trying to free yourself from it.

So, that’s how I keep my work life from affecting my home life, even though I work at home. Do you work at home? If so, how do you keep the two lives separate?