I’m sure a lot of you have been “forced” to work remotely, with offices shutting down all across the world. You may find this great, or you may strongly dislike it. Whatever your perspective on remote work, it’s important to understand that normal remote work is NOT the same as what is happening right now. In this post I’ll explain why, and provide actionable advice to make remote working better in these difficult times.
Working remotely does NOT necessarily mean “working from home”
In a traditional remote work setup, you can work from anywhere. That means coffee shops, outdoors, shared office spaces or your home. However, during Corona, most people are forced to only work from home, as gathering places are mostly closed (or very limited). This distinction is important to recognize, because it can be a lot harder to work from just one restricted location. You don’t have the freedom to move around, go out for lunch, or meet with a friend in a café. So now, you’re forced to stay home during all the working hours, AND the non-working hours.
This makes it hard to distinguish your work from your life, resulting in either:
More hours spent working (inability to relax — your office is your home)
Less hours spent working (inability to focus — your home is your office)
Both of these can lead to frustration and potentially burn-out, harming your mental health. Top that off with all the uncertainty in the world right now, and it can be difficult to stay optimistic.
The best tip I can give to cope with this is to allocate one room, or one specific spot, as your work location. This is the only place where you’re allowed to work. Over time, your brain will understand that once you sit down here, it’s time to work — and once you leave, you’re no longer on duty.
There can be a lot of distractions at an office, with meetings, noise, and co-workers requesting your attention. But there are also a lot of distractions at home. Maybe it’s your spouse or kids, or maybe it’s the TV or your phone that’s always within reach. And since nobody will notice, it’s harder to ignore those distractions. When you get distracted at work, at least you still feel like you’re working. When you get distracted at home, it can feel more like time lost.
One of the best ways I found to focus on the task at hand, is the Pomodore Technique
This strategy involves working in concentrated bursts of time, taking small breaks in-between. The exact format can be adjusted to fit your need, but the general idea is this:
Work for 25 minutes. No distractions allowed.
Take a 5 minute break. Use it to stand-up, go to the bathroom, grab a snack.
Work for another 25 minutes
After 3–4 bursts of work, take a longer break (maybe 20–30 minutes to grab lunch, or whatever works for you). This strategy is rather easy to implement with an online Pomodore app (to alert you when its time to switch), and the constant breaks allows you to actually zone in during the work bursts. And when you have to stop working after 25 minutes, you’ll be in the middle of something, making you eager to get back and continue after the break.
Make time for non-work related activities
As mentioned earlier, it can be hard to distinguish work-time from chill-time. To keep your sanity, it is crucial that you dedicate time to other activities or hobbies that has nothing to do with work. It’s easy to fall into the trap where you’re constantly thinking about work, and you might end up juuust having to respond to that one email at 10 in the evening.
Just like you do at the office, define a time where you get off work. When that time hits, leave the work location you picked earlier, and do something else you enjoy. Whether it’s Netflix, walking your dog or going for a run doesn’t matter — the key is that you actively do something that takes your mind completely off the work at hand, and allows you to properly relax. If you don’t, your brain won’t be able to understand when it’s time to work and when it’s not, leaving you open to burn-out, lack of motivation, and loss of focus (after all, if you’re always working, how will your brain be able to keep up?)
I'm curious if anybody has other advice for how to best handle remote working in these difficult times. Let me know on Twitter. I’m always happy to discuss interesting perspectives and techniques for improving mental health.
I'm Mads Brodt — a developer, author, teacher, creator and blogger. To keep up with all of my writing, follow me on Twitter or sign up with your email above 👆