I know, I know… this is not Software Engineering. However, I have worked from home for about 6 years in total. I already had some experience setting up a good environment before this whole pandemic situation started and I did some research about it as well. Most software engineers are working from home nowadays, a trend that is unlikely to reverse. And who knows? Probably the comfort will make you produce better, right? :-) Without further ado, here are the tips!
Tip # 1: Switch rooms
Move to different rooms from time to time, like moving to your living room in the afternoon. Take advantage of the daylight in different rooms at different times or just switch every 3 to 4 hours, even if only for one hour. It will give you a fresh environment and allow you to focus on the same problem for longer.
Tip # 2: Work close to windows
There is very little movement out there, it won’t be distracting, but the external setting may ease the stress of being isolated.
Tip # 3: Invest in your environment and equipment
I have 2 Nespresso machines (Vertuo and Classic lines), tea, chocolate (85% cocoa), etc. The more you think about your workspace at home as the place where you will spend most of your time at home awake, the better.
For instance, a KVM for me was a game-changer:
It allows me to switch my keyboard, mouse, and monitor to my personal desktop or my laptop with 1 click.
Tip # 4: When you don’t need the extra monitor or if you have a TV in your room
There are continuous streaming designed for relaxation like this aquarium (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3S1GFgH954k) or these fireplaces (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOnIAoqQkd4 or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvs5WDWB9hY) and you can find them even on Netflix (https://www.netflix.com/ca/layout: post title/70222873).
Remember not to stream when you are on the company’s VPN as it will increase bandwidth usage, costs, and might cause issues for other users. Use a different device or disconnect from the VPN if you can.
Tip # 5: Routine
Keep the same work hours you had before
Take the extra time in the morning to take a shower, have a slow breakfast, whatever fills you up with energy to start your workday relaxed and motivated. Do not work in your sleepwear. Set up alarms to make you have lunch at an appropriate time or anything else you may be finding difficult to manage timewise.
Tip # 6: Stretch regularly
Stretch your hips, shoulders, chest, arms, back, etc. Find a quick routine, not more than 5 minutes, and do it every 2 to 3 hours. I found this site targeting desk workers that seem to be interesting: https://skinnyms.com/11-stretches-every-desk-worker-must-know/. Choose the ones that you feel that make you feel the best and start stretching!
Tip # 7: Listen to music, but THE RIGHT TYPE of music
This study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22523045) showed that pre-surgery patients listening to music lowered their levels of the stress hormone cortisone more than those that took anti-anxiety drugs. However, songs with lyrics reduce your attention and performance (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22523045).
At the same time, music that sounds familiar to you definitely works best because your brain won’t get focused on new sounds (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0027241).
For repetitive tasks, music will help you do them faster and more accurately (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/379309).
For cognitive tasks, classic music and natural sounds (like rain, etc) will help you much more (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2466/pms.1918.104.22.1681). For these natural sounds, there are many apps that you can download to your phone or just leave a YouTube streaming (never-ending) video (like tip #4) running in the background (as long as you find a way to bypass the VPN, otherwise do not use YouTube).
If you are not much into music during work, try binaural beats. Binaural beat therapy is an emerging form of sound wave therapy. It makes use of the fact that the right and left ears each receive a slightly different frequency tone under 1,000 hertz (Hz), yet the brain perceives these as a single tone. You can read more about it here: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320019.
My favorite app for both natural sounds and binaural beats is https://www.relaxmelodies.com/, available for iOS and Android.
Bonus tip: Block your calendar for lunch
Disclaimer: I decided to add this tip months after posting this, so I’m not changing the layout: post title. :-)
In distributed environments, people don’t know when your lunchtime is. Even working in the same city or timezone, some people will have lunch 1h later than you so that they can squeeze that meeting in your calendar.
As a consequence, you will be having lunch 3, 4 hours later. It’s unhealthy for you and the others. Block your calendar for your lunch and advise your direct reports and peers to do the same.
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