A practical guide & best practices for WFH: some life-hacks for higher productivity – at home

Nowadays, you read (perhaps even too much?) news about the impact of COVID19. Apart from the potentially serious health- as well as economic impact it can have on individuals, it most likely will have an immediate impact on you: your company will introduce (or be forced) to implement a working from home (“WFH”) policy. WFH has its advantages which is why it is pretty common for developer or designer to work from home. However, most of us (including myself when I started it) are not prepared for working from home yet. And importantly, being a full-time remote worker has its own challenges.

Over the years, I have practised WFH on Mondays and learned (the hard way) what works and what doesn’t work. Speaking to a variety of entrepreneurs and professionals, I realised that there is a real-world demand for practical guidelines on “how to implement a productive WFH” schedule.

To make it easier to digest, I am describing a typical work from home day schedule with couple of best-practices that have helped me to focus on being effective and productive:

Start with exercise & meditation

  • I start my day at 07.30AM with a fixed routine of working out (30–45min). Preferably I go for a run outside but recently I have been in 2 weeks self-quarantine and used the following applications:
    • I use Freeletics if I do a longer workout (20–30min) and currently do the FIT FOR LIFE challenge program
    • Now, I am on a 30-day challenge with my friends from Singapore & Berlin using Seven. It is similar to Freeletics but doesn’t have the detailed video exercise explanation.
    • For meditation, I use breethe. This was recommended by one of my mentors. I started to use it as a regular breathing exercise and I am now doing the 12-weeks “Learn to meditate” program.

Time: 60–90min, recommended apps: breethe ($17.98 monthly), Freeletics ($53 for 3 months so S$17.66 monthly), Seven ($13.98 monthly)

Breakfast without phone — unless…

  • In the past, I used my phone to read messages, news and/or watch videos while eating my breakfast. As you will start to spend a lot (more) time in front of screen(s) during WFH I recommend to use this time to fully focus on the meal and spend the quality time with your family.
  • In case you are single, you can opt in to listen to music or read an article from a weekly magazine.
  • In case you can’t live without your phone, I recommend to use espresso app from The Economist: high quality journalism in a digestible format.

Time: 30min, recommended appEspresso (S$7.48/month)

Get ready as you would go to the office

  • This small life-hack has helped me a lot to do the ‘mental shift’ from private to work-mode — at home.
  • Although I am working alone from my home office, I do get ready as I would go to the office. The only exception is that I might wear a short instead of a black jean but apart from this, I am wearing my shirt every weekday at home. I shave myself every 2–3 days. I put on perfume etc.
  • My experience has been that the moment you start to work with your T-shirt and jogging (which you can obviously do) you start to be in a different “working” mode if not more relaxed than work.
  • Conversely, the moment I am finished with my workday, I put off my shirt and wear a t-shirt and sometimes a cap. This is for me the signal that I am “out of work”.

Setting office hours in a separate room — or at least in a unique workspace

  • You will realise that it is relatively strange to work from the living room in the beginning. I faced the challenge that I was interrupted most of the time. From “can you help me to do this or that” to people coming and distracting me from doing concentrated work.
  • Because of this, I insisted on my own office (which is a mix of our library, storage and my home office) so I can close the door and get work done
  • In case you don’t have the luxury to have your own home office, I recommend to agree on a sign. This can be in form of headphones or a sign on the table so that everyone knows that you are in work-mode and preferably don’t get disturbed. Make sure you inform your family about your personal sign so that they are aware of it too.

Force yourself to take breaks every 60–90 min

  • In the first couple of days (or weeks) you will realise that you will spend (much) more time on screens and/or think that you can do so much work at once — without having a break. Beware of this short term asset but long-term liability. Especially when you are working from home, try to take regular breaks.
  • I tried it (and failed) so I started to block 60–90min slots in my calendar. The moment I am finished with a slot I get a notification on my computer or tablet and take a 5–10min break. A quick walk to the kitchen for a healthy snack or a quick hug to my little boy. In short, breaks are important to stay effective.

Change the scene when you are “finished” with work

  • In times like today with an “always on” mode thanks to technology, there is no perceived end to work: your phone and especially mind is still on after work.
  • Usually, you have time to wind down on the way to & back from the office but as you are doing home office you won’t have the luxury of a typical wind down phase.
  • What has helped me a lot is that I aim for a time to stop working (usually around 07PM) so that I can still interact with my family and/or join the family dinner. More importantly, I change the scene: as I said before I am changing my outfit, leave my phone in the home office and go for a walk with our boy or sing a song together with him. This helps me to wind down before I am sitting down with the family for dinner.
  • Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of time to unwind, so what I do is that I sit down for 5min and focus on my breathing. This helps to clear my mind, letting go of the day (and everything that I still have to do) and gets me into a mode of consciousness. This is to ensure that I am present at home especially when I am working from home.

Connect with your world: call family or friends

  • You will feel that sometimes WFH can be a loner situation: you are most of the time by yourself and when you speak to colleagues it is mostly work-related via slack, email or Google Meet/zoom.
  • Use the time & breaks to call your family or close friends. At first, it will be strange or new (or as one friend of mine asked me today: “is there anything important you want to discuss?” 😃 ). Over time though, you start to develop or strengthen the relationship with your family & friends which will have an impact on your long-term happiness.
  • I started to do regularly check-ins with my friends: I ask them how they are doing, share my/their thoughts (or anxieties) and we both open up: you will see — you are not crazy. Most of us are having the same thoughts or fears. So better to share than to internalise these thoughts.

Extra: Be grateful or do something good/nice for your family/partner

  • I previously agreed to a division of labour with my partner: she is taking care of the family & household whereas I focus on financing the family life aka work.
  • One situation that will likely come up for you is that you “exit” your work mode and your partner is expecting you to take over the house work. In your mind you go “hey, I worked all day how about you support me now” which doesn’t go well.
  • Something that has helped us at home is to make clear that we are both working during the day (for her “family & household”, for me “professional work”) and in the evening we split responsibilities and activities.
  • Something that has helped a lot is to (at least) 1x a day highlight to your partner how grateful you are to have her in your life and — once in a while — have a nice surprise for her: you cook dinner, you have prepared a date night with movie & popcorn, or you ordered flowers. Whatever it is: do something that shows your appreciation for his/her hard work at home.

This is a quick practical guide and I hope it will help you to be more productive during your work from home experience.

You don’t have enough? More information about WFH best practices especially about productivity, communication and wellness can be found here at the WFH best practices from GoJek.

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