Between not having a required routine, home distractions, and lack of watercoolers to talk around, working from home can be challenging. Over the past couple of weeks we've been posting about some of the strategies our mobile developers use when working from home. We have covered how location conditioning and behavioral conditioning can be used to prepare yourself for work. Now we will go into more detail on setting boundaries to help you stay focused once you are working.
The best part about successfully conditioning yourself is that you stop needing to get into work mode. As soon as your routines start, as soon as you are in your conditioned location, you are simply ready to work. Sticking with it until you hit that point can be tough, but maintaining the boundaries between work life and personal life will pay off in the end. It will make you a better worker and you will start to accomplish more high quality work in a shorter amount of time.
Take an Actual Break for Lunch
A common piece of advice is to step away from your desk at lunch. This is especially good advice for remote workers. You live and work in the same space; boundaries are essential to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. As we talked about in our previous post, Remote Work: Location Conditioning, your work area is for working. Eating lunch or taking a break should be relaxing, not working. While in the office you may be able to eat at your desk or spend 10min on social media zoning out to take a break, at home things are different. When working remotely, we often are in spaces that are shared for personal use at some point during the day or week. Making the boundaries as black and white as possible both helps condition yourself for work and keeps nasty habits from sneaking in.
Change up Your Environment
If you want to take a break to go on Facebook via your work computer, change your environment somehow. This could mean taking your laptop to another part of the room, turning your chair to work on another side of your desk, or even unplugging your external monitors. Whatever it is you have to do, maintain the boundary that lets you disconnect from work for that break. Otherwise you never really leave work mentally. This can negatively affect the quality and amount of work you do and can cause fatigue.
Use Multiple Devices
One strategy that is often adopted is to have certain devices used primarily for work and others for personal tasks. For example, instead of checking social media on the computer (work device) during your break, check it on your phone(personal device). If you are taking a break and get a HipChat message or work-related email notification on your phone, walk to your computer to reply and leave the phone for personal use as much as possible. Being in this kind of habit will also condition you to treat sounds coming from your phone as personal and thus more easily ignore them while you are working.
Manage Your Notifications
Most phones include advanced notifications features. You can easily customize what applications alert you, when, and how. Use this to your advantage to filter out unnecessary communication and alerts. If you need to see your text messages then keep your phone next to the computer but put it in do not disturb mode so that all other notifications are silenced while you are working. Another option is to turn off messages altogether and instruct those close to you to call if there is anything important, allowing only phone calls to ring and all other notifications to be silenced. It might take some experimenting but you'll find what works for you. The most important thing is finding a way to maintain the boundary between your perceived responsibility to personal communication and your real responsibility to work.