How To Be More Productive When Working From Home
People who are able to be productive when working at home do two things very well:
First, they have established a set of processes for their day that allow them to execute and perform at a high level.
Second, they put 100% of their efforts into tactics that are going to help them achieve goals.
But you’re probably wondering:
How do you find processes and tactics that really work?
Well today, I’m going to share some of the process & tactics that have worked for me. I’m going to share with you some straightforward concepts that I believe can help you work from home more effectively and without getting caught in the trap of doing busy work when you could be shipping.[ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending): http://ctt.ec/66UQ4]
1. Start Your Day Reviewing Goals
Do you typically sit down to your computer and wonder where to start? Or do you head straight for your email or Slack channel to see what others want you to do or want to chat about?
Both are bad habits.
Start your day by understanding what you want to accomplish. This approach is key to ensuring that your focus is where it should be. If you start your day without direction, it’s more likely that you will end up focusing on tasks that don’t matter and increase the likelihood of procrastination.
When you’re working from home, it’s easy to get sucked down the dark tunnel of things to do as you’re surrounded by many distractions. Ranging from the TV and Playstation to the dishes or messy bedroom; the possibilities of where you could place your focus are significant.
One of the best habits I’ve been able to utilize is the idea starting each day by looking at my goals and ending each by setting them. I like to call it the post-it note method. Before I walk away from my desk for the night, I create a small todo list and write it down on a post-it note which is then placed on my computer screen so when I get back to my desk in the morning, I clearly know what needs to be done.
It forces me to avoid Slack. It forces me to avoid email. It forces me to do the most important things first.
2. Get Dressed: Don’t Stay In Your Pajamas
One of the biggest benefits of working from home is the dress code.
Dressing down when you work from home is a perk but can have negative consequences as well. While studies have shown that there is no relationship between productivity and what you’re wearing while doing work – studies have shown that the clothes you wear can influence your state of mind.
According to Dr. Karen Pine, professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and fashion psychologist wearing a suit or a pajamas can influence the way you navigate your day. In an interview with Forbes she states:
When we put on an item of clothing it is common for the wearer to adopt the characteristics associated with that garment. A lot of clothing has symbolic meaning for us, whether it’s ‘professional work attire’ or ‘relaxing weekend wear’, so when we put it on we prime the brain to behave in ways consistent with that meaning.
So rather than constantly dressing down or not getting dressed at all – try to look good once in a while. Dress as if you were going to the office and benefit from the state of mind that comes with upgrading your wardrobe.[ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending): http://ctt.ec/66UQ4]
3. Embrace Tools That Make You Effective
This trend is opening up a handful of opportunities for brands and startups to create products and tools that make telecommuting more effective.
If you’re going to work from home, it makes sense to surround yourself with technologies that make your experience enjoyable and effective. Here’s a look at some tools that can be helpful:
Our approach to using Trello has evolved since our early days (see screenshot) to be a bit more structured and time driven. We use it as a way of keeping track of immediate tasks along with our overarching roadmap for where Crate will go.
One of the companies that inspired our approach is Ghost. Ghost is a simple yet powerful publishing platform that makes it easy to share your thoughts with the world. Ghost shares their roadmap publically with a very straight forward approach: Backlog – Next – In Progress – Released.
It doesn’t get much more simple than that:
Deekit is an online whiteboard. It is an unlimited canvas for you and your team to create content. Together, in real time. It’s self described as virtual sa pace for teamwork on any device, wherever you are. What is cool about Deekit is the fact that you have an unlimited canvas similar to a white board that you would typically on have access to for an in-person meeting.
One of the biggest challenges for remote teams is communication. Tools like Trello, Slack and Jell make it easier to communicate with your team and ensure everyone from the bottom up are informed around what’s going on.
Jell is a great tool that helps keep communication around deliverables flowing. It’s an automated stand up meeting that gives you perspective around what people are aiming to accomplish, what they did accomplish and what’s standing in their way. In addition, it’s a tool that integrates directly with Slack.
It’s easier than ever to work or even manage a team remotely. It’s no wonder that more and more companies are embracing the idea of telecommuting and remote work. Technology has made it easy which is why we’re seeing successful companies such as Buffer, Github and Automattic operate with remote teams and deliver value.
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4. Use Your Calendar To Schedule Everything
From meetings to execution – blocking off time in your schedule to tackle tasks is one of the best ways to stay productive.
It goes back to the point around knowing what you’re going to do to ensure you do it. When you block off time in your schedule for specific tasks, not only do you give yourself the time in your calendar but you also force yourself to stay focused solely on that task.
One of the biggest challenges for working at home is the ability to stay focused. Using your calendar to block off time to solely focus on, is a great way to ensure you’re not checking Facebook, notifications, emails or hanging out with your neighbors.
Focus is required to execute at a high level.
We often think that we’re great multi-taskers but studies have shown that multi-tasking as a concept doesn’t really exist. In reality, you’re simply switching back and forth between tasks which hinders your ability to execute within a set amount of time but also limits your ability to execute as your focus is split up amongst multiple tasks.
5. Listen To High Tempo Music
In a recent study conducted by Dr. Dennis Hsu and his colleagues’ on psychological empowerment, they found that the right background music can help you absorb information and improve your willingness to take initiative. In one experiment, the researchers tested whether empowering music made people behave as if they were more powerful.
After listening to music, participants were asked if they would rather go first or second in a debate. Those who listened to the high-temp playlist (songs like In Da Club from 50 Cent) opted to go first almost twice as often (34%) as those who’d listened to the low-temp playlist (20%).
Further experiments found that in certain situations, the right music can also empower you to do more. For example, researchers found that the level of bass, volume, tempo, genre, and lyrics, all had the potential to drive empowerment. It’s something that anyone who has played sports or watched sports can understand. It’s the reason why so many athletes walk into stadiums with headphones on or why stadiums blast music pre-game to get the teams fired up.
When you’re working at home, you have control over your environment. Use high tempo music to create a setting that gives you the best chances to perform.
6. Don’t Be Afraid To Switch Up The Setting
A change in your environment can stimulate creativity and limit the likelihood of burnout.
You can switch up your setting in your own house or by actually getting out and about. As someone who has a home office, the office definitely is my favorite place to work but once in a while, I do tend to make my way to the kitchen or living room. We all know the idea that routine is the enemy of creativity – so to avoid it, switch up your setting!
Rather than just moving from room to room, you can also move your work to a nearby coffee shop, bar or hotel. Sites like Workfrom will help you discover the best coffee shops, bars, coworking spaces and other work-friendly places in cities and towns all over the world:
Public Service Announcement: If you’re going to work from a coffee shop, please order something. Don’t be the cheapskate who milks their wifi for three hours and only drinks a glass of water. If you’re using their chairs, tables, electricity and wifi – pay for something. The only time it’s okay to simply use the wifi and facilities for free is if you’re at a public library.
Here’s the next step.
If you want to avoid even more distractions, avoid the things that suck your time and energy. Social media and the various notifications we recieve can be one of the biggest hooks for grabbing our attention. You could start off just simply wanting to share a link on Twitter to keep your account active but 20 minutes later find yourself browsing a blog.
Tools like Crate can save you from getting caught in this cycle. Crate allows you to schedule your content for the week well in advance and offer content suggestions that are sure to resonate with your audience. Sign up for Crate today and be more productive with your time on social media.
Scaling, Upgrades, Downtime, and Grey Hair
I was watching bug reports, user questions and feedback streaming in while I was trying to figure out how to add a feature to Crate’s increasingly complex codebase. As I was looking at the different parts of the app and dreading deploying it to receive a sea of Node.js errors, I kept thinking there had to be a better way.
While I reflected on what I could do I took my own approach of splitting off a process-heavy piece of the puzzle months ago and thought of applying it to the rest of the platform. Yes, this was when I decided that Crate would be rebuilt as microservices.
Ok, what now?
So after I made the decision to rebuild Crate as microservices, I had to figure out what that would look like. Thankfully after a bit of research and some prototyping, I came up with a pretty solid solution. Over the next 3 weeks I proceeded to build this new system while fighting fires in a monolithic app that was beginning to buckle under the pressure of popularity.
In the last 3 weeks of 2015 I was able to rebuild the platform as microservices from 2 large apps, reconfigure the clustering situation and improve some of the more fragile data routines.
As it was being tested in a development environment everything looked good!
There was no difference in the look and feel of the app, but one MAJOR difference surfaced: Crate was MUCH FASTER.
I was happy.
I was proud.
I was thankful that all my work had in fact turned out how I had hoped and this update spelled the end of me waking up to dread my inbox.
Then the other shoe dropped.
Soooo… what happened?
I debugged it. I tested it. It was tested by a test group. It looked and worked great!
So we notified our users and I pushed the codebase into production at 8pm on the first Tuesday of the year. It worked great I thought. Then there were 150,000 data requests going through the system all at once!
So I have to take the entire system down. It’s offline. Dead. Oh, and we had some pretty important press going out that couldn’t be stopped.
So here we are with this amazing attention being shined on us and the app is offline… and it’s my fault. It stayed fully dysfunctional for 48 hours and it was ugly.
I proceeded to spend the next week putting out fires and tracking down what’s wrong with my architecture at scale. As it turned out, it wasn’t so much the architecture or any one thing. It was a logic error that caused the ridiculous amount of requests and it was a misunderstanding of reactivity in the app that caused all my grief.
Now that all of that has been ironed out, we have an application that works great and loads fast, and I’m not waking up fearing that first email check of the day. As an added bonus to the speed and stability, I’ve been able to take some of the feedback we’ve gotten from our users and implement improvements to the platform!
As promised, the changes were easy to make and the code was compartmentalized which made it easier to test and much easier and safer to deploy.
What have we learned from this exercise? Let me lay it out for you.
Be flexible and agile (in the true sense of the word). We were forced to pivot our entire platform architecture within a few days due to the usage patterns we saw emerging. Even though we basically had to rewrite the entire platform in a couple of weeks, the ideas were there already and just needed to be split into different applications.
Monitoring your app’s performance and resources is important! I can’t stress this one enough. If it weren’t for Kadira, we would not have had any idea a) why our app was slow and b) which parts of the app were causing problems c) what to do to solve our problem. Thanks to the monitoring Kadira does, I was able to see that we had a problem with runaway processes using up all the RAM in our app which was causing it to crash and get restarted.
Listen to your users. Thankfully my co-founder Ross had the foresight a year ago to sign up for Intercom which allowed us to easily receive feedback from, and communicate with, our end-users. Every single one of our users was very understanding of our growing pains and they provided us with valuable feedback and debugging that we were able to use to solve many of the issues we were seeing with the app.
Digital Ocean has amazing tech support. Every time I’ve reached out to DO for help they have gone above and beyond what they actually support in order to provide me with some insight into problems I’ve had. I can’t say enough good things about their service and support. If you need VPS hosting, go sign up with Digital Ocean.
All of these improvements are in preparation for some much bigger improvements coming in the next few months.
Crate is going to be growing and changing as we continue to add features our users are asking for and improve the overall user experience. I want to take the opportunity right now to thank every single one of our users for their patience and understanding as we wade through the waters of building something new and exciting.