(This content was created by Claire Davis and others at Canonical HR. It is being reproduced with their permission)
Many of us work from home. Working from home is great: no commute, comfortable environment, cheap. However, it presents the challenges of organizing time and self-motivation; this page lists some tips and strategies for coping with those. Feel free to add your own tips here -- we all want to know what secret tricks you use to work better, too.
- Pick a work schedule -- a fixed set of work hours -- and stick to it. This will help your colleagues know when they can contact you, help you maintain motivation, and help keep your work and personal life separate. Do laundry, go shopping, clean the kitchen, watch TV, etc. in the hours *outside* of your core work hours. If you have clear, reasonable hours then it feels great to get out of the house and take care of everything else in life. Learn to properly manage your time, including:
- create a schedule/todo list for yourself, and adjust this to your project's schedule
- prioritise those tasks. Ask for help with this if you are unsure of priorities
- most people have a time of the day when they are more alert and more efficient than other times. Plan to work on the most difficult tasks during that time.
- keep to the schedule. Keeping regular work hours was mentioned above, but this also extends to the rest of your day. Wake at a consistent time, sleep regular hours, etc. It's amazing how many people disregard the importance of this.
- don't procrastinate -- you need to get the feeling you Get Things Done™. Break a large task into smaller ones, set deadlines for yourself, and move ahead consistently, one step at a time.
Your body likes a rhythm. If we get to sleep at a regular hour, and wake up at a regular hour, the body eventually adapts to the extent that you don't need an alarm clock. Don't try to work insane hours during the week and sleep on the weekend - your body will just try and keep to the insane hours over the weekend too. Keep the same hours consistently.
The Weekly Routine - aka Avoiding Firefighting Mode
- It seems altogether too easy to find oneself buried with tasks, and especially as the popularity of Ubuntu grows it can be hard just keeping up with the deluge of incoming tasks, requests, emergencies, etc. However, firefighting mode is not a good situation to be in, particularly for an extended period of time because it wears you out, saps your morale, and leaves you feeling overwhelmed and incapable of dealing with issues. Further, with a stream of interrupts as your triggers for moving to task to task, you'll find many tasks get only partly done, requiring additional interrupts to go back and finish them; this risks more errors, lower quality, and employs your time very inefficiently. Instead, strive to design your workweek, laying out specific times to work on interrupt issues (perhaps even limiting the maximum time to spend), and allocate fixed blocks of time to work on longer term projects, toolsmithing, self-training, documentation, testing, and so on. Sometimes you have no choice but to drop everything to work on one issue, so keep your schedule flexible for such times (but try hard to minimize the frequency of them!) Also keep your schedule flexible for travel, holidays, and so on.
Initially it can be challenging to force yourself out of firefight mode, but often it's the case that spending 8 hours on a given issue gets you little further than if you'd spent 1 hour on it, and the other 7 hours on something else. Strive to invest those 7 hours into things that will make you better able to deal with the interrupts that come in. For example, write some general documentation on how to handle a common class of issues you deal with, so next time you can refer the individual to the document rather than spend hours re-explaining to them. Or, flesh out a faster procedure or tool for handling a type of issue that comes up frequently or with emergency priority. If done right, over time these things will help reduce the firefighting you need to do, or at least give you a better framework for handling them, thus reducing the mental stress they cause.
Another benefit to laying out a weekly schedule is that it helps you balance your time. For instance, if you deal with bugs, you may find your time completely used up just trying to keep up with triaging the incoming stream. Instead, decide the maximum number of hours you want to deal with that, and set that as your limit, so you can use the remaining time for a wider breadth of tasks.
The Daily Routine
- Prepare for work as you would if you went to an office. If you start work in the morning, get up, eat breakfast, shower, dress for work, "go to work". This preparatory routine will help adjust your mind and body for the upcoming tasks. If you roll out of bed, watch TV for while, check your email, go eat, come back and look at some websites, realise you need a shower, get distracted by the book you started reading last night, etc., you will be half way into your "work day" by the time you actually start to focus. It sounds silly, but professional advice on this topic repeatedly stresses the importance of getting dressed. You wouldn't go to work in just your boxers or a robe; get dressed - you're going to work!
- Maintain a separate work area in your home. Ideally this would be a separate room from your living space. If you don't have that luxury, identify a consistent working area and screen it off from the rest of the room. Don't sprawl on your bed, then move to the floor, then the kitchen table, etc. Set up a proper desk, ergonomically correct chair, good lighting, and any equipment you need to do your job. Work there. Eat, play, watch tv, talk to your house mate elsewhere. Train yourself to realise that when you are at your desk, it is work time.
Keep your physical work space organised (as you would your digital workspace); keep it focused on work. Keep both personal and work papers and materials organised and stored in an appropriate manner, rather than mushed altogether next to your keyboard. It's often underestimated how much effect office space organization can have on productivity; Tom DeMarco did a large number of studies on this in the 80s and 90s and found it amazingly so.
- Eliminate distractions. Some people work well to music, some don't. No one works well with the TV on. If you live with other people, make sure they know when you are working. Ask them to treat those hours as if you were at work. Eliminate interruptions by making it clear when you are working - e.g., use a sign, block out your work hours, etc. it may be difficult to turn away requests from friends and family during this time, but working more efficiently during your core hours will allow you more quality time with them overall.
- When you're working from home, it's very tempting to just have all your work e-mail land in the same inbox as your personal e-mail. Resist the temptation: it will mean you're always checking work mail on the weekend and doing just that one little task, which will leave you less refreshed during the week. Set up separate inboxes to help you partition your time.
If you are a heavy Launchpad user, consider using filters to help categorize and prioritize bug email.
We all tend to forget that for the majority of us, the work day is spent in front of a computer. If you are able, try to schedule some time to do a form of physical exercise. This doesn't necessary mean something strenuous, a simple walk outside (weather permitting) can do wonders not only for you physically but also mentally. Try to schedule in 20-30 minutes a day where you do something to raise your heart rate a little. There are many guides online to get you into an exercise routine, one such guide can be found at zenhabits.net