Figuring out your “work from home routine”

joseph-pennington-freelance-writerNice view, but not a great place for working

It’s 9am. I’m sitting outside a lakeside cafe in Mayan Village in Guatemala. The birds are singing, it’s the perfect temperature, and I’ve just been served a coffee by one of the friendly, traditionally-dressed staff.

It’s the ideal place to start the working day, if that was all there was to it. But I’ve only told you the edited-down, brochure-ready version of the story.

The wifi is iffy at best. There’s an American family in the corner making it feel more like a McDonald’s restaurant than a tropical paradise. My legs are being feasted on by the local insect life. And the table I’m sitting at is clearly made for grazing pintsized Central Americans, not lanky laptop-wielding Europeans.

Granted, most of these grievances are easily resolved: bug spray, noise-cancelling earphones, offline apps. However, when working remotely, whether at home or away, there’s always going to be a few that no amount of planning can prepare you for.

It’s the kids needing picking up from school early; the dog throwing up on the carpet; the power cuts; the four pages of work you forgot about; the all-day house party next door.

Anyone of these occurrences alone can turn your day upside down. And together, they threaten to destabilise the very reasoning behind why you’re doing what you’re doing.

This is where even long-term remote workers get hung up. You jump on Google and start spending most your time browsing blogs and forums seeking advice. But alas, the information you find acts as little more than plasters that temporarily patch up symptoms of a poor work-from-home routine — things like changing out of your jim-jams and regularly walking around the block.

I’m not knocking the wonders that wearing a shirt and getting some fresh air can do for injecting focus and energy into the workday. The problem is, they can only do so much if your underlying system is weak.

Right now, I can deal with the wifi issues and poor seating as this is my first ‘scoping out’ visit to the cafe and after writing this introduction, I’m going to do some offline work and meet with another freelancer. Unlike the past few years, I no longer leave what’s going to happen and how much I’m going to get done up to chance, and so nothing — not even a bus full of American tourists — can disrupt my day.

Your work from home routine

No doubt you’ve heard all sorts about how your day should be structured — using sticky notes, tracking your time, with your phone switched off. But the fact is, the whole point of remote working is that there’s no one size fits all approach. As long as you plan your day around your preferred working style and do so with nothing less than military precision, it doesn’t really matter what it looks like.

There are, however, a handful of practices we’d recommend to anyone planning their remote working routine.

Midday power napping: With 85 percent of all mammalian species sleeping more than once a day, scientists are unsure if humans are naturally monophasic or whether modern society has shaped our sleep patterns.

Whatever the case, with just a 10 and 30 minutes midday power nap, ideally between 1 and 4pm, you can improve everything from creative problem solving and verbal memory to reaction times and symbol recognition. Even an ultra-short six-minute power nap has been proven to improve long-term memory.

Meeting a fellow home-worker: Social isolation is part and parcel of remote working. And no matter how much of an introvert you are, if not taken into account when planning your days, it will get to you sooner or later.

As Slack channels and video calls are limited and coworking hubs aren’t for everyone, a good tactic is to get in touch with one of the growing numbers of remote workers. Tools like Nomad List are emerging as networks for mobile workers to connect and build relationships beyond the laptop. Facebook groups, subreddits, local business and networking events, and Meetups are other places you’ll find a slew of fellow freelancers and business owners.

Moving around at least once an hour: With not having to leave the office by a certain time, I often found myself sitting at my desk from dawn till dusk. Or, when in a cafe, staying glued to the seat for hours on end, refraining from doing laps around the tables every half hour. These were almost always the days when work seemed especially taxing and to drag on forever, only ending when I finally gave in and reluctantly closed the laptop.

Regular exercise like walking shouldn’t be thrown into your routine as a liferaft when you feel the ship is already sinking, it should be woven into the very fabric of your day. Many creative thinkers — from the ancient Greeks to Steve Jobs — have talked about the importance of walking and its many positive effects, and I think it’s only fair to say they wouldn’t be as reputed without it.

Finishing up in a bar: Although you may not notice it at first, remote working separates you from the sense of being part of a team that is moving towards a common goal. Much of this idea can be reconstructed by being around people, and so we seek the company of others in libraries and coffee shops to set us at ease.

But this only gets at half of the problem. The other half is the lack of tangible feedback and rewards for completing a task or project, even if it’s just the absence of Bill taking you for a drink after work.

This example hints at one of the reasons why bars make the ideal place for finishing up the working day. They’re not only comfier and full of people winding down — as opposed to the hard seating and tuning up of coffee shops — but their menu offerings are full of worthy rewards, from alcohol-free cocktails to double gins.

To top it off, bars are also conducive environments for meaningful interactions with strangers, and, crucially, the staff are not so opposed to seeing someone take a sneaky, upright power nap.

To get the most out of working from home, you need structure. With structure, you free yourself to get what you need to done. And in this way, you’re able to reap the full benefits of the remote working lifestyle and never forget why you chose it in the first place.

Joseph Pennington is a freelance writer and long-term traveller from the North of England. Find him on Medium exploring remote working, technology, meditation, and everything in between.