How not to go insane while working from home
There was a time when my life was pretty structured. Up at a certain time every morning, into my suit, into the car and then into my office to manage client’s money. So it went for nearly a decade until the market crash of 08/09 left me without a job in an industry that didn’t seem to be hiring until financial outlooks stabilized. Funny thing about that... Now I help make mobile games from home as one of the co-founders of Itzy Interactive. You’d think the transition from a regular, office job to one working out of your home would be an easy one. No boss micromanaging you, no set hours, no dress-code, no phones ringing, etc, however the transition from office peon to home office productivity machine wasn’t a smooth transition for me. I thought I’d take a moment to share a few of the things that help my productivity as an indie developer working from home, and help retain my sanity while doing it. It’s also an exercise for me to reaffirm some of these things I may be slipping on as I fall into unproductive habits while work continues on our newest title, Vex Blocks! :)
For the love of god, put on some clothes
You wouldn’t walk into your office dressed in sweats and a t-shirt and even if this was acceptable, you probably still shouldn’t do it. There’s been a few days when I’ve rolled out of bed and stumbled into my office, but I’m never as productive as I am when awake, showered, had a good breakfast and dressed for work. I'm not talking about dressing up, I'm mainly talking about things like...putting on pants. It may sound a bit clichéd but feeling good about yourself makes you more productive and until I’ve cleaned myself up and dressed first thing in the morning I just don’t feel like I’m ready somehow. If you’re content to work in your tighty whities all day with the windows open and your retired neighbours aghast, maybe just try cleaning up one day, spraying on some Axe body spray and getting dressed to see how you feel in comparison.
Set yourself regular work hours. The nice thing about working from home is you can usually be flexible with your working hours but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still have set hours. I found that having a schedule was valuable for maintaining my sanity and improving my productivity. For me, it’s like a switch flips on in my head. “Time for business!” If for some reason I find myself off my schedule it’s hard for me to get into my work groove when I do sit down at my desk. I’m sure there’s some behavioural scientist somewhere that can back me up on this one, but I’ve really found keeping a regular, scheduled work day improves the amount I can accomplish compared to days when I just “wing it.”
It’s also nice to have that end time to look forward to as well, and having a family it’s good to have that moment when “Daddy is available for play now!” You’re not a machine and you can’t work all the time. There needs to be a point where you can stop and focus on yourself, your friends and your family. Also, take breaks and take a scheduled lunch. I’m terrible when it comes to this and by the time my day is done my brain feels fuzzy. Taking a break keeps me from burning out, stressing out and helps me gain my bearings.
If you’re working from home, it’s also a good idea that you lay down some ground rules for the other occupants of your home. It’s hard to get anything done when you’re being interrupted by pets, parents, spouse, children, etc. My wife is currently at home on maternity leave and it’s nice to be available if she needs assistance with the new baby or our 2 year old son but I need time to do my work. You wouldn’t be able to work a regular office job with a toddler on your lap, yelling for Elmo videos so it’s understandable that there needs to be generally uninterrupted work time. So far having my family at home has worked out pretty well, with even our headstrong 2 year old grasping the concept that when Daddy’s office door is closed he’s working and he’ll be able to play later. My son even says "Bye!" to me now and waves when I’m going into the office to start my work day.
Separate work environment and minimize distractions
It’s also useful to have a designated work space. A “zone of work” that you can enter and exit. For myself, I’m lucky enough to have an office in my home but even if you don’t it’s not a bad idea to create a separate space that’s specifically setup for work. Even though it should go without saying, make an effort to decrease distractions. If you’re a PC gamer and you don’t have the willpower to not fire WOW up every couple of hours then perhaps you need a work machine that doesn’t have any games installed, or create a unique login that doesn’t have access to programs you may find distracting. I find it useful for my PC to be work only while receiving my gaming fix on the consoles setup in our den. It’s helpful for me to have that separation.
Don’t limit human interactions
After working in a busy office, this is something that I didn’t think would be an issue but it was. I found the transition from always being in communication with others to working primarily by myself to be a bit jarring. By the end of the work week I found I craved human interaction; that I’d even go a little squirrely without it. As I mentioned in previous blogs, regularly scheduled meetings with my team helps to break up the monotony of this lone programmer’s existence while keeping the team on task. It can never hurt to keep up communications with your team, even going so far as to have a voice chat session running in the background while working occasionally. This may hinder productivity in the short term, but in the long run I find it helps keep me from experiencing cabin fever. A change of venue from time to time couldn’t hurt either. If you can, take a laptop down to your local cafe and get some work done. Again, in the long run this will be beneficial to your working well being. At least it was for me.
These methods have all helped me over the past year and a half I’ve been working from home. Hopefully you find some of these useful as well. Cheers!