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How to be more productive working from home?

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Mid-Level Software Engineer at Grab10 months ago

I have been working from home since 2020. From 2020-2021, I used to work in a healthcare startup with lots of responsibility, tons of work, crazy deadlines and needed to firefight incidents on a daily basis. The managers used to keep us on our toes and everyone was expected to put in more hours than the standard 40 hours/week. I was pretty much working most of my waking hours so productivity was not my concern. I did learn a lot but eventually burnt out.

I took a year off to do my masters and joined my present company in June 2022. It's a much bigger company with amazing culture, clear processes and I have very supportive and brilliant teammates. No one micromanages me. There is still good amount of responsibility and tons of work. In this environment I also want to give my best. While my productivity is great when in office, I do feel I am at 70-80% productivity level when working from home. We follow a hybrid model where we go to office twice a week.

Being in rent crazy Singapore, I do not have the luxury of having a separate office space at home. I do have a proper desk setup and enough things going on to be productive.

I want to be more productive in days I am WFH.

Have tried keeping up a schedule, wearing noise cancelling headphones, listening to binaural beats.

But nevertheless I do find myself on my bed after a couple of hours of work and it becomes difficult to resume work again. Also I tend to be hard on myself for taking that rest and the day just spirals from there.

I have tried working from cafes and even going to office every day. But along with going to gym, commutting and cooking healthy food I am too tired at the end of the day.

I really want to be more productive when WFH so that I can also manage the other parts of my life well. My team doesn't care where I work as long as the work is done.

Would like some tips on how to be a better remote worker and manage the entire day better.

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Discussion

(5 comments)
  • 14
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    Junior Software Engineer at Series B Startup
    10 months ago

    It sounds like you do your best surrounded by others, especially others working on similar tasks. Although I work well in solitude (making me probably not the greatest candidate to respond), there certainly are times I just need someone working next to me. I have recently discovered https://www.focusmate.com where you can pair up with anyone in the world and virtually co-work for a certain number of minutes; it has been extremely helpful, and particularly when I'm feeling unproductive. Since you have tried cafes and going into the office but all of that depletes from energy reserves you need for gym and other life things, I guess that takes co-working spaces (e.g. WeWork) out of the question. I highly recommend trying out FocusMate; I also know there are other similar applications but I have not tried them out myself.

    70-80% productivity does not sound terribly awful to me XD, but I hope you find clever solutions that work for you soon.

  • 13
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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    10 months ago

    I like Grace's answer to use tools like FocusMate (another one that I've tried is called FlowClub).

    Another thing to consider is to reflect on when you feel most productive in the day. For example, Steve mentioned that he feels best (most mental clarity) in the morning: https://www.jointaro.com/lesson/s9VPqSHk2EuK2xOaBqYq/getting-to-the-top-1percent-of-amazon-engineers-productivity-tips-from-a-life-engineered/

    Also, keep in mind that there is some seasonality in work. For example, Q4 in Amazon is crunch time, but the fact that it ends in January is enough motivation to work hard for that few month period: https://www.jointaro.com/lesson/GaOB5qFLoTbGilp7UokF/how-rigid-should-you-be-with-your-coding-content-schedule/

    The other thing I recommend trying is to tee up some easy work to do the night before. Something you know you can do without much ambiguity. This will give you a lot of motivation to get started when you start the day, and that is often enough to have a productive day. I talk about this more here: https://www.jointaro.com/lesson/9et2vnO6CMnEJYdxtWXt/how-to-accomplish-something-every-single-day/

  • 10
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    Engineer at Robinhood
    10 months ago

    I was in a similar position when I started working from home at the start of the pandemic. It took a while to figure something out and I'd narrow down the core theme of finding my working process to: there has to be a clear difference in ceremony between getting ready normally and getting ready for work. There were 2 things I eventually introduced in my WFH process that established this boundary :

    • I always wear socks on work days. If I don't have work, then I don't actively try to wear socks.
    • For my monitor setup in my room that I use for work, I stopped using my personal laptop on it.

    Maybe try changing up your WFH process to establish this clear boundary between work from home and just being at home. What works for me might not exactly end up working for you, but hopefully it gives you somewhat clearer direction on what could be changed.

  • 8
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    10 months ago

    I empathize with a lot - After the pandemic hit, I was at ~70% productivity at Meta compared to how I operated back in 2019 and I felt like I was letting down my team. The tactical advice here is fantastic, but I do feel like some of this stems from your mentality. For example:

    But nevertheless I do find myself on my bed after a couple of hours of work and it becomes difficult to resume work again. Also I tend to be hard on myself for taking that rest and the day just spirals from there.

    I don't know about you, but I would rarely just do raw work for 8 hours straight even back when I was in the office. I think what's happened is that back when we all worked in-person, we had a lot of "natural" breaks like:

    • Team lunch
    • A teammate comes over for help and it just evolves into a more fun and casual conversation
    • You head on over to the micro-kitchen and you get roped into some small gathering of teammates there
    • You have a meeting which feels like a "mini-break" because you have to actually physically get up and take some time to walk over the meeting room (which may be in another building). If your office is nice like Meta HQ is, the walk is quite pleasant!

    Some of these are more Big Tech specific, but Grab is also pretty gigantic so I imagine it's not too different.

    Anyways, what I'm trying to get at is that you shouldn't feel bad about taking a break every few hours: It's just the natural thing to do. When I tell people that I spent an entire day coding, what I really mean is that I coded for 2 hours, took a 15 minute break, coded for 1.5 more hours, had lunch, etc.

    I think the difference is that since your version of a break feels more "lazy" by just being on the bad, your brain feels bad about it. So my advice is to level up your breaks:

    • Talk a walk outside - Singapore is beautiful!
    • Do some small chores around the house to life-hack your break into different type of productivity
    • Exercise a little bit (jog on the treadmill, do some stretches)

    Hopefully this helps gets you out of the lack of productivity "guilt spiral". I've gotten myself into these so many times, so I'm rooting hard for you 😊

  • 2
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    10 months ago

    Another thing I want to point out is that you have something so many other engineers don't: Wonderful teammates.

    Humans are biologically programmed to be around other people and collaborate, and to me, that visceral teamwork feeling from being in the office is by far the biggest thing remote work robs us of.

    So maybe you can use more teammate face-to-face time as a way to maintain your work excitement and productivity? You can even use 1 on 1 meetings as "breaks" to intersperse your IC work blocks. For me, I almost always come out of 1 on 1s feeling energized, especially when the meeting was with a mentee. If you get along at least semi-well with a teammate, they're probably okay with a biweekly or monthly 1 on 1.

    Lastly, here's some other great resources around working remotely: