How to Work Remotely Without Losing Your Mind

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It’s been a little over a year since I started working for Treehouse, which meant giving up the office lifestyle. My previous experience working remotely was relegated to a few snow days stuck in southern Delaware and days before holidays. Here’s what I’ve learned so far to keep me happy outside of an office.

1. Have a separate work and home computer

It's sort of a nod to my days working in government, but I firmly believe that work should be kept separate from anything else you do on a computer. I might close one laptop at the end of the work day and immediately open another, but the perception that I'm leaving work for the day helps. I don't have any work related development environments set up on my ‘home’ computer (my macbook air), so the temptation to just do one more thing isn't there. There are some exceptions, like traveling. Lugging around both my macbook pro and my air seemed ridiculous when I moved from DC to Seattle, stopping on vacation for the weekend in Vegas. I usually only take my pro with me when traveling because light travel superceeds other priorities for me.

2. Have a dedicated work area

But don't feel like you have to work from there all the time.

Since I started at Treehouse, I've had a dedicated desk at WeWork that houses my 27" monitor and a much more traditional setup. For a while, I had trouble working on anything BUT that monitor, so it helped to set it up someplace that was out of my apartment where I knew would be quiet and I could get things done. Since I've done a ton of traveling this year, I've gotten more used to multi-tasking on my laptop, but it's still nice to know I have a dedicated workstation where I can absolutely get my work done.

However, I get a lot of benefit from switching up my working locations. I find that I'm much more inspired when creating new design work if I go to someplace I don't usually work from. Taking advantage of the mobility that comes with working remotely has been great, so I don't try to force myself to go into an office everyday (just most days).

Seattle skyline with computer in foreground

3. Get out of your house/apartment every day

This was crucial when I lived in a 400 sq foot studio in DC. Since in person interaction was no longer a necessary part of my day to day, it was really easy to stay in for more than a day at a time. I might have some reserved tendancies, but for the most part, I'm at my happiest when I get to talk to someone at least once every day.

Going outside every day is also crucial in the Winter, to get some more sunlight and vitamin D. I only had one set of windows in my studio that looked out onto another (taller) apartment building, so the amount of light coming in was pretty small. Now that I'm in Seattle, I get less amount of light in the Winter overall, so I'm trying to be proactive about taking in that sunlight when I can (even if it's behind clouds most of the time).

And if it's raining, you don't have to go outside, but just get out and switch locations for a little while.

There are some other things that might be good practices, such as not lounging in your pjs all day and waking up early, but overall, I've found these things to be more every day things than work day things (with some exceptions, of course). I'd also love to have more designers to interact with on a daily basis in-person, but this is more of a nice to have and not a must have.

Overall, my criteria for keeping sane involves providing myself with enough tools to get my work done efficiently, and keeping myself happy by providing enough in-person interaction that I don't get from a job daily.