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  • Stop working so much! Not just for your mental health, but because it will make you better when you are working.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. This is important in person, but it’s more important when remote.
  • Invest in your setup. Your company might cover some equipment costs. Even if they don’t, it’s worth the money to have the stuff you’d have in a traditional office.
  • Physical fitness. Working from home makes it easy to over-snack and be lazy, but it also affords opportunities to stay fit that an office does not.

In March of 2020 I started my first civilian job outside of the Air Force. March of 2020 is also right about the time the entire world shut down due to COVID-19. The day I was supposed to start was the day the company decided to have everybody work from home in order to limit spread of the virus. I went into the office just long enough to get my laptop and some instructions, then I went home.

This was my first civilian job since joining the Air Force 9 years earlier. I had never worked remotely before. I also had four kids at home who were sent home on an early spring break that would end up lasting nearly two years. These early days of remote work were a struggle, but I learned some lessons that I’d like to share.

🛑 Boundaries 🙅‍♂️

If you were in an office, you’d show up at 9am and go home at 5pm. Maybe you stay a few minutes late to finish something you’re in the middle of. Occassionally you might come in really early or on the weekend to do a code release. Generally speaking, unless there is some sort of emergency, you stick to your core working hours. When you have to work extra, your boss might let you go early the next day to compensate.

Working from home makes it really easy to never stop working. This is because you never really leave the office if your office is at home. You need to create boundaries, both with your coworkers and with yourself.

Setting boundaries with work

Make it obvious when you aren’t “at work”. Set your online status to away at 5pm, set your core working hours in the calendar program, and have a recurring meeting at lunch time to block other calendar invites. If somebody schedules something on top of those times and it isn’t really important, ask them to reschedule or see if you can miss it. If you let them trump your existing meetings a few times, they’ll keep doing it forever.

When your phone buzzes at 9pm, don’t even look at it. If it’s really important, they will call you. In fact, turn work notifications off between certain hours. Just because somebody else refuses to set boundaries doesn’t mean you should be dragged into it, too.

Setting boundaries with yourself

Many people use their commute to shift gears mentally. On the drive in, you think about the day’s agenda and what you need to work on. While driving home, you’re planning out dinner and what TV shows you want to watch with your family. Give yourself a work-from-home “commute”. For example: I listen to news podcasts and walk around my house - a direct replacement to driving into work and listening to news radio. At the end of the day, I walk into the kitchen and see what we’re doing for dinner.

To help further separate work from home, add physical barriers. Some people have a dedicated office, and when they finish work they shut the office door and do not go back in until the next day. If nothing else, shut your computer down so you’d have to log back in. The idea is to raise obstacles. Driving back to the office at you get home is a pain, and you’ll only do it for emergencies. Make getting back into work a pain, and you’re less likely to do it.

The benefits

This all might seem really selfish, but it will help you out. Your brain and body need time to rest. If you constantly work, you do not give yourself time to recharge. In fact, a Stanford study showed that people who work 70 hours are no more productive than somebody who works 55 hours a week1. All they’re doing is robbing 15 more hours from their personal lives.

I have 4 kids, one of which who is profoundly disabled and requires full-time care. I have no choice but to leave at quitting time and notot look back - my family needs me. This worried me at first, but I noticed that that Stanford study found: I got just as much done as the people who were still sending emails at 9pm. I started each day well-rested and clear-headed, and I cranked out all the work I needed to in the 8 hours I dedicated to work. My family and the business were happier for it.

📩 Communication 🎤

Not only is communication more important when remote, it’s more difficult. This is especially true for management. It’s really easy to walk over to an employee’s desk and see what they’re up to. When you’re at home, your manager has no idea what you’re doing from moment to moment.

Be proactive

You aren’t going to run into people on the way to the bathroom or while eating lunch. You need to make it a point to communicate with your team. Get to know them both personally (to build trust and comraderie) and professionally (so you know who to ask for help). Nobody is going to walk by and see you struggle - if you get stuck you have to reach out and ask for help.

Keep notes

Since your manager can’t see how hard you are working, you absolutely need to keep track of your accomplishments. If your company has a formal review process, these notes will make that really easy to accomplish. Otherwise, it’ll be your evidence to argue for the promotion or raise you want. Best case scenario, you’ve got metrics that show impact. Instead of “closed bug 1234” you want things like “restored access to the system for 1000 users”. That impact shows how your contributions help the bottom line, aka: how much money are you worth.

🖥 Setting up your work environment ⌨

Offices have all kinds of nice stuff. Fancy chairs with lumbar support, multiple monitors, great lighting, ergonomic everything - the whole nine yards! When I started working from home, I was hunched over a laptop in a hard wooden chair at the dining room table.

Over time, I have added more and more to my home office set up. I don’t have a huge desk, but I like having multiple monitors, so I got a vertical stand to stack my monitors #ad and maximize space. My kids generate a lot of background noise, so I broke down and got nicer headphones with noise cancelling #ad so my coworkers could hear me instead of my children. If your company has a deal with an office furniture company and you can get a discount on a nice chair, do it! Your back will thank you later.

My latest great purchase is a desk that sits on top of my treadmill #ad. It was way cheaper than a standing desk, and it lets me stay more active, which brings me to my next point:

💪 Fitness 🏃‍♂️

When I went into work, I brought my lunch. In the morning, I could make good decisions about what I would eat. I walked around the office to talk to different people, sometimes totalling more than a mile according to my fitness watch. It was easy to control my diet and stay active.

At home, the pantry is 10 feet away from me. There’s a fridge full of enough food to feed 6 people. The only person to talk to is my wife, and I can see her just by leaning. It’s so easy to over-eat and under-move, and my weight quickly started to rise once I started working from home. Here’s how I got back into shape:

Make it part of your commute

Some people get up extra early and hit the gym before going to the office. That gives them time to drive the extra distance and shower off afterwards. When you’re at home, you can just exercise there. Get you some weights, or a treadmill, or a VR headset with some fitness games. Look up yoga or calisthenics videos on YouTube (there are tons out there). Burn some calories, get sweaty, and then go straight to work. You’re at home where nobody can smell you or see the sweat pouring out of you - take advantage of that!

A little goes a long way

That treadmill desk I talked about? I set my laptop on that and set the treadmill to 1 MPH - pretty much the slowest it can go. It’s basically just enough that I have to move at all, rather than sit in a chair all day. I get in the zone and start coding, and before I know it I’ve clocked multiple hours on the treadmill and burned hundreds of calories.

You can do something similar without a treadmill. Set a timer and every half hour get up and walk around or do some pushups. It won’t seem like much, but even a tiny bit of exercise is better than zero exercise. Start small and build up from there!

Be deliberate about what you eat

If you find yourself overeating, set some rules. Do what you would do in the office - pack a lunch! Plan your meal ahead of time and stick to it. If you let yoursef raid the fridge when you’re hungry and piece together a meal, you’re probably going to make some bad decisions.

My biggest advice: get a calorie counting app and let it do the hard work of totaling things up. Be honest and track everything, and see how that compares to what your in-office food intake would be. A little data goes a long way towards driving better decisions.


Working from home was a huge change for me, but it has overall been a great experience. It’s certainly not for everybody, and it does take some extra work that in-person work doesn’t need, but the unique benefits are perfect for many people. Hopefully these tips help you adjust to working from home and make you more effective in your remote work.


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