Decluttering Your Remote Work Life

When Heather Floyd and I worked together, a common saying we had between each other was “Perfect is the enemy of good”. For those of you who aren’t familiar, it’s an English translation of an old Italian proverb from the 1600s that was popularized in French by Voltaire. Even now, it’s a phrase I still use frequently at Offroadcode, and it aligns directly with many of Offroadcode’s ideals - that good code, but imperfect code, is what gets the job done. Pete elaborates that a lot more in the article he wrote for Skrift, but when I came upon the idea to write about my own experiences working remotely for a team in England (4,560 miles away and an 8 hour time zone difference), that was one of the first phrases that came to mind. I’m considering getting a poster to put on the wall near my desk.

However, as much as I like the phrase, the more I think of “perfect is the enemy of good”, I actually settle on a variation of it that I’ve defined for myself: “Clutter is the enemy of good”.

However, as much as I like the phrase, the more I think of “perfect is the enemy of good”, I actually settle on a variation of it that I’ve defined for myself: “Clutter is the enemy of good”. Working remotely from home, and in fact from a small home that is only a one-bedroom apartment, with my partner means that it’s incredibly easy for my space to become a mess. When I spend not only the entirety of my work time in one place, but much of my free time in that place as well, I find that clutter can’t help but build up. And the more clutter that exists in my workplace (aka home), the more clutter exists in my mind.

Clutter is bad for us. It’s stifling, exhausting, and overwhelming. And the more clutter exists in our physical lives, the more it affects our mental health. Multiple studies have shown that clutter can make us anxious, depressed, and therefore less productive. And in our industry, as much as we’re paid to code, we’re paid to problem solve. It’s impossible to problem solve when we’re stifled by a mess around us.

With this in mind, I thought I’d share the list of things I’ve put together to declutter my own life and make me a more healthy and productive person. Hopefully you’ll find some gems in them as well.

Have a set workspace

When working from home, I find it’s really easy to just work… anywhere. Bed, couch, dining table. If there’s a surface to sit and a place to put a laptop, work can be done there. Sometimes, this is a good thing. Being able to go out onto the patio on a sunny day with some good tunes can make for a great productive time. However, most of the time it leads to laziness and difficulty focusing.

As I’ve mentioned, my apartment isn’t very large, and I share it with another person. My office is, therefore, in my bedroom. But my office isn’t the entirety of my bedroom. I have a desk, and that desk is only used for work - which is a very important distinction. Whether or not you have a desk, a table, or a TV tray, having a specific area set aside for work will help make you feel more productive. This happens because when we have an area set aside to work in, our mind knows what we’re going to do when we enter that space - work. Therefore, we more easily set ourselves into a routine of working because we’ve associate that specific spot with work. It helps cut down on the inevitable distractions that occur from working at home (my cats are my primary issue here).

Whether or not you have a desk, a table, or a TV tray, having a specific area set aside for work will help make you feel more productive.

Have a set work time

Every Codegarden, every conference, every meetup I go to, one of the first things that’s discussed is “work life balance”. It’s something we’ve had fantastic articles written for on Skrift, and it’s something that I keep close to my heart. At heart, I like to impress, which makes me a constant over-achiever, and if I’m given the opportunity to overwork, I probably will. But I don’t (I mean, unless it’s necessary - Offroadcode has some awesome policies about work life balance).

Now, 9-5 isn’t for everyone, and I work earlier than that to have a couple hours of overlap with my team in the UK, but one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in my year at Offroadcode is that having a time when I clock in and clock off helps keep me sane. You don’t have to work 7-3 or 9-5, but giving yourself a specific amount of hours you log every day means that you’re both accountable for your work and that you can step away. And that stepping away is very important because with the amount of problem solving developers due on a daily, hourly, by-minute basis, we need to give our brains a chance to rest and recuperate. We can only make so many decisions in a day, so forcing ourselves to keep any kind of schedule increases our productivity and keeps our minds healthy.

Personally, I take this (and the previous item in this list) to what I consider the “next level”. When my work day is over, I unplug my extra monitors from my laptop and leave my desk. Even if I’m going to keep using the computer for a non-work activity, it’s a mental step I take to say “My work day is over”. Then I move into my living room and use my computer at the couch or dining table. It reinforces the time and space where I work, which makes me more productive working there.

Keep a clean work area

Keeping my desk tidy, dusted and wiped down, helps me feel comfortable instead of suffocated in my own space.

I don’t have the biggest desk, which is probably a good thing since I can really pile on the papers and knick-knacks if given the opportunity. Even so, this is an area I struggle with. Even at home, I love having things on my desk that make it feel personal to me - as if it wasn’t literally mine - and those things quickly add up. Keeping my desk tidy, dusted and wiped down, helps me feel comfortable instead of suffocated in my own space.

And it’s not just the physical desk itself either. I have a rule regarding my computer desktop and the amount of clutter I allow myself in files. I find that there’s something overwhelming by having a desktop full of icons that adds to the frustration of feeling like I can’t find anything, even though I should know exactly where I’m storing files I download.

Keeping my desktop clean (I try to delete everything once a week) and clearing out my downloads folder of old programs I’ve already installed or documents I don’t need any more makes me feel less cluttered, even if it’s only digitally. Having that clean, fresh desktop when I open my laptop is as nice a feeling as getting my home professionally cleaned and means I can get to work right away and I’ve put both the physical and digital items in my life where they need to go.

Get Ready for Work Like You Don’t Work from Home

I cannot express the amount of times that I have rolled out of bed into my computer chair in just my pajamas or just enjoyed the delightful treat of not having to wear pants because I don’t have to go to work! But the longer that goes on, the more unhealthy it is. Getting ready for the day is one of the primary ways that stay-at-home parents help battle the depression that can be a real struggle for those who are in the house with kids all day. And… despite the fact that I’m not wrangling any children, the premise is the same: getting ready for our day helps us feel ready to tackle the challenges ahead of us. It wakes us up, energizes our mind, and by decluttering our bodies with a shower and a nice (might I even say clean - I won’t let myself off the hook for this either) set of clothes encourages us to feel good about ourselves, which means feeling good about our work.

I’m not going to lie. 7am feels like it’s going to be the death of me some days, and there are still times even in the last week that I rolled out of bed, threw on a shirt, and got on Hangouts for our daily standup. But I do better work if I just take care of myself a little bit extra, and when I look in the mirror later in the day, I definitely feel better about myself, too.

Get out of the house

This shouldn’t be that hard. I live in a beautiful place in the world full of greenery, the ocean, and mountains. There are so many things to do outdoors, whether it’s run to a local brewery for a beer or hike down at the waterfront. But so many times I don’t because it’s just too easy to stay at home. Decluttering our minds includes getting out of the cobwebs in our head from being in the same place too much. Sometimes, that means taking a holiday and going far away. Much of the time, it just means going to a park or grabbing a beer, or getting out. If you’re an introvert like me, this can be especially difficult because it means you might have to be social, but that’s not what I’m saying. Going for a walk on your own, taking a book somewhere to read, or going to the library or out for coffee all help with our intake of fresh experiences, and that input makes our work output even more valuable.

In closing...

To be perfectly honest with you, I’m not always on point with these things. As I said, I roll out of bed in PJs, sometimes overwork, sometimes have a desk that’s a disaster - both in my computer and around it - and lock myself in my apartment for a week. All that said, the more I introduce these tips into my life, the more I feel better about myself and about the work that I do. I love to code, even if I don’t always love coding at home, but I find the more I keep myself organized and structured, the less the “at home” part matters and I can just enjoy what I do.

About the Author

Janae Cram is a co-creator and the code behind Skrift. She's a bit of a perfectionist and likes her code to look as pretty as the front-facing applications she creates at Offroadcode. She has an odd collection of My Little Ponies, loves to play video games and dress up like a geek for LARP on Friday nights. Her D&D class of choice is Bard, because if you can kick ass and sing, why wouldn't you?

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