You need a separate room if you want to be effective while working remotely. There are so many reasons for it that even though I’ve been working remotely for over 7 years, every few months I discover new benefits of it.
Many people attempt remote work, hoping that their lives will get so much better if they only don’t need to commute to work anymore. They portray remote work as something that’s easily manageable, where you just comfortably sit on a couch in your living room, with the TV turned on, kids running around and you working on your computer in the middle of it all.
That’s how most people see the remote work and that’s precisely the reason why most people fail at it. Remote work is a fantastic opportunity that comes with many advantages, but only if you know how to manage them. But as with most things in life, if an opportunity doesn’t meet the preparation, it’s all for nothing.
There is nothing extraordinary with the amount of preparation for remote work in comparison to other things in life. Humans — myself included — are simply really bad at looking at the big picture and understanding how many factors influence the quality of our lives.
If you want to be effective and remain sane while working remotely, you need to find yourself a place where you can isolate yourself and train your brain to recognize when it’s time to work. To give you an example that every one of us can relate to, let’s take a look at some other space we spend our time at. Let it be our bedrooms.
A bedroom has two general purposes. It’s a place where you should sleep and have sex. And that’s it. The consequences of not understanding that purpose of a specific room should be respected are dramatic, yet so easily avoidable.
Your brain must be trained so that whenever you head to your bedroom, it’s thinking either about rest or about making love, and both should generate chemicals in your brain that bring positivity into your life. For most of us, our bedrooms aren’t necessarily clear synonyms to the positivity, because we don’t respect the rules of the bedroom. We eat in bed which makes our brain associate bedroom with specific smells and tastes. We keep bedrooms messy, which causes irritation and makes our thought to wander and think that we should clean up, rather than just enjoying a moment. We bring computers to the bedroom, and we either review social media, reply to emails or browse the Internet in general, even though all these things have a huge potential of generating stress, anxiety, and irritation.
Unconsciously we bring negative emotions to the bedroom, and then when it’s time to sleep or have sex, we’re distracted. We’re not in the mood, because we’re pissed off by someone who sent us a crappy message on social media; because we’ve reviewed our email and know there is so much work to be done; because there is a nasty smell of the leftovers; or because there are crumbs everywhere that seem to be hiding everywhere and are never gone no matter how long we vacuum the bed.
We fuck ourselves up, because we don’t respect the simple rules of space management. Clean up your bedroom and make it a neat place where you enjoy spending time in solitude or with your partner. If you got to pick up a phone, leave the bedroom and answer the call from the living room. Really, the world isn’t going to collapse if you answer it 5 seconds later. If you know you’re going to have an argument with your spouse, get out of the bedroom and argue in the living room. You’re going to ruin your day anyway, so you seriously can take 10 seconds to go to another room and not ruin the atmosphere of the bedroom. Don’t talk negative shit in there, don’t talk about work, about problems and bills in the bedroom. Because when it’s time for pleasure, you want to experience the pleasure to the maximum, focused entirely on you and the other person. You don’t want to think about the bills you need to pay, get distracted by the notifications flashing on your smartphone or to get uncomfortable because you’ve got cookies crumbs everywhere.
Now let’s get back to the office space, because the example I’ve given above is something everyone can relate to and it’ll give you a context allowing you to understand what I’m about to say in terms of the office space.
When you get into the office, your mind should be calm and focused. If you want to get things done and you’ve set high standards for yourself, you need to be able to focus and allow your brain to get into the state of flow. For that, you need physical isolation, because you can’t be even slightly afraid that someone is going to disturb you. When you’re in the living room, you subconsciously know that there may be other people around, or someone can scare you when you’re focused. We don’t like to get scared and our primitive brain is always on the watch, so it can’t give you all the headspace to focus on creative work. It’ll be constantly in the reactive mode, which jacks up your adrenaline and cortisol levels, generates stress and causes a depletion of your cognitive pool.
Your brain must feel safe, it must know what to expect and you can’t be constantly looking around the room to ensure no one is coming or asking you any question. You need isolation, the same way you’d need that in the office. Most people never get to experience the flow state, because current open space offices are the biggest enemy of productivity, but let’s leave that for a separate story.
At the office, you still manage to get some work done, because you know you got to do it and that it comes first before the strangers who constantly interrupt your work. But it’s a whole different story when you’re at your home, because at home it’s not the work that matters the most. Family and loved ones matter the most, and very often we put work away in order to ensure we’re giving our best to the ones we love and for whom we care. That’s to me is the bigger reason why people manage to somewhat get stuff done at the office, but they barely manage to do anything done despite working long hours from home.
Of course, there are people, who need to feel the pressure of their peers, who need to be directly managed and constantly verified, otherwise they slack off. But I’m not writing this particular post for people who can’t get their shit together and they play video games instead of working, abusing the trust that was given to them by their team and company they work for. I’m also not writing this post for digital nomads who enjoy traveling and working in a meantime, because their priorities and responsibilities are different of those that I hold for myself. Digital nomads lifestyle was never for me, so I won’t talk about the things I have not experienced for a prolonged period of time. So if you’re a digital nomad and you enjoy your life, then most likely I don’t have anything valuable to offer for you. Keep doing what works for you.
I’m writing this post for people like me, who are in the point in their lives where they have other things they deeply care for, and they want to ensure that whatever they do, is matching their high standards. For people who want to leave no stone unturned and also for those who just want to get shit done and experience life beyond work. Some people just want to separate their work from their personal lives and they’re seeking ways to do it most effectively and for those, this advice should come handy.
Get yourself a separate room in which you do nothing but work. It’ll allow you to focus better, because your body won’t be jacked up with the adrenaline, and your brain will know that this particular place is when you get shit done. This is the place where you get all the stress on yourself, where you don’t play around and where you do what needs to be done. Don’t eat in the office, don’t play video games in the office, don’t have sex in the office, because it’s going to mess up the way your brain produces specific chemicals. If you play video games in the office, you’ll have a hard time focusing on work, because you’ll crave the dopamine hits and you won’t be able to manage the delayed gratification that comes after many hours of work put into completing a task at work. If you have sex, watch TV, eat food in your office, your mind will get easily distracted each time flashbacks kick in. That’s why it’s hard to work remotely — for a longer period of time — on your couch in the living room. Because there are no rules of the living room. The living room has no restrictions as it’s meant to do all the living-related activities.
There are simply too many distractions, too many ways to escape the work, and too many priorities. Sit down in the separate room and leave yourself no chance to notice a sticky note on a fridge to pay the bills or to take care of the laundry. Because if you just take a look at it, you’ll lose focus over the work, and you won’t give the best of yourself while working. You’ll be stressed out because there are other tasks, you’ll keep it in the back of your head and it’ll slowly but surely consume your cognitive pool for a day.
It’s hard to tell someone you live with, that they shouldn’t talk to you when you’re in the living room. It creates a toxicity in the air, where people don’t know when it’s a right time to talk to you and when it’s not, so you make your stress contagious. If not communicated properly with your family members, they may get a feeling like you don’t care about them, if you don’t interact with them when they ask you something or want to interact with you.
Our brains, bodies and social interactions are tough, so you got to find a way to make it less complex at all cost. Even if you communicate it all well, when everyone understands that you’re working, and it’s not that you don’t love them, but you simply need to work; when you have social dynamics under control, it’s still bloody tough to control your brain and primitive instincts. When you sit on a couch and your kid wants to watch the TV, you’ll take a look once in a while, because the flashy lights will drive your attention to it. When you work from your bedroom, and you notice your spouse stopping by to change the clothes, you really think you’ll be able to just continue working like nothing has happened? Your brain will desire pleasure and intense emotions, because the work we do most of the time isn’t exciting enough for it. The brain doesn’t like boredom, it likes action, it craves the chemicals that will be generated when you fall for the pleasure.
If you work in a separate room, you just don’t give yourself a chance to get distracted. That what it really is all about. By keeping a discipline of working in a separate physical location you make it easier for your mind to stay disciplined.
And back to that bedroom for the last time — I’m far from giving anyone any personal advice, but if you don’t respect the purpose of other rooms in your house, you should really consider doing so. Because if you manage your bedroom properly, if you manage your kitchen and living room properly, it’ll be way easier to manage the office space. It’ll be much easier for you to detach from work when you need it, because you know where you need to go in order to get some rest or leisure. Everyone needs some escapism once in a while, and it’s good to know it’s just a few steps away.
If you respect the purpose of your kitchen, you’ll go to the kitchen anytime you need to eat something, saving you from creating a mess in your office space which would then distract you.
So yeah, that had to be said, because work-life balance matters. Work is part of life and I want to treat it as such, which is why the mindset I’ve chosen for myself is to focus on building the best work-life harmony. Because when I’m done with work on which I focused all my energy for X hours, I want to close the doors of my office and go experience other things life has to offer. I want to spend quality time with people I love, I want to devote myself to my hobbies, I want to do other things, but I want to do it all with the highest quality I can, with the laser focus to know that whatever I’ve done — I’ve given my best and I leave myself no space for any regrets. I close the doors of the office and leave all the good and the ugly in there, ’cause the last thing I want is for me to be distracted and not pay attention to other important things in my life so they know how important they are to me. Priorities are priorities and work needs to be done for various reasons, but that mustn’t get in the way of higher values. And while working remotely, a separate office space is the number one thing, without which I wouldn’t be able to perform at the level I need.
And that seems to be having good results so far. For me. You do you. And if you decide to apply this advice in your life, do it with a dose of common sense, because you want to be disciplined thanks to your rules, not enslaved by them.
It’s okay to write some code from the living room. It’s okay to turn on the TV, play some Netflix and reply to emails in the meantime. Let’s not get too serious about it, we’ve got to have ways to decompress when we need to. Of course, you can — heck, you should! — have sex outside of your bedroom, in your living room, in the bathroom, in the kitchen, on the balcony, in the car, on the car and wherever you feel like it. You obviously can play games or eat in the living room, kitchen or surprise your spouse with a great morning meal delivered to the bedroom. Make it all work in your favor, but on some qualities, you shouldn’t compromise, and you should not allow an exception to develop into the habit of making your bedroom/office a hideous place.
Focus, energy, and time are limited. Manage the resources wisely.