The Basics of WFH

Create a workspace, draft a routine, and have a plan for getting unstuck

Good morning, and welcome to The WFH Times!

Based on what friends in tech have told me, it seems like last week most people still worked from the office even if tech (and other) companies allowed working from home.

It sounds like that is changing this week as many people actually work from home, not least of all because some companies are closing their offices. If your company has closed its office, please let me know!

To kick things off, I figured we should start with some basics.

The Basics of WFH

Sure, you can pull out your laptop just about anywhere, but will you be effective? To work effectively from home, I recommend doing three things:

  1. Create a workspace

  2. Draft a routine

  3. Have a plan for getting unstuck

Together, these three will help you be focused instead of ending each day wondering how you spent so much time mindlessly browsing the internet and getting distracted.

Create A Workspace

The Olympic swimmer puts on her goggles, takes a deep breath of the chlorine-smelling air, and dives into the pool. Her body takes over and starts to swim.

We’re looking for the same physical response from your workspace. This means some physical cues and then building a habitual response to those cues. Here are my physical cues:

  • A desk for standing and focusing.

  • A bench for lying down and dreaming.

  • Bose headphones, not for music, but for silence

  • A monitor, keyboard, and mouse to transform my laptop into a “work” device

  • A shut door to create a sense of safety and to tell others I’m working.

When I stand at my desk and put my headphones on, it’s hard not to get started.

If you don’t have a desk and don’t have space for one, your WFH life is going to be challenging. I recommend buying headphones, choosing a quiet cafe, and only going to that cafe to work, never for play.

Draft A Routine

You already have an office routine, even if you don’t know it, and it’s centered around your commute. For most people, the commute helps them transition from home to work and the other way around. It’s a way of letting work stay at work (though with smartphones, this is slipping), and home stay at home.

You should create your own routine, but to give you some ideas, here’s my morning routine:

  1. Drag myself (or on good days, excitedly rush) to the shower.

  2. Practice my 2 minute morning.

  3. Make oatmeal.

  4. Eat oatmeal.

  5. Walk outside, even if just for 5 minutes.

  6. Put on my headphones.

  7. Work.

And my evening routine:

  1. Walk outside, even if just for 5 minutes.

  2. Make dinner with my girlfriend, discussing our day.

  3. Eat dinner together.

  4. Drink our evening kava tea.

  5. Change into PJs and go to sleep.

It’s ok to experiment with your routines, but the point is to typically have one non-negotiable routine. This, along with creating your workspace, helps your body focus and relax.

Have a plan for getting unstuck

“Stuck” goes by many names. It can manifest as writers’ block, mindlessly browsing Reddit, unexplained headaches, or too many trips to the kitchen for a snack. What all these variants of stuck have in common is that work isn’t getting done.

When I first started working from home, somehow I found myself getting stuck far more often than I ever did in an office. I think that’s because an office has many more built-in transitions, and transitions are key to getting unstuck.

Getting unstuck is hard for two reasons. First, we have to notice that we’re stuck, and typically we’re quite bad at mindfulness. Second, we need to find a way to get out of it, and if that were easy then we wouldn’t be stuck.

I’ve found that I need a “getting-unstuck” list that I can leave at my desk. It contains ideas like:

  • Take a walk

  • Make tea

  • Call my girlfriend

  • Journal

  • Water the plants

  • Go climbing

  • Make lunch

When I notice that I’m stuck, I go to the list and pick something that sounds fun. The key is to pick something that is different from my habitual response, which creates a transition that forces me to think and not simply blindly follow a routine. This works so well that I frequently won’t even get to the kitchen before I realize how to get myself unstuck.

So those are the basics of working effectively from home, at least for me. In the future, I’ll share your stories, so regardless of if you agree or disagree with these methods, let me know!

Coronavirus News

I follow 丁香园 (dīng xiāng yuán)’s daily update for numbers and analysis. That site has 2.9 billion (yes billion) views. If you don’t read Chinese, this Johns Hopkins website has similar information. My current opinion is that spread is inevitable and speed is the most important variable at the moment in terms of reducing peak load on healthcare systems. Which is why it’s good that so many people are working from home.

Early reports seemed to indicate that perhaps mortalities were more frequent among men, but further research suggests that this may not be true generally:

[T]here was no difference in the proportion of men and women between ICU patients and non-ICU patients. These data differ from the recent report that showed 2019-nCoV infection is more likely to affect males.8 The possible explanation is that the nCoV infection in patients in the previous report was related to exposure associated with the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, and most of the affected patients were male workers.

Also, this Shenzhen Transmission Study gives an early glimpse into transmission rates and frequency of no-symptom cases.


See you tomorrow! In the future, we’ll talk about strategies for remote meetings, brainstorms, disagreements, and much more.

And please feel free to forward this newsletter to your team! Together, we can create excellent remote teams.