Product & Growth Tips

Working from home? Mixpanel engineer shares tips on how to stay productive

Aaron Krivitzky (AK)

If you live on Earth, you’re at risk for catching the COVID-19 virus. If you live on Earth and you work on a product team in an office, you’re probably about to work from home–if you aren’t already doing so. Here are some tips for keeping yourself and your team fit, sane and productive during your (hopefully temporary) retreat from the workplace.

1. Make to-do lists

You’ll probably have an overwhelming number of things to do, so start and finish EVERY SINGLE DAY by updating your to-do list. It takes about 5 minutes, and it will help you stay organized while prioritizing the things that are important. Just commit to it and do it. Things never seem quite as overwhelming when they are written down.

I like to use Google Tasks, since it lives inside Gmail + Google Calendar. There’s also a Google Tasks mobile app, which keeps your tasks synced across many devices.

2. Schedule everything

When you’re not physically in an office, no one knows when you’re available and when you aren’t. People will be looking at your calendar to schedule your time, so do them the favor of blocking off the time when you’re not available. You don’t have to make the content on your calendar transparent to everyone; you can control calendar visibility here.

Pro tip: I highly recommend setting “working hours.”

3. Limit tabs

Twitch, CNN, Reddit, you name it: it’s really easy to get distracted when working at home. One symptom of this problem is too many tabs: it’s easy to have a million tabs open at once, and it’s going to hurt your productivity. Consider limiting the number of tabs you have open in any one browser window. (My limit is 15.) Here’s a Chrome extension that will assist you in doing just that, by preventing you from opening more than N tabs.

4. Separate your work space

Not everyone has the luxury of a private office, but it is never a good idea to work where you eat/sleep/lounge. Do your best to separate the space in which you work from the other spaces in which you live. While some housing arrangements might not be conducive to this, it’s always possible to have a dedicated work chair, even if it’s in the same primary room in which you live. Train yourself to work only when you’re in that work space, and don’t work when you’re not there. Otherwise, you’ll find your whole home becomes your office and you’ll never have a moment of leisure again.

5. Stand! (If you can)

Sitting all day is not good for you. If you can rig up a standing desk and commit to it for a few hours a day, you’ll be happy you did. If you can’t, TomatoTimer can help remind you when it’s time to take a break.

6. Set expectations with family or roommates

The people you live with may understand, intellectually, that you’re actually working when you’re “working at home,” but they will constantly forget this fact, because. . . well, you’re right there.

Try not to get mad at them when they (inevitably) interrupt you. It’s never productive. Instead, try to create a mutually-agreeable signal that you’re working and prefer not to be disturbed. 

At my house, my wife and I have an “open door policy”: if my office door is open, she knows I’m generally available. If the door’s closed, it means she shouldn’t interrupt unless there’s an emergency. (A real emergency, like a fire, not “OMG we are out of butter.”) 

Wearing headphones can also provide an obvious visual signal that you’d prefer to be left alone.

Whatever you settle on as your signal of choice, have a conversation with your house-mates about this. Don’t assume they’ll figure it out on their own. (They won’t.)

7. DND mode

All phones–yes, even yours–have some type of do-not-disturb setting. Use that mode when you’re. . . NOT WORKING. 

Don’t get glued to your phone. It’s not healthy.

iOS has a “Screen time” functionality to help you limit the amount of time you spend in specific apps; it also gives you great data on how much time you spend on your phone.

So spend some time with “Screen time”; it’s worth it.

8. Slack status

Use Slack? The “Status” feature can be a helpful way to provide a proactive update about what you’re up to. Consider using it to let your colleagues know what you’re currently doing–and to help you commit to actually doing that thing.

9. Exercise

Our bodies are built to move, but we knowledge workers tend to have jobs that keep us sedentary (even if we’re standing). Remember to do something active every single day, even if it’s just a walk around the block or a few reps of the stairs between your office and the kitchen.

10. Morning rituals matter

When you don’t have to show up at the office, it’s easy to stay in your PJs all day.

Don’t do it. (I mean, try it out for a day or two because it’s rumored to be the best thing about working from home, but don’t do it for long periods of time.)

Stick to your morning ritual. Maintain your hygiene. Put on pants. There are well-documented studies that show morning rituals are essential to productivity.

11. Zoom isn’t just for work meetings anymore

Feeling isolated? Find someone else who’s also working remotely and ask if they want to Zoom. You know, just to HANG.

You don’t have to be actively talking. If you’re the kind of person that does best when others are in the room, consider using Zoom as a tool to keep people virtually in the room with you.

It might sound weird at first, but it’s actually kind of relaxing and normal after a while.

Maybe one of these days we’ll have “common Zoom rooms” that people can join if they’re feeling isolated.

Hang in there, stay sane, wash your hands. And look into pants. 

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