Staying Motivated as a Work From Home Developer

Check out some handy tips that we’ve learned over the years as work from home developers — including managing distractions, tracking time, and more. By Antonio Bello.

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Note: We’ve updated this article to make it more consistent with the current global health advice in hopes that it may help you with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Do you suddenly find yourself working from home? Are you struggling to find ways to stay productive and motivated?

Working from home has its advantages, but there are certainly drawbacks as well. Staying motivated can be a big challenge for many people, due to the many distractions at home, a sense of isolation, and the lack of a boss who pops her head into your cubicle at the most inopportune times to keep you on your toes.

There’s no science to telecommuting; there’s no official list of do’s and don’ts. This article won’t teach you how to work from home, but it contains some common practices many experienced home-based workers follow.

Some practices may apply to you, and some won’t; some of the practices that many avoid may actually work really well for you! What’s important is that you have to figure out and decide what’s best for you.

Without further ado, here is a list of some things the team and I have learned over the years about working effectively from home! :]

Note: Special thanks to the Tutorial Team members who shared their advice for this article: Ray Wenderlich, Kelvin Lau, Ray Fix, Derek Selander, Richard Turton, Mic Pringle, Aaron Douglas, Cesare Rocchi, Brian Moakley and Adrian Strahan.

Your Environment

You’re going to spend a lot of time in your working environment, so it makes good sense to put some thought into where you work.

Choosing Your Office

Even when working from home, you need a place which you can call your office. It doesn’t always have to be the same place, and there are no rules as to what defines an office: It can be a dedicated room, a corner of the living room or a spot in the garage. However, many suggest that you define and reserve a certain area of your home as your office and always use it as your primary working location.

Some people choose to set aside a whole area of the house for work purposes only. That way their brains know once they enter that area, it’s time to work. Adrian Strahan suggests that everybody in your house should know that when you’re in your office area, you’re at work and they should refrain from disturbing you as much as possible.

I have a dedicated room for an office, but I usually spend at least a couple hours out of every day working in the living room. If you want to break the monotony of spending a whole day in one room and you have a laptop, try moving to a different place on occasion — it can be another room, a chair with a nice view or any other place where you can relax and still work.

working in the backyard

Creating Transitions

In a traditional office job, you transition to work mode when you leave your home and travel to the office. Cesare Rocchi suggests you create your own rites of passage, which can be anything that helps your brain recognize the transition; during the summer months, his approach is to water his plants.

For some, it may be brewing a mug of coffee or tea. Yours can be anything that works for you: Turn the radio or TV on or off, open a certain window, close the office door, have a shower, or just head to your office and sit. Whatever you choose should be a pattern your brain can recognize as the beginning of your work session.

If you use a computer for leisure activities such as playing games or watching movies, it’s a good idea to avoid using your work computer for these activities and get a second computer — if you can afford it. Moving to a different computer could become part of your transition pattern. It might help eliminate those moments where you say to yourself: Why am I wasting my time playing Battlefield when I should be doing work?

Choosing Clothing

OK, it’s your home, and you have the right to dress however you like. Nonetheless, dressing for work might be a valuable part of your transition, along with taking a shower. Regardless of where you work, it’s probably best to smell fresh! :]

Personally, I rarely work in pajamas, preferring to dress before turning on my Mac. I don’t go to the level of formal business attire, but I choose something I wouldn’t necessarily wear outside and something that I wouldn’t feel embarrassed to be caught in if unexpected guests showed up. This is probably the only ritual I rigorously follow in my own transition.

cartoon with kid asking 'Daddy why don't you wear pants to work?'

While the cartoon is funny and points out a potential pitfall of remote work, it’s also important to remember when everyone is working from home that kids, pets, spouses, delivery drivers and bears raiding the bird feeder are part of life for all. Be respectful of others’ issues during remote meetings and you can expect the same.

bear cubs destroying bird feeder

Fixed or Flexible Time?

There’s a lot of variation on the subject of working hours; on one side, you have fixed hours like you’d see in an office situation. On the other side, you have complete freedom of working hours — even the middle of the night if you so choose!

In many cases, working hours depend on your employer or client agreements, as they might require a particular window of availability window each day.

Mic Pringle prefers to have a structured routine with fixed working hours every day, just as if he was working in a traditional office. This particular approach greatly helps in the transition to work mode.

I set a predefined number of hours to work every day, and I let external events (mostly family-driven) change my work schedule as required. In the event my schedule is interrupted, I simply work into the evening until I reach my daily goal. If isn’t possible, I usually reserve part of the weekend to catch up the hours lost during the week.

True, that’s more of an anti-routine pattern, but I feel comfortable enough to stick with it until there’s a good reason for a change.

Many variables affect working hours:

  • Start time
  • End time
  • Number of hours
  • External events
  • Distractions
  • Family
  • Mood

The key point here is to prioritize each of these areas in a way that works for you. For me, it’s the number of hours, followed by family and external events. For you it could be start and end time, or start time and number of hours, or any other combination. If you have kids, you might need to give your family a higher priority and adjust your start and end times accordingly.