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What’s your advice for staying productive at home?

Recorded – watch the full episode on YouTube.

What advice can you give for folks who are forced to work from home?

John Sundell: Well, it's different from day to day. I'm not going to lie, this situation is affecting me, and I think it's affecting a lot of people. I'm usually a pretty happy, positive guy and I still am, but it's definitely affecting me. And I think it's something that we have to be honest about, that we don't always have to put on our game face and be super happy and nothing is bad.

A lot of things are bad right now, and there's a lot of, like you say, there's a lot of worry, there's a lot of uncertainty in the world. I think it's fine to admit that and to say it's okay to not be the most productive you've ever been right now because there's a lot of things we all have to think about. We're in completely uncharted territory in many cases, in terms of where we live, in terms of our countries, in terms of the world.

“I think it's fine to admit that and to say it's okay to not be the most productive you've ever been right now because there's a lot of things we all have to think about.”

So with that out of the way, that's something that I'm affected by as well, how I'm kind of coping with the situation is, well, two parts, really. The first part is to try to be even more organized and even more productive with my work, organized and disciplined a little bit with my work than I've maybe been before.

So to try to really use things like to do lists and make a plan every morning when I wake up what I want to get done so that I can stay focused, because I know that if I'm not focused right now, the chance that I will open up a new site and read some other bad news that happened about Coronavirus, then I will get depressed and then I will lose my productivity.

So I will really try to stay focused and while still keeping up. I don't want to give the impression that I'm kind of building a silo here and not caring about what's going on in the world, because that's definitely not the truth. I am keeping up with the news every single day, but I'm trying to segment my day. So when I'm at work right now, I want to try to be completely productive and to really kind of shield myself from the outside world, put on some really nice music that I like, to have a good to do list, to know what I'm going to do, to just keep working on that.

“To really just try to be more disciplined around the time allocation for different things, that's pretty much how I've been coping with things.”

But then to set aside even more time to just spending time with my girlfriend and spending time with friends over Hangouts or video calls. I've been calling a lot of friends that I haven't talked to in a long time, just to check up how are they doing, to just provide support to each other, to hang out over the internet.

We actually, with a couple of friends, we hosted a remote cocktail party the other weekend. We were just getting together, having some drinks over a video call. So I've been setting aside way more time for that recently as well, to speak to my family and friends and to just relax as well, to just watch a lot of Netflix, to just relax. To really just try to be more disciplined around the time allocation for different things, that's pretty much how I've been coping with things.

Paul Hudson: I think it is so important to talk about this stuff because everyone who reads any news is at this point feeling significantly more stressed out, more anxious, more worried about the state of the world. They know perhaps people who have the virus, they certainly know that it's in their country at this point, almost guaranteed, and no one's alone. We're all feeling exactly the same problem.

We're all feeling that we aren't firing on all cylinders as it were. We're all that nagging thing, oh, goodness me, what is this thing happening right now in the world I've got to read about. So it's good to talk about it and good to normalize it and just say, yeah, we're all in this together.

“And just because you're not feeling a hundred percent productive right now doesn't mean that something's wrong with you.”

John Sundell: We really are. And I think there's a lot of productivity tips going around, and I've been writing articles as well about what I've been learning from working remotely for the last three years and how I can give advice and tips to people, things to try.

So there's a lot of focus on that right now, on how to be more productive or how to be more focused. And it kind of is the same that we were talking about earlier, you can get this impression that everyone's writing a blog. You can get this impression that everyone's working remotely and they're being super productive, they're just getting it. They just immediately, they got it. They're churning out new code and new features and shipping their app like never before. And I really don't think that's the case.

I mean, I'm sure that people are doing the very best they can and I'm doing too, but I think we should try to stay focused as much as we can and to keep doing our work as much as we can. But I think it's fine to also just admit and say that things are probably going to be a bit shaky for a while and things are going to maybe not be the most productive. And just because you're not feeling a hundred percent productive right now doesn't mean that something's wrong with you. We're all in this situation.

Paul Hudson: Someone in the chat has asked whether you would mind shareing your music playlist.

John Sundell: Oh, that's actually funny because my music taste is extremely diverse and I go through different phases. So right now I would say I'm in kind of a synth wave phase. I'm listening to a lot of 80 style, retro electronic music. And there's a bunch of playlists on Spotify that I really enjoy. I've been more listening to these kinds of curated playlists as well, and because I used to be always listening to albums, I was always listening to music albums, but now I'm listening to more these curated playlists on Spotify.

But before that, I was very much in a hip hop phase. I was listening to a lot of different hip hop. And before that I was in a classic kind of metal phase, listening to a lot of old school hard rock and metal. So I go through different phases. And for me it's all about trying to find some music that kind of fits my current mood. What music right now can get me in the zone and get me in the right mood so I can just keep working.

Paul Hudson: I reckon my family can probably tell where I am in my work. Like, oh, he's running behind here, he's starting to stress a little bit about getting this thing delivered on time, based on my playlist. If I am playing the Star Trek, Wrath of Khan music, which is a great soundtrack by James Horner, it's very heavy, very aggressive, very power packed. This means I'm like, oh, this is not working, rats, this is all on fire right now. He's typing frantically. He's trying to figure out this thing. So they can really tell, I think, from the music around me. And if I'm listening to opera, things are smooth, things are happy, everything is going exactly as planned. Yeah, a powerful thing, playlist.

John Sundell: I think that's definitely true for me as well, but I tend to more go in long phases that are more like a month that I'm listening to the same styles of music, and then I kind of start shifting, but it's always real nice. And I always love that we have all these streaming services right now, like Spotify, Apple Music, and whatever you prefer, where you can just discover new music and you can play around and see how different music kind of affects your mood and your productivity, which is really interesting, how it can really affect you.

Paul Hudson: What are your, say, top three tips for folks who want to work efficiently from home and get the most out of their time at home?

John Sundell: All right, so the number one thing I would say is to try to isolate your work from the rest of your home life. And you can do that in a few different ways. The two main ways that I use are time and place. So number one, to have work hours. To have time when you are working, and that can be, you get up in a certain time in the morning and then you start working and then you have also a finishing time when you say, at this time I want to stop working, I want to just go cook some dinner or something and watch some Netflix or something, hang out with your family or whatever it might be. To have that start time and end time. And I'll admit, I don't always stick to that. I'm not always so disciplined that I'm able to always start at that exact time and end at that time, but I try. I really try because I think that's important.

“So number one, to have work hours. To have time when you are working, and that can be, you get up in a certain time in the morning and then you start working and then you have also a finishing time when you say, at this time I want to stop working.””

And then the second thing about the place is to have some kind of dedicated workspace. And this is again, something where I think a lot of people right now, they're giving this advice, you hear people say, create a dedicated workspace in your home. And they're like, well, I can't just build an office, right? I don't have a spare room. The room I'm sitting in here right now is actually an office. Me and my girlfriend, we're both working from home, so we have this big desk here that we're sharing and this is our office. So this is where we work. But I know that a lot of people don't have that, they don't have a space, right? They don't have a separate room. So a separate workspace does not need to be a separate room.

The first time I started working from home, I had just a very small Ikea desk, and of course Ikea, because I'm from Sweden, and this Ikea desk, it costs me 10 euros or something, very cheap desk. And that was my dedicated workspace. It was just a super cheap desk, super cheap chair, I just put my laptop on there, and that was my dedicated workspace. And that was also important for me because I didn't want to sit in my bed and do work. I didn't want to sit in my kitchen or on my couch, because that's where I relax, I want to kind of set those boundaries. And just having that specific place where I was sitting down to work was really important to me. And especially now that both me and my girlfriend have been working from home now for a while, it's very important for us to have this dedicated office, because that means that when we'd go out and close the door we're not working anymore, now we're in our normal home.

And then the second thing I will say is a little bit what I mentioned earlier about making to do lists, making lists of tasks. Because when you work at home, just like when you work in an office, there are a lot of distractions, right? When I was working in an office, there were also distractions, people coming over to my desk or loud noises in the office or things going around, but there are also distractions at home.

But at home you don't have those people around you, your team sitting next to you who are kind of keeping you accountable. You have to keep yourself accountable. So the way I do that is again, by using to do lists, by using things I want to get done for that day, so I can kind of keep myself accountable and focused around that. So to self organize a little bit more, that would be my second tip.

“I think you have to constantly kind of iterate on your process and to try out different things, see what works.”

And then finally is a little bit kind of like a meta tip, I guess, but it's to constantly see what works and what doesn't for you. Because I, again, I wrote an article about remote working. A lot of people are written articles about remote working, but this article, at least the one I wrote, was very much, here's what works for me, here's what I've been learning for the last three years. It's not necessarily what's going to work for you.

I think you have to constantly kind of iterate on your process and to try out different things, see what works. If you're in a position where you can, for example, go out to your backyard, if you have a backyard, and sit outside and work, if you're in a country where the weather permits it, try it, see if that improves your productivity. Does it improve your productivity to move around the house and maybe you sit at your desk for half the day and you sit on the couch for the last two hours, does that improve your productivity? Maybe it does. Try different things. That's always my recommendation.

This transcript was recorded as part of Swiftly Speaking. You can watch the full original episode on YouTube, or subscribe to the audio version on Apple Podcasts.

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