Remote work is at the core of our little company. I've written about how we improve our tool set to foster and improve communication in our team and about our company values as a distributed team.

Working in a distributed team poses personal challenges too, and by jolly, I've been busy working through my fair share of them.

I've been working from home for all of last year, and I've done a few mistakes along the way that caused me frustration and decreased my productivity.

Embrace the solitude

The best part about working from home is that there are no distractions. We have a lot more room, compared to an office, to get work done.

The downside is that as attention-seeking humans, we tend to look for distractions if we don't have any.

If you follow me on Twitter (which you should, you'll know that tweets come in bursts. These bursts tend to represent times of boredom, times where I can't find any mental room to concentrate on working.

When you're alone at home, you look for contact with other people. The internet is a great place for that. There are things happening on certain news websites, on Twitter, Facebook, in IRC, in our team chat.

Of course, the worst offender of them all is email. Are you opening your email client first thing in the morning? Are you excited about seeing 50 unread emails waiting to be processed and replied to?

Me neither.

It's a weird reflex that we turn to email first, well knowing that what's expecting us commonly isn't urgent and drains creative fluids before any creative work gets done.

This has been the most frustrating to me in the last couple of months.

Cut out unnecessary distractions

I've started forcing myself to not open email before noon. I tend to be the most creative in the morning hours, and with the team slowly waking up throughout the day, the amount of other distractions increases too.

I've also found myself frustrated and mentally drained going through emails before doing anything else.

It took me a year to be fully aware of this.

So I started postponing email. It takes getting used to changing this habit, that's why forcing yourself to do it is all the more important. I also make my team aware of this, but expectations commonly aren't that replies should be sent within hours. All communication is asynchronous, and so is email. If there's something urgent, there's always the phone.

I've started doing the same with Twitter too. I love reading what's going on with the people I follow, but it sucks away concentration too.

For being in a creative workline, we have a curious tendency of actively looking for distractions where we could put the energy to much better use.

Avoid email and Twitter, anything distracting before work.

As Jason Rudolph put it, create before consuming. This way is much more fulfilling than trying to muster up energy to get something done after you've consumed Twitter, email and other distractions.

I've stopped reading emails on weekends too. I found my weekends much more relaxing since then.

Make small commitments

I went for months without having any specific goals. It was very frustrating as I didn't really feel I got anything done during a day. I probably did, but I forgot what it was at the end of it.

I usually keep a daily list of tasks around. Just a piece of paper and a pencil is sufficient.

Takes a few minutes in the morning to think about what I want to get done, but taking that time to think about it already gives you the feeling of having goals.

Being able to cross them off a list with a physical activity, like violently striking through the tasks, can be rewarding.

At the end of the day, you'll have a list of tasks you got done.

If you didn't get one of them done, maybe it needs to be broken down into smaller steps?

Big tasks kill productivity, as they appear to never be fully done.

Break them down.

I've started tracking things I've committed doing every single day with a little iPhone app called Commit. It's quite handy to track daily walks, writing and doing pushups every day. You'll be surprised how quickly you can ramp up the number of pushups you can do when you do them daily.

Escape the solitude

I love working in a remote team.

But just as much, I love being with and talking to people, even if it's just listening to their problems, listening to what news they have.

I've gone a month or so without meeting other people, which was rather depressing. I've gone for months just sitting down at the kitchen table, never getting up until 10 hours later. These habits are so easy to slip into, and they need conscious efforts to get out of.

Since then, I've started forcing myself to go for a walk or a bike ride every day.

Not only does this help with the overall fitness and well-being, it gives the mind time to breeze. When you don't focus on anything else, your mind can regenerate. It appears this is even scientifically proven.

I've went for months without ever leaving the house, other than to drop off my daughter at the kindergarten. Believe me, those months I've felt miserable.

Go for a walk, every day.

Working from home is hard. I've been doing it for more than a year now, but I'm still struggling to get it right.

Being more productive standing up, I got a new standing desk rig set up in my little home office. You'd be surprised how much dancing while working can lift your spirits.

I've been reading a lot of articles and posts on working from home, and I agree on their general premise. You need to push yourself harder to focus on getting work done.

The line between work and life gets thinner working from home, and working in a company with lots of customers from overseas, calling it a day is even harder.

But I've learned to trust my team, which is distributed across the globe.

I'm starting to learn to disconnect.

Tags: remote

Last year I didn't feel overly productive for a big part of my day.

I was working mostly from the kitchen table, although I had a dedicated office at home. It was inhabited for a long time as a guest room, but that's no excuse.

When I sit at my kitchen table, I lack focus. Without focus, I don't feel like I get anything done, especially with more distractions around.

Bad habits stick around

What's worse, I never really got up again once I sat down. That's a terrible habit. Just after I took my daughter to the kindergarten, I sat down, did things without knowing exactly what, and at some point nine to ten hours later, I got up again, feeling confused and wondering where time went and what I did with it.

We moved into a new apartment a year ago, and I've long since had plans to build a nice standing desk in my home office. It never really came to that. Initially I wanted to have something that's not just a hack, something permanent. Then, I wanted to have something pretty as well, maybe hand-crafted, too.

Suffice it to say, with the habit of just sitting down at the kitchen table, it never really got to that, and I found enough reasons not to have a standing desk.

It was frustrating, because I knew one thing: I was able to focus a lot better when I work at a standing desk. Hard to say why, but it made me much happier working on one.

IKEA to the rescue

So one day, I came across this great little hack with just some simple IKEA parts. A standing desk for $22 (thanks, Colin of customer.io!).

Rather than wait for something fancy to come along (it currently doesn't fit my budget too), I decided to run for it, went to IKEA, bought the parts, and assembled it at home.

My office is rather bright, and we have a white desk, so I went for an all white version of it using these parts:

The setup is assembled in just a few minutes, all you need extra is a few screws. It's pretty ingenious. The total cost comes down to € 22,49.

It's not the prettiest standing desk setup, but it'll do for the time being. It certainly fits my budget a lot better than anything else.

Standing all day, every day.

The first week at the desk was brutal. When I do work on a standing desk, I need to stand up all day. As soon as I sit down, I know that I'll slack again.

Standing all day can be a challenge, but I've done it before, so I know what to expect.

Does it make you more productive?

It's hard to describe why a standing desk makes me more productive. It doesn't solve all my problems for slacking off, I also need to learn to focus again.

But I feel like I can do that a lot better when I'm standing in my office. Of course it also helps that you can dance while you work.

One important benefit is that I actively move away from the computer to think about something. Last year, I mostly sat in front of my screen, which didn't gave me a lot of dedicated time to actively contemplate an issue.

I encourage you to try it out. Standing up all day can be tough at first, but I'm much happier working like that. Plus, when you finally switch off at night, you'll feel like you've done more than just think and type.

Tags: office

By the end of last year, I found myself wishing I'd have more time dedicated to writing.

Writing usually gives me a great feeling of creating something, of building something from a blank page. It's a great feeling, even if it's just writing for myself.

I wanted to dedicate more time to it, even just in small increments, but get myself in the habit of writing.

It can be anything, documentation, blog post, something personal, an essay for an upcoming talk. The goal is to write things that I can publish in one way or the other, but it doesn't have to be the case for every written piece.

Nathan Barry has been a great inspiration for me in this regard. He committed himself to writing 1000 words every day. Just so he can measure it, he also built a neat little app called Commit for iOS.

1000 words a day sounds like a lot. I came across a blog post that suggested committing to 250 words. Every day.

That sounded doable, so I started writing, a few days before New Year's Eve.

The biggest challenge so far has been to keep a list of things to write about. It's ever growing, or at least it's keeping up with new content. The beauty of writing is that you find more inspiration for writing. Writing begets more writing.

The beauty about 250 words is that you can crank them out in 15-20 minutes, assuming you have a topic in mind.

Even with my goal in mind, I find myself writing 1000 words or more in a single session.

My goal for this year is to turn it into a habit. Yes, there may be days when I will not, under any circumstances, be able to write something. But it better be for a really good reason.

Turning it into a habit means that, with the right cue, sitting down and focussing on writing for half an hour or so comes automatically.

The Setup

I never was into big and fancy tools for writing.

There's nothing for me that compares to the simple blank slate of an empty text editor window.

I've been using nvALT for a while now to collect notes, but I've now cranked it up. And while it's great for collecting notes, I found typing longer texts in it a bit lacking.

So I added a simpler tool to write: Byword.

Turns out, you can combine both into a successful writing team. Byword serves as my external editor for nvALT's notes. When starting a new text, I create a new note in nvALT and switch over to Byword in full screen mode for focused writing.

On top of that, Byword for iOS works nicely with the notes structure that nvALT leaves in my Dropbox folder.

Both versions nicely show you the word count for a document whilst typing, which is neat. Same for nvALT.

I'm using Commit to track the daily goal. I quickly added more than just writing 250 words per day. It's a handy tool to help you turn activities into habits.

What's the secret?

The only secret is to actively commit yourself to writing, every day, even on weekends.

250 words is an attainable goal, even on weekends. It takes 15-20 minutes, maybe longer, of your time to write something.

If you don't have any idea what to write about, brainstorm. Come up with a list of things that interest you, or that you think others might find interesting.

I used this technique when working on the Riak Handbook already. Back then I wanted to write 1000 words a day and managed to do so most days. Time was needed for other things to prepare for the book, code examples, trying out and verifying content, as is usually the case with technical content.

If you have a bigger goal in mind, like writing a book, even better.

Buffer has a great list of things to get you in the spirit of writing, even when you feel the writer's block.

Now go and write, every day.

Tags: writing