Tips for Working From Home

Neerja Thakkar graduated from Dartmouth in 2019 with a BA in Computer Science and Mathematics. For the past year, she was doing computational photography research in Spain on a Fulbright research scholarship, and in Fall 2020 she will be starting her PhD in EECS at UC Berkeley.

Due to the pandemic, a lot of us who are fortunate to have jobs where we can work from home have been dealing with a new normal. This was an adjustment for me, but after I got used to it, I actually love working from home. Of course, there’s a lot going on, so it’s really important to prioritize taking care of yourself and being okay with not always being at your most productive right now. There are some days where it’s really hard for me to focus, but more and more where I’m getting a lot done. Here are some things that have really worked for me when working from home:

First, a few things to think about in advance.

Invest in your work space. (Or, get your company to.) Buying a monitor made it much easier to stare at my computer for hours. I also bought an ergonomic keyboard, and I have a kneeling desk chair. My back feels so much better compared to when I was a student and lugging around textbooks/studying in a not ideal posture.

Try to have a distinct work space. Then, only do work in this work space, so that you associate it with work and the rest of your home with rest and relaxation. I used to do work in my bed in college, and this was probably horrible for my productivity and my sleep. I’m lucky that I was able to take over the spare bedroom in my house, but even if you don’t have enough space to physically shut a door on your work at the end of your workday, designate a corner as your “office” and only go there to do your work.

Communicate with your family or housemates. Let them know that during your work hours, you need to focus and aren’t able to hang out. Come up with a system that works for you guys and gives you the space that you need. This obviously varies a lot depending on your personal situation, but is definitely worth discussing!

Now, here are some habits I’ve found to be helpful.

Wear real clothes. I love wearing comfortable clothes, and my sweats have gotten a lot more use during this time. However, I find that wearing clothes that are a little less comfortable than and least distict from my pajamas is really helpful.

Don’t let your phone in your work space. I leave my phone in my bedroom while I do work, and only check it when I take breaks. It’s amazing how much this simple action impacts my productivity! I also recently got an Apple Watch and appreciate the ability to filter only important notifications into my watch, so that even if I’m expecting something important, I don’t need to have my phone nearby.

Take frequent breaks. Try to stand up and stretch at least once, if not multiple times, each hour. I take a little extra time after lunch every day to go for a short walk, and this time away from my computer often helps me think through my work with a different perspective, and give me a break that then helps me focus in the afternoon.

Give yourself set work hours. Decide what hours of the day you’re going to do your work, and then constrain yourself to these. I have found that this makes me much more productive when I’m doing work, and much happier when I am not.

Some of these ideas were taken from the book Deep Work by Cal Newport, which I would strongly recommend reading.

Neerja Thakkar
Neerja Thakkar
EECS PhD Student @ Berkeley
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