As someone who’s been working remotely for 3.5 years, the best tip I can offer to someone working remotely is to not work from home. I’ve noticed that I am significantly happier and more productive when leaving my apartment to work elsewhere.
Personally I’m a huge fan of working out of coffee shops, though admittedly not every city has quality coffee shops for working. Co-working spaces are another option, but I never go to them because I don’t see the point in spending $20+/day to be in some open office when I can go to a coffee shop for free. South Korea has hands down the highest concentration of high quality coffee shops for working that I’ve seen in the world. In most of the world if you’re struggling to find a good coffee shop for working, you can always at least work out of a Starbucks.
If I had to guess why working outside of the apartment is more productive and happier:
- Leaving the house forces you to get some physical exercise, natural sunlight, and fresh air – all of which awaken your senses and are good for health. Even better if you’re in a pedestrian friendly city/town where you can walk or bike to your work location rather than drive a car. Remember that sitting down for 8+ hours/day is not healthy and more of a modern phenomenon, do not underestimate the importance of physical exercise.
- Being around other people brings a certain degree of social fulfillment, sense of community, and feeling part of society. Humans are social creatures, and feeling a part of society can invigorate one’s sense of purpose. A simple pleasant conversation with a cashier or stranger can have a disproportionately positive impact on one’s mood.
- Leaving the house exposes on to randomness, like random interactions with people or noticing some new building or seeing a flyer to some new event. Randomness makes life more interesting, and at a minimum can help ground one’s perspective.
- Physically separating where you work and where you live helps foster better work-life balance. Leaving your house can help get you into a proper work mindset since you’re not distracted by menial things you might normally be thinking about in your apartment. In this era of laptops, smartphones, and internet, it is too easy to be plugged in 24/7 convinced that we’re being productive all the time when in reality we’re often just doing 2-4 hours/day of highly focused deep work, and 6+ hours of refreshing emails, social media feeds, Reddit, Youtube, and other mindless and useless dopamine addictions. When you leave the coffee shop or co-working space, you’re done with work. At this point you are free to spend your time how you wish.
- Working out of a coffee shop inherently sets a time limit on your work, since presumably you don’t want to be there all day, and at the least they probably close at a certain time. This creates additional pressure to work harder and more efficiently since you want to finish your work and get the hell out of there. In contrast when working from home, there’s not as much pressure to work more efficiently because you’re already in the comfort of your own home, and don’t need to leave because you can always cook or order delivery.
- More variety. I tend to work out of a different coffee shop everyday so as to keep things more interesting. Hell I might even work out of multiple different locations within one day. Variety keeps things interesting, stimulating, and inspiring.
Recently I was living in Rome where I struggled to find quality work cafes, and there aren’t even any Starbucks’. As a result I got lazy and just started working from my (small) apartment. I was finding it very difficult to be productive, but attributed it to the work itself being boring. I then flew to Seoul where I had to undergo the mandatory 7 day quarantine, and also found it difficult to work during quarantine despite expecting to get more done since I was literally trapped in a room for 7 days. However upon my release from quarantine, I’ve been working out of coffee shops every day and would estimate I’ve been at least 3-5x more productive than I was in Rome working from home. This has made me remember why working outside of the home is so important (and why Korea is such an awesome place to work remotely), and when I return to Rome I will make sure to force myself to work out of coffee shops, even if they aren’t as nice for working as the ones here in Korea.
If you’re in a rut or trying to be more productive, definitely try working somewhere you don’t normally work. You may be surprised to find yourself happier and more productive, which actually tend to go hand in hand.