Optimizing your Work from Home Life (without FREAKING OUT)
With nearly everyone suddenly working from home, I thought as filmmakers we might be able to offer tips (from our experience) to anyone trying to optimize their work from home environment.
Most filmmakers have spent years working in dark editing caves alone. This has forced us to find ways to hack our bodies and environments to be the most creative while still productive.
All of the tips below, I've learned the hard way from starting Oxenfree out of our home 5 years ago. Many of these I learned from listening to a podcast called "Fitness in Post" about optimizing your physical/mental health in a mostly sedentary job.
I'm all about self-improvement and optimizing myself. I'm a robot. Beep boop.
1. KEEP A MORNING ROUTINE
Just because you're working from home, doesn't mean you can stay in your PJs all day and still be as productive as you were at work.
Continue with your same routine as if you were going to work. Start and stop on time.
The temptation is to sleep in, stay on your phone in bed, and eventually drag yourself to your home desk.
Try to go to bed and wake up at your normal work times, get dressed, eat breakfast, take a shower. The best/worst tip is to PUT YOUR SHOES ON like you're going to work (and don't take them off until you're done).
Humans are animals too and can be trained. You can train your brain to transition into a work mindset with something as simple as putting on your shoes or driving around the block before starting work.
Also, for your mental health, try to avoid social media & COVID-19 news in the morning as it can set a negative cloud over your whole day. Check only after work and I promise you'll feel way better throughout the workday.
2. MINIMIZE NOTIFICATIONS
If you don't need your phone, put it in a different room or turn on do not disturb. If you're working from a personal laptop, turn off as many notifications as you can.
I have texts and calls still come through as they're usually only important ones during the workday. My only other notifications are Slack. Email I check periodically throughout the day without the constant updates.
Every time a notification derails your work, it can take you 20+ minutes to re-focus.
Do you really need push notifications or red counters for EVERY app? Turn off as many as you can. You can even set them to Deliver Silently so they still show up when you check your Lock Screen but without the unnecessary buzz.
Multi-tasking is a myth. Humans cannot actually do it without a huge mental energy drain. Protect your daily mental capacity by reducing context switching unless you REALLY have to.
Here's a tool for blocking websites/apps if you need help focusing: https://freedom.to/
3. SETUP YOUR WORK ZONE FOR SUCCESS
When home, it's definitely tempting to work on your bed or couch, but that can really confuse your brain's ability to relax vs. be productive if you use the same zones for both.
For an effective balance, try to make a space that you mainly (or only) use for work. If you can, try to make it an appealing area in the house to sit in (not a cramped dark closet).
If you can, choose a spot with natural light and plants. Maybe even turn the desk so it's facing into the room rather than toward the wall for a more open/creative feel (while still minimizing line of sight distractions).
4. TAKE BREAKS (OFTEN)
It might seem counter-intuitive, but you can actually be MORE productive and get MORE done if you take breaks at effective intervals.
There's research that shows that ~50 minutes of work and then a ~15-minute break can make you more productive.
Now, I don't quite do that. A 15-minute break can be really hard to rationalize, but breaks help our productivity.
Needless to say, 4-hours of uncompromising hustle might not be the most effective after all.
There are apps (like Breaktime) that can help you take set interval breaks, but having additional alarms/constant interruptions is not really what I'm looking for.
Something that helps me take breaks is drinking A TON of water at work. There are lots of other benefits to this of course (helping you lose weight & keep your energy levels up), but simply drinking a lot of water will make you have to take several bathroom breaks.
A break is a break!
I also try to take breaks in between two different tasks, to give my brain a mental switch between two different contexts (similar to transitioning your brain from home to work).
5. WORK OUT...AT WORK?
Similar to the last tip, what the heck do you do during a 15-minute break if you tried to take one?!
Exercise! (just a little bit)
You can't really go to the gym right now anyway, might as well spread your workout throughout the day in your breaks.
Some simple jumping jacks or push-ups in your living room can help you de-stress and become more productive again. At the very least, it forces you to breathe and take deeper breaths (that you forget to take while you work).
"An increase in productivity: The more you exercise, the more your body will produce ATP, a chemical your body uses as energy. This increase in energy will result in a boost to your overall energy level, mental output, and productivity throughout the day."
It doesn't have to be a set workout routine either! My wife and I take a 3pm "Mosh Dance Break" where we just run around the house flailing our arms and throwing pillows before getting back to work for the final stint of the workday.
Adding a little bit of fun to your workday has crazy positive benefits as well.
6. OPTIMIZE YOUR COMPUTER SETUP
Here are some things you can add to your workstation to make you feel more creative, focused, and productive.
Noise-Cancelling Headphones = MOST VALUABLE tool in my setup. I put on my Bose Quiet Comfort II's and my focus is almost instant. I hear none of the distracting sounds I used to hear. Pair this with productive music or ambience and you'll be zooming through tasks.
Ergonomic Chair = This is a social distancing must-have. You're sitting so much. A dining room chair or barstool is going to destroy your back. I recommend something designed for sitting for long periods. I swear by the IKEA Markus (definitely have sat in it for 24-hour editing stints with no pain), but at home, I have something like this chair. My wife has a yoga ball chair that she loves as well.
Second Monitor = Once you go dual monitors, you don't go back. You don't even need to buy a new one necessarily. I bet you have an extra TV or monitor (SmallHD, Atomos, Flanders) somewhere that you can move to your desk for the time being. It gives you so much space to spread out your work and will make you feel better.
Big Desk = I'm a big believer in that the more space you have to spread out, the more creative you feel. Sometimes when I'm doing a task with "endless" possibilities, I like to set up my chair and everything at my 8-foot dining room table and spread out.
Computer Cooling Fan = If you're working off a laptop at home (like me), then your computer can get really hot depending on what you're doing. I have something like this one. It's USB-powered and keeps your hands and laptop cool all day. You should definitely be at a comfortable temperature while you're trying to work or be creative!
That's it! I hope someone finds one of these tips helpful to make it through this extended working-from-home period without losing their goddamn minds.
Please stay inside as much as possible.