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2020-04-18

How I'm Working From Home


We have spent more than a month since working-from-home (WFH) accidentally becomes a global trend. Although I'm still actively adapting my life to the situation day by day, I already got a few solid takeaways from the experience as follows:

  • Essential things to buy
  • Key habit to stay mentally and physically healthy
  • How to balance work and home life

When I was a master's student, I used to go to a university every day for research activities even if I don't have any classes or meetings on that day. The situation doesn't change until today; in fact, my company is flexible whether I work at an office or from home, but I was commuting to an office at almost the same time every day. It means that I was completely unprepared for entering WFH this February. Moreover, since I was traveling a lot for the past two years and be outside of the country for over half a year, my home had very limited facilities to do something productive.

Essential things to buy

For the reason I mentioned above, the first action I took was visiting Amazon.com. I don't want my home to overflow with a lot of things, but I can confidently say there were some essentials for me to start WFH.

Coffee accessories

First, coffee accessories enable me to make coffee by hand and optimize the taste for my preference at ease.

coffee-accessories-1 coffee-accessories-2

I need to drink good (or decent, at least) coffee twice a day on average, but going to a coffee shop every time is clearly not cost-efficient and feasible in the circumstances. Here, the combination of Bialetti Moka Express and Porlex Grinder is the solution.

Now, I can always start my day with a cup of drip coffee and get a shot of espresso after lunch.

Luckily, I found a great coffee roaster in my neighborhood. They are still operating normally, but I need to find out alternatives if the situation gets worse; ensuring a constant supply of the best coffee beans would be my next challenge.

Microwave steamer

Next, healthy eating becomes a big topic I should focus on. While I used to cook three times a day when I was an undergrad, I haven't cook that much since I entered a master's program and started living in Tokyo; the city has so many good restaurants and bars, and eating ready meals is simply quick and sufficient for my recent lifestyle. To reset such eating habits, microwave steamer made an innovation.

microwave-steamer

Not exactly the same one, but something like this.

We obviously need to balance nutritional facts, tastes, and time efficiency. From the nutritional aspects, I'd like to eat high protein, low carb, and low-fat food, including not only animal products (e.g., chicken breast, whitefish like cod) but nutritionally rich vegetables like broccoli. However, at the same time, these raw items tend to take time to cook. On that point, the microwave steamer nicely helps me to efficiently cook them by bringing out the full flavor of the ingredients.

Additionally, in combination with having zero opportunities for drinking parties, I feel I'm currently in peak physical condition in my lifetime, seriously.

Humidifier

Third, since the winter/spring season in Japan is very dry, a humidifier supports me to stay hydrated and be in a comfortable air condition.

humidifier

Right after I started WFH, I immediately realized how office air conditioners did a great job; my small room easily becomes cold, dry, and poor air quality. I regularly open room windows to get some fresh air, but do need the assistance from in-room AC and humidifier.

Key habit to stay mentally and physically healthy

Once I got the essential items to stay in a comfortable indoor environment, a lack of physical activities and social interactions challenges me to stay mentally and physically healthy. It's definitely a tough time for me since I'm really getting into outdoor activities such as traveling, running, and hiking lately.

To overcome the situation, the only habit I'm continuing is waking up early, and walking outside for 30 minutes without headphones. As I described in "The Hardest Part of 2020's Strategic Ideation":

The 30-min habit works pretty well for me to refresh and make my brain clear, and I feel I become mentally and physically healthy when I start my day with a clear mind. Do note that, though, outdoor activities should be minimal to keep social distancing, of course; that's one reason for me to choose early morning time, and I recently became a more aggressive early-morning person than I used to do.

Interestingly, even though I'm walking the almost same path every day, I noticed today is always different from yesterday; the weather is different, people are different, and plants are growing day by day. Finding happiness in such a small thing — I was completely forgetting its importance since I started keeping myself busy (but not "that" busy, in fact).

How to balance work and home life

WFH makes a boundary between work and home life fuzzy, and, as I emphasized the importance of making a brain clear, staying healthy becomes very difficult if we are involved too much in business all the time. What I'm doing to tackle the challenge is:

  • Strictly use the Pomodoro Technique for work
  • Uninstall Slack and Gmail from my phone
  • Close a laptop during non-working hours

In an unexpected way, life with broken iPhone told me the non-necessity of 24/7-connected working environment:

A key takeaway from the experience is that we do not necessarily have to have access to personal devices and internet connections 24/7 since you won't be in trouble easily as long as you are on a normal day. I can check email, personal messages, and important information associated with a bank or hotel membership account in the batch fashion, simply from a laptop in my home.

Hence, uninstalling the apps and consciously staying away from work (e.g., when I'm eating lunch, on weekends) is a piece of cake.

Moreover, the Pomodoro Technique works surprisingly well so far. Since I'm single, I can accomplish every single Pomodoro (i.e., a 25-minute unit of work) without any distractions, and nobody cares if I stand up and moving around every 25 minutes. Frequently taking a short break and forcing myself to stretch body is also beneficial not to keep sitting on a chair with bad posture.

I do not execute more than 20 Pomodoro units per day, and, after finishing the last unit for listing tomorrow's TODOs, I immediately close my laptop and switch my focus to home life.

I think life as a product manager and the Pomodoro Technique is a great combination. In case of coding as an engineer, estimating the amount of time required for implementing a single module and splitting the job into the small chunks of Pomodoro units was not easy for me, and hence I was not a big fan of the technique for a long time. On the other hand, time management is more important and straightforward for PM activities such as thinking, meeting, documenting, and emailing. I will be swamped with work unless I proactively control my schedule with the technique.

Bottom line

Of course, the challenging moment is definitely not enjoyable, and I do see my physical and mental conditions are gradually becoming unstable little by little. However, overall I'm doing well so far thanks to the positive changes as I listed above. I believe nothing is better than having more time to stay focused with fewer distractions, and now is the time. Hope my experience is useful for those who are in a similar situation.

It should be strongly noted that things I mentioned in this article are strongly optimized for my case, and it does depend on your specific situation e.g., about country, family, or job responsibility, in practice. But the fundamental principle is the same — Stay home, and stay healthy. At the same time, I deeply appreciate people who are working very hard to protect our daily life in the world.

  Author: Takuya Kitazawa

Takuya Kitazawa (a.k.a. takuti) is working on machine learning, data science, and product development at Treasure Data.

Opinions are my own.

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