Scuba diving. That’s how I’d describe my work style. My best comes when I take hunks of uninterrupted time to dive into the deep waters of a design challenge. Plenty of my co-workers are more like snorkelers – stopping and starting, short bursts, thriving on the energy of one another. Needless to say, when I transitioned from working in an office to become Ample’s first remote employee, it was like being alone in the middle of the ocean. And now that the COVID-19 outbreak has become what Time is calling “The World’s Largest Work-From-Home Experiment,” many workers who are accustomed to going into an office will now become acutely aware of their working style — whether they’re a snorkeler or a scuba diver.

Without the distractions of day-to-day office life, my productivity exploded. Entire work days would fly by in what seemed like minutes. I regularly blew past natural pauses like meals or bathroom breaks. Right around this season, our only other designer at the time moved on to a new job opportunity. Without missing a beat, I picked up his workload – all of it. And it felt great. Productive. Helpful. Creative. I was killing it. 

Welp, that oxygen tank couldn’t hold out forever. The warning signs hit me physically... tightness of chest, severe shoulder, neck pain; then emotionally... anxiety and depression. Change was overdue. So I (re)instituted smoke breaks. That’s right, smoke breaks. 

Early in my design career, I happened to be a smoker. And I can’t tell you how often I became unstuck from a layout issue (or solved a snippet of code) either during or after a smoke break. The act of physically removing myself from the screen injected an opportunity for my body to relax. That was it! If my career and health were to sustain, I had to schedule regular smoke breaks throughout my day. 

Do I really have to say it? Smoking is terrible for you. Come on, man! I’m not promoting smoking. I’m talking about intentional rests. I began to schedule (and adhere) to things like…

  1. Workouts (running, crossfit at home or quick trips to the rock gym)
  2. Taking the dog — or yourself — for a walk 
  3. Attending meetups
  4. Calling a friend or colleague 
  5. Talking to my neighbors
  6. Prayer or meditation

You know, actually taking advantage of the benefits of working remotely. What a concept. The specifics are dependent on your work style, how often you’re in meetings, expectations surrounding your availability, etc. I find you can experiment more freely than if you are adopting the inherent pace or norms of office life. 

“I could never work from home, nothing would ever get done!” That’s the most common response from the people that react to my work situation. Oddly enough, my struggle was the opposite. I worked too long and got too much done! 

A few times a year, I return to Cincinnati and work from our office. Each time I’m surprised at how many breaks occur within a normal work day – casual conversations, side meetings, coffee chats, lunches, signing for deliveries, etc. My internal productivity tyrant is put in check on such trips. I’m reminded that it’s good to come up for air more often. It makes working remotely a sustainable reality.

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