My three pillars of effective WFH

Posted by Mouad Bouras on Oct 3, 2022
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As a millennial, I got the witness the technology boom and rise of smart devices first hand. This had a significant impact on my professional career in two ways; first I was always up to date with the latest in computers, phones and tablets; and second, I was very comfortable utilizing technology and making the most of the digital devices I own.

I Built the right setup

Working from home during the pandemic taught me that it's necessary to keep personal and professional time separate. After some experimenting with different working setups over the past couple of years, I finally found one that I’m confortable with.

I purchased a desk large enough to accommodate two computers. On the left, I have my personal computer set up with a mechanical keyboard and gaming mouse, and on the right, I have my work laptop set up with a wireless mouse and keyboard.

This may appear exaggerated, but after reading a couple of self-help books about developing positive habits, it became clear to me how influential physical space is on our motivation and actions. As a result, something as simple as switching from one side of the desk to the other had a significant positive impact on my overall productivity.

When I switched to consulting, I started this blog and began working on side projects in addition to client work. To help me focus and further organise and divide the various types of work that I do I created two additional setups:

  • For side project I use a 14" MacBook Pro connected an 11" iPad Pro with side car. This setup is Portable yet mighty and I can work from anywhere (dining table, coffee shop, airport lounge)
  • For writing I just use a 11’ iPad Pro with Bluetooth keyboard and an iPad stand. The simplicity and portability of this setup allows me to write anywhere without the distraction of other projects.

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I Got Organized

Before worrying about getting the most out of my setup, I focused on making my workflow more organized.

Having onboarded a number of junior software developers onto various projects throughout my career, I noticed that the juniors who were the most organized had a tendency to complete their tasks faster and learn more efficiently. I observed the same pattern with my colleagues; people who were lost in their dozens of open chrome tabs and multiple code solutions, during zoom meetings, generally took longer to complete their tasks.

Although this is merely a personal anecdote, some studies have shown that being organized helps with productivity; in fact, a 2012 survey discovered that "the annual cost of U.S. job-related inefficiency for full-time employees looking for misplaced items in the office tops $89 billion annually." I wonder how much it costs to switch back and forth between Chrome tabs to find the right one.

In order to avoid making the same mistake, I developed a few habits to help me organise my work and be more productive:

  • Before starting a new task I close every app on the computer with the exception of work communication apps (Teams, Email etc) and music
  • I only work on one task at a time, and only have that one task open on the browser.
  • I only open the code base(s) related directly to the task.
  • I always close any new chrome tab I open (documentation, stackoverflow) as soon as I’m done with it.

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I leveraged technology

The other day, I was working next to an acquaintance who wasn't aware of the window snap feature on his PC; when I showed it to him, the look on his face made me realize that there are still some people out there who don't take full advantage the technology they own.

If I can help change this even a little, here are some of the popular productivity features that I use on a daily basis.

Window Snap

Both Windows and Mac have a window snap feature that allows you to maximise screen real estate by running two apps side by side. Windows: Simply drag a window to one side of the screen until it displays a snap animation, then let go to choose which other app to place on the other side. Mac: you can snap apps together by taking them both full screen and dragging one on top of the other to enter split view.

Multiple Desktops:

Both Windows and macOS support multiple desktops, each with its own set of open apps in any desired layout. On Windows, all of the computer's monitors are considered one desktop, which means that when you switch desktops, the content of both screens changes at the same time. Refer to the official documentation for more information on how to use multiple desktops on Windows. On a Mac, each screen is considered its own space, and new ones are added one at a time, and you can navigate between them using trackpad gestures. More information is available on Apple's website.

Quick Search:

Both Windows and macOS have a quick search feature. It is very useful for opening an application or a file or quickly looking something up on the internet without leaving the app you're currently working on. Windows: Simply press the Windows logo key + S and begin typing your search query to begin receiving suggestions. Mac: This feature is known as spotlight on macOS and can be accessed by pressing Command + Space bar.

Note: For my fellow vscode programmers, I highly recommend this video, which covers everything I know and much more!

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Takeaway

I may not be the most productive person in the world but I certainly try to get the most out of my potential and the tools I own. I do so by having a comfortable setup, staying organized and making effective use of the tools I own. If you’ve read this far, I would love to know what you do to stay productive, especially if you’re working from home like I am?