Remote Work Starter Kit: What You Need to Get Started and Succeed

Posted on January 8, 2018 by in Resources | 26 comments

Remote Work Starter Kit: What You Need to Get Started and Succeed

Remote work is kind of the dream, isn’t it? Sitting at home in your pajamas, doing your work with no boss breathing down your neck, handling all your tasks at your own pace, and sleeping late?

Well, that’s only partly true. I am writing this wearing Star Wars pajama pants, zombies-eating-my-feet slippers, and a shirt two sizes too big. I. Am. Comfy.

But I am also productive, which is something I’ve had to learn how to be while this unbelievably comfortable (read: unbelievably lucky). I’ve been doing remote work for about the last year and a half, and it was only within the last few months that I really got a grasp on how to function as efficiently and as well as I did in an office setting.

Lucky for me, I had a couple of great mentors who helped me along the way. Not only did they give me rules to help me, but they also laid out a list of resources that I have been able to really boil down into what is essentially the starter kit for succeeding at remote work.

1. Pants

Really. You need pants. It’s the first thing on the list because more than anything else, you need to wear pants. At least for a while. Sure, I said I’m writing this in Star Wars jammies, but that’s not my typical attire.

Just like dressing out in gym class, dressing in real clothes puts your mind in going-to-work mode. It’s far too easy to lounge around in zombie slippers and not get any work done because you’ve done nothing to transition from at-home you to at-work you. Even if you don’t wear slacks and loafers or a pencil skirt, putting on whatever “work clothes” you have will absolutely change your frame of mind.

For me, the clothes change isn’t drastic, and it’s still mega-comfy. I tend to throw on a pair of jeans, a nerdy t-shirt of some kind, a hoodie, and a pair of Converse. I’m really a cliche when it comes to that. Sometimes I even work with my hood up and headphones in like a hacker in a movie because it makes me feel way cooler than I really am.

It doesn’t have to be much, but as long as you’re able to move from one mode to the other, you’re going to be more productive. And one of the simplest methods of transitioning is simply putting on pants. Try it.

2. Primary and Secondary Work Spaces

Like wearing pants, having a space for your remote work is imperative to your success. You gotta work somewhere, and believe me…that somewhere ain’t the couch. When I started remote work, I thought I would be able to lounge on the couch with my laptop, pounding out code like I was Mr. Robot himself.

Instead I fell asleep. Every. Single. Day.

So I moved into the home office I had partially set up, spent a little time arranging it the way I wanted, and my productivity skyrocketed. Nowadays, I rarely even have the desire to work on the couch–which Past B.J. would find simply absurd. (Like wearing PJs all day, couch-working is a reward I give myself occasionally.)

Unfortunately, working alone in a home office 5 days week can be pretty stifling. It’s lonely. The scenery never changes, and there are long stretches where–despite putting on pants–you may not leave your house. You may not leave for days or weeks depending on how social you are. That’s not healthy.

Which is why you need a secondary work space in your starter kit, too. I tend to work at the public library when I need to get out of the house. I am incredibly lucky that ours is a beautiful, welcoming space. Working there is a delight. I also work at Starbucks sometimes, and I go full-on, hoodie-and-headphones cliche when I do, too.

Where you go doesn’t matter. Not hesitating to leave when you need to does. By having choosing specific locations head of time, you can just get up and go without any extra thought. It will be just another, occasional part of your routine.

Additionally, you can find a co-working space nearby, so you don’t have to rent and furnish a full office all by and for yourself. Most of them even offer day passes, or cheaper part-time memberships so you can work there only when you need to. That way you will have a space that’s more-or-less yours, even though it’s shared.

3. A Work-Only Computer

Another aspect of having a designated work space is also the tools you use. My mentor told me to make sure I only use my work computer for work. No games, no surfing, nothing else. Just work (and side projects, but that’s work, too). I listened, and that alone has made a big difference in my productivity.

When I am on my laptop, I am working. That’s it. That’s all. However, when I do try to work on my PC (there are reasons to work on Windows over Mac occasionally), I find myself getting distracted by Steam or Battle.net far more often than I want to admit. So when it’s my working hours (and yes, I do have pretty set working hours), I am on my laptop.

I have no games installed on it, and I only pull it out when I work. By separating my computer into a tertiary work space, I have trained myself that Macbook time = work time. It is 100% a mental thing, and it only took a couple of weeks for the conditioning to set in.

If there is one single resource you need for remote work, this is it. You can do it pantsless on the couch if you have to, but make sure you have a designated work computer.

4. A Fantastic Planner

I use a physical planner for project management these days. I’ve tried everything from Basecamp to Trello to Google Sheets to Evernote, and what really works best is a good, old-fashioned day planner.

Well, maybe not an old-fashioned one. Gone are the days when a simple task list or hour-by-hour breakdown will cut it. Balancing your work, life, and overall wellness should also be a part of your remote work organization plan. Being mindful is kind of a buzzword these days, but when it comes to making sure you are living the best life you can professionally and personally, being mindful is necessary.

The tool I personally use is the Freedom Mastery Law of Attraction Planner, and our own content manager Nathan B. Weller has actually used InDesign to create his own. What sets these planners apart–and why they’re so good for remote work–is because you can not only plan out your work, but you can plan out your life in that same space.

By additionally offering reflection on professional and personal progress and goals, you can very easily manage and plan out the two halves of your life so they don’t bleed together–which is incredibly easy for them to do if you’re not paying attention. (Or being mindful of it, in other words).

5. Discipline

Just having that awesome planner isn’t going to do you any good if you don’t use it. So another one of the most important tools you can have in your starter kit is discipline. Again, I know this may sound like a cliche, but over the years, I have learned that the difference between success and failure has nothing to do with talent, has a little to do with luck, but has most to do with simply sitting down and putting your butt in a chair.

This is the intangible item in your remote work starter kit. Succeeding at this takes effort. It takes training. It takes discipline. You have to actually use that planner and fill it out. You have to be able to calendar out your days and hours and projects. When you wake up in the morning, you need the discipline to change your clothes, to move off the couch, and to actually get to work instead of getting in that extra episode of The Good Place.

And like almost everything else, being disciplined in your remote work is a skill you have to learn. For me, it’s still a work in progress. As it is for many of you, too. I still find myself distracted by Twitter or Steam or something else shiny. I go weeks without using the reflection and mindful sections of my planner.

But I do use them. I do turn off my PC and move back to my Mac. I do put on pants. Because I know that if I want to continue to have the struggle of whether to put on pants or not, I need the discipline to make the right choice more often than not. Like any other skill or tool, that takes work and time and training.

But don’t forget that all the work spaces, computers, planners, and pants in the world will make you a fantastic remote worker if you don’t have the wherewithal to actually get the work done.

Is Remote Work Right for You?

Just remember, as awesome as it is, remote work is still work. It takes a specific kind of person to do it right, too. When I was teaching, I had a number of students avoid online classes because they knew their learning styles weren’t in line with how the courses were taught. The same is true of remote work–not everyone’s working habits and styles lend themselves to it.

But if you’re interested in giving it a shot, remember that it’s really easy to get distracted, suffer from burnout, and to feel isolated from people (especially if you’re coming from a traditional office space). However, if you fill up your toolbox with these resources and take a realistic approach to remote work (i.e. that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows all the time, even if it kind of is living the dream), you’re going to be a success.

What are some of the tools you think should be in everyone’s remote work starter kit?

Article featured image by Creartion / shutterstock.com

26 Comments

  1. Hello BJ,
    thank you for this great Article.

    I started remote work on 2010 and from a couple of months I would like to change my work space to try something new, something better. I would like to set up a new office in my currently office room. Your post hope give me the good vibes to start the changes.

    I also agree with you to find a secondary work space to be inspired.

    Cheers,

    Mauro

  2. YUP. Great points. I have worked from home, from time to time, and it really does take a different mindset.

  3. Awesome article BJ! I started working remotely the last 6 months and loving it so far! I remember the first months were super challenging since I’m used to the 9 to 5 job setting after working as an oil and gas engineer for the past 14+ years. Until now, I can say it takes discipline and the setting up the right environment. Some of the tools and environment hacks that’s working for me:

    – I only have one laptop that I use both for work and everyday stuff, but I use an app called Freedom. It’s an app that lets you work in intervals. For example, I work in 30 to 45 mins interval, then stretch and relax. The app also blocks unnecessary websites or apps while you work to keep you really focus.

    – I use a time tracking app, called Harvest. It lets you create a project and then track the time you’re working on it real time. I was not into it at first but being able to track how much I worked that day, or what I’ve focused on that week helps me improve my habits. The app is also useful if you’re working with clients, because you can directly invoice a client, based on the total number of works you worked on a project.

    – Working in my apartment everyday would feel boring sometimes so I set myself to work somewhere else at least once a week, just to change the environment.

    – I try to not sleep where I work. This was a challenge for me since I only have a small studio apartment which is common here in Asia. The rule is not to work in bed or set up my working table far from my bed.

    – Wake up in the morning, get ready, shower, eat breakfast like you’re going to work. I like to trick myself by doing this.

    – Find an accountability partner. If you’re living with family or other people, ask the person to watch out for you if you feel you’re getting distracted!

  4. Great article! I’ve worked from home for about 17 years now, and I get comments all the time about how cool that is, and that most people would want to do that as well. But it really takes a different mindset, especially if you live alone.

    Love your idea of a workspace, like a library… that would be cool to put on my schedule to go there once a week or so. I guess they would appreciate it if I wore pants, too…

    • Where do you work? I am currently looking and finding it so hard!

  5. I shower, put on make-up and do my hair, and put on real clothing everyday, and am online by 8AM in my home office. You’re going to need an Instant Messenger app and something like WebEx for meetings. Once you get used to it, you should be able to IM in real-time and jump on a WebEx to brainstorm with colleagues and stakeholders.

  6. Why Apple at all over PC? I work from home as well. Thanks for your article.

  7. Great info. Can you guide me in finding remote accounting jobs?

    • Hi

    • B.J. Keeton

      I wish I could, Kissinger, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin. That is an industry totally out of my wheelhouse.

  8. I strongly disagree with #1 πŸ˜‰ From the beginning of Loving Coop I often forgot these πŸ™‚ I do wear sweats often when it is colder πŸ™‚ Sometimes a bathrobe is good too. πŸ™‚

    • B.J. Keeton

      My friend just bought me a Darth Vader robe for my birthday, so I might have to ignore my own advice for a while, haha!

  9. I work from home as well, and I totally agree with point one. Nothing helped my productivity like getting up and “getting ready for work” like I was leaving for an office. I get up, shower, have breakfast, get dressed in my work uniform all the way down to my shoes, and then head in to my home office for work.

    • B.J. Keeton

      I was given some good advice from Nathan B Weller (our ET content manager) when I started working here: take a quick walk around the block before settling in for the morning, and it’s like having a commute.

      Most days it’s a few circles around my kitchen (it’s an open floorplan), but the same idea applies.

  10. I work from home on assignments that can run from 2 mo. to 1.5 years. The hours are 8 to 12 hr per day 7 days a week. Generally, I start my day at 5 am and work day at 6 am.
    There are times that I don’t leave home for a week or two and only talk on the phone about once or twice a day. The calls are usually my family. The bosses almost never call me and when I ask how I am doing I’m told, “haven’t heard anything negative so just keep doing what you do.”
    I will say, at times it feels that I am trapped in my office with just a wall in front of me and a window at my left that I glance out of 4 or 5 times a day.
    Any suggestions on how to improve this?

    • Nathan B. Weller

      Speaking from personal experience as someone who’s work life was once very similar to what you describe, I have a suggestion that helped me:

      Get involved with a local community. A church, business network, social meetup group, something. I chose to get involved with my local Humanist Community and as a result I began to have a richer more varied social life that began to balance out my work schedule. It got me out of the house (and in turn out of my “office”) frequently and the more involved I got, the more boundaries I had to put on my work time. I found that this balancing act forced me to become more focused at getting my work done during work hours, so I had time to participate as a volunteer and participant in my local community of choice.

      • B.J. Keeton

        We have trivia nights at a local brewery, and we have teams from the library (where my wife works) that go and hang out then. It’s a lot of fun.

        I can’t wait for the weather to get a little warmer so that I can start running with the crew that meets there on Tuesday evenings, too. πŸ™‚

    • Get some live indoor plants to pump fresh oxygen in your work space lots of plants. Put colorful meaningless artwork on the walls. Keep your thoughts on colours you like to be surrounded by instead of what the Artwork is about.

      Abstract works best for your situation. Remember lots of decent sized plants. Oh and get some gold fish in an aquarium. πŸ™‚

  11. Awesome article. I’ve been working at home for over a year. My days are structured for me, ad I work in a call center. Yes, working from home is awesome, if you’re able to keep yourself in line.

  12. Two things I’d add:

    1. check out a co-working space near you. You may find that the environment is just what you need to keep motivated. It’s not for everyone but many people find 2-3 days a week in such a place will help them focus and get away from home distractions.
    2. check out https://todo.vu – its sort of like Trello and Basecamp but much more focused on tasks for clients and it has integrated time tracking which is very handy if you bill for time, but also to keep track of where your time goes. Once you start recording your time, you start to discover much more about your own productivity.

  13. “Instead I fell asleep. Every. Single. Day.” lol, been there… i have found i am much more productive if i split my time between working from home and a co-working office. It may be the morning at home then go into the office after lunch, or a day at home then a day at office.

    • B.J. Keeton

      I do that pretty often–work from home in the morning and elsewhere in the afternoon.

  14. I worked freelance for over 12 years. One of the best things I did was to inquire with a client that was close to home if they had any vacant office spaces. I was given an office space for almost 4 years for a great price (negotiated a small bit of work for free office space), plus being that close geographically to a client saw them coming to me more frequently for work. I’d highly recommend this if you can make it happen.

    • B.J. Keeton

      I have a friend who got “office space” in a local craft studio where they set up folks in their own cordoned off bins and areas. She loves the atmosphere there because it’s not a traditional office environment.

  15. Nice to hear this. When you start in this mode, is difficult to see that these are just common situations for all. Guess the most difficult thing is to get over that, is not you; this happens to the most people who decide to work as a freelance designer. I have done in other areas (cooking and outdoors) but this seem to be the most challenging. Discipline, that being in pyjamas is not recommended for all the time, and that anything you see around is a trigger to focus in so many things that not always is what you need to read or do. especially if you start as a self-taught. Takes time but everything starts in stop blaming yourself and fixing it with these few steps.

  16. Witty and insightful – never forget your pants!

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