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What tips can one provide to get the best programming results when working from home?

When kids and spouse are home, is it possible to get any programming done in these circumstances?

Please share your success tips and strategies for making the most out of your working from home experience.

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migrated from Jul 4 '11 at 22:09

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

Community wiki? – Dmitry Selitskiy Jul 4 '11 at 22:11
+1 for Shower. Usually working from home is difficult as compared to working in a office. – Fahad Uddin Mar 4 '12 at 6:42

18 Answers 18

  • Get a separate office space/computer, that you only use for working. The kids aren't allowed in there.
  • You aren't allowed to use that space for gaming or web surfing.

  • Get a program or a script to clock yourself in and out - if you want to take a break or hang out with your kids, clock out.

  • Having to purposefully switch modes makes it easier to stay in one or the other. You really need a work/home separation, so that you aren't constantly halfway between the two - it's just as bad to be halfway in work-mode when you aren't working as it is to be halfway in home-mode when you are.

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Clock in - clock out. Another great idea. – Ahmad Jan 29 '09 at 22:48
I had a freind who was working remotely who said he started teh day with a walk to help switch modes, when he left the house he was at home and when he reutrned he was at work. – HLGEM Dec 19 '12 at 20:08

After working from home for about a year and a half, I can offer the following tips:

  • Create a space to work from that's separate from the rest of your home. If you don't have an entire room to spare, make it "conceptually" separate in that you work only in that space.
  • Create set hours during which you'll work every day (e.g. 10am to 6pm with a lunch break). This really helps you keep yourself focused on what you're doing, and minimizes distractions from "little things that need to be done around the house."
  • Let your family know that, during that time, they should treat you exactly as if you're working in a real office. Ask them to consider, before they enter your workspace, whether they would actually drive to your office with the same concern if you weren't working from home. You can even take this as far as having them call you on a cell phone if it's a matter they would call you about, but not visit you with.
  • Take a "real" lunch and maybe one or two other breaks during your work day during which you interact with your family, go outside, and so on. This will help keep you from feeling isolated and keep your family feeling connected during the day.
  • When you're done for the day, really be done for the day. Don't "dip" into your work in the evening; treat it as if your workspace were miles from your home. If you need to work more hours than usual, treat them as "overtime" during which you use your workspace.
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The cell phone idea is great! I will try that! – Ahmad Jan 29 '09 at 22:46

I don't have kids, but I do have two rowdy puppies although I dunno if that's a fair comparison;). Nonetheless, here's how I get work done:

  • Turn off the TV. I know that some people work fine with the TV on. I can't stand it - it's a huge distraction. I've always been much more focused when listening to music, so I usually just keep my iPod nearby or stream some music from a stereo.

  • Get off the couch. A lot of people do fine coding on a couch (I know that, for a while, one of the SO developers was programming in his lazy boy as stated by the podcast), but this isn't something I can do. It makes me feel lethargic, then I begin to want to take a nap, then I'm not worth a dime when it comes to being productive.

  • Have good lighting and a big table. When I'm working at home, I try to take full advantage of being out of the cube. I try to sit in a room with a big window so I can have the daylight beside me, and I also like to spread my stuff out on a table. My typical setup includes my laptop, an external monitor, a book, my notebook, cell phone, and then my bag sitting in the chair beside me should I need to get anything out during the day.

  • Talk to your wife about it. If I'm working from home and my wife comes home for her lunch break, she understands that I'm still at work. Some days I can eat with her; other days, I can't. She totally understands and respects that just because I am at home, doesn't mean I am at home. At first, it was kind of weird and an adjustment, but after we talked about it, it wasn't really a problem after that.

Remember that it's the workday, not a day off, so don't clutter your mind with the chores that need to be done around the house. You'll be able to get a jump start on them as soon as the work day is over - in fact, you'll get a head start because you won't have to suffer the commute.

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+1 for including the wife in the wife in the decision. – tehnyit Jul 5 '11 at 9:42

Get dressed in the same clothes that you would if you were going in to work.

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Showering and wearing work clothes definitely gets you focused :) – Ahmad Jan 29 '09 at 22:47
I think the same. Having said that, I guess work naked would be the best part of working from home. Or using flip flops and work from a cafeteria, every once in a while. – NoProblemBabe Jan 29 '10 at 13:44

If you use the same computer for both personal and work, create two separate profiles. For your work profile restrict access to certain drives or folders such as media, games, iPhoto, DivX player etc. When you're in work-mode login to your work persona, get your work done, log out then have your fun.

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You really want to crush distractions because those will kill your productivity. Here's some suggestions I put together in a blog post a few months ago:

  1. Eliminate all Realtime Status Updates — Make all of the following go away: Email, Instant Messaging, Twitter, Anything else on the desktop that can update you about what’s going on in the outside world.

  2. Write Down What You Plan To Do FIRST– Write just enough detail so you can focus without stopping. It is vital that you do this before you start working so, if you need to look up something online, you can do it quickly and get right back to work.

  3. Set a Time Limit — This is a biggie and works wonders. When I do this it makes me stop analyzing, researching, and planning and get to work. It is amazing what placing limits on yourself can do. If you have to, use a stopwatch. Set it for, say, 2 hours. Decide to get up and walk away when that watch goes off no matter what. It’s hard the first seven times. But on the eighth time it gets easy. Trust me. Get up and walk away even if it is for two minutes and you have to come back and shut the computer off, or whatever you do to stop working. Walking away helps me because I usually need about a 2 - 5 minute “cool down” period before stopping any particular work. So set the watch and GO. Start working as fast as you can.

This routine takes practice but, if you give it just seven days, you will have so much momentum you’ll never want to go back.

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If anyone working for me turned off his email, IM and phone when working remotely, he would not be working remotely for long (in fact I have seen people fired for not being available during work hours when an urgent issue came up)! If your boss can't contact you, then he or she is not going to be happy at all. – HLGEM Dec 19 '12 at 20:07

Log your time as if you were a contractor. Be disciplined and include distractions. At the end of the day, rate your performance and provide a retrospective. Systematically figure out how to eliminate the things that distract you in your environment.

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An office with a door is a must. It is too easy to get distracted - you have to make sure your family/roommates can't just walk in whenever they want. They have to understand it is just like you are at the office.

Also, you need to have the best tools - multiple monitors, a good phone, etc. If your company won't pay for these, it will be worth the expense to do it yourself. It can be easy to fall into a rut, so make sure you have the best tools to remain productive.

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From the female perspective, it seems that it is harder to separate work from home when you work at home. Maybe because most of us are socialized to pick up that mess, or do that laundry we see that needs to be done or wash those dishes the kids just left in the sink. And many women stay home and work from home when the kids are sick. My advice is to be even more aware that you are working and not at home. Do not start what seem like even little chores during your work hours (if you couldn't do it while you are inthe office, don't do it). If the kids are sick and they need attention, then take the day off, don't say you are working and then only do an hour's worth of work (this is something we have several different women do in the past here and it is one reason why my boss hates to let women work from home).

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Few of us will have the resources to create the ultimate home office, but Scott Hanselman's story contains a ton of good insight on the matter:

I don't have the ability to establish even a separate room for working from home (thus I avoid doing it), but I've tried to incorporate ideas from his article into my work office as well as the limited space that I do use for occasionally working at home.

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Get a set of headphones so you can listen to music and drown out distractions.

Make the kids/spouse aware of your "work" time and get them to respect that.

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Separate office with walls and door. Also, rules to where you cannot be bothered except during certain times of the day that you preset and agree to.

Noise cancelling headphones if possible.

Personally, my office is in the basement (when I work from home). Nothing fancy, 4 walls and a concrete floor. Gotta do what needs to be done to create the separation you'll need to successfully work from home.

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Noise cancelling headpohones only work on constant noise sources - e.g. airplane engines. They don't really work on unpredictable spike-type noises that kids tend to produce! – Craig Shearer Jan 29 '09 at 18:16
My kids sound like a steady roll of thunder. – EBGreen Jan 29 '09 at 18:17

From my experience in working from home, a great deal depends on the environment.

i've worked from home in a number of residences and some were fine, the last was horrible:

i worked for several months out of an apartment, with a separate "office" space etc. The wife was out working all day, no kids to worry about. But... Nothing changed the fact that i lived in a cramped, homogenized apartment super-complex designed to be a bedroom community and nothing else. Even with daily walks in the sun and random excursions, the situation was not good. i was going stir crazy from the lack of variety and open space and had to commute.

(The separate workspace idea as described by Josh and Dave is a must!)

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I don't have the luxury of a separate space, I find the following helps:

  • Take short breaks with the family. I believe one should take regular breaks anyway. Make a coffee and spend a little quality time with family.

  • A Good Chair. If I'm not confortable then I'm always wanting to walk around - and then it's hard for others to appreciate I'm still working.

  • IEM (ear canal) headphones such as Sure or Etymotics.

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Like everybody say have a room with a door and a lock . Also if you have kids, you should tell them when and for what they can disturb you. And make sure to have time with them after you're work.

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  • Create some space for your work. Ideally get room for your work
  • Make your family to understand how much it necessary to not disturb you during day (except your break-time - try to use it for your family and food)
  • Make breaks every 2 hours
  • Be polite to your family - it is very hard not to disturb you during work
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I like that many people say: "Wear the same clothes that you would if you were going to work." Very nice, however when I go to work I wear the same clothes as in my leasure time ;)

I'd say it is not a good idea to try to make your home office too similar to you work office. The reason why I work at home is to get actually more work done than when I work in the office. I actually do treat myself to good coffee at home, to regular breaks, to a little background music once in a while, I don't regularly check e-mail. I also stay in bed a little longer than if I'd go to the office. It's all these small benefits together that keep you more focussed on the job and let's you do more things in one day.

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Personally, what works for me is working 14-18 hours a day, but working once every two days.

For one thing, the spouse/kids are very forgiving when they have you for a full day. If you are a woman (or other minority) culturally conditioned to take care of the home, you can dedicate a whole day to chores. Although you'll have to make some arrangement for the kids, like cooking for them a day in advance, or promising to take them somewhere nice if they behave while mom/dad is working at home.

What makes working from home difficult are constant interruptions. Find a way to isolate or delay the interruptions to some other day. Having a full day off for gaming or other fun helps too.

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