One truism about travel states that it takes going halfway across the globe to discover who you really are. As it usually is with the cliches, it’s both cringy and true. The period of my biggest personal growth happened while I was studying abroad in Sweden, too far from my habits and friends to fall into the old patterns.
The same holds for work. While I am on parental leave and driving, wrangling the baby or the dog, my wife is working remotely. I’m quite impressed with her resolve and ability to do some actual work while sitting at the table of our RV when we’re on the motorway between Austria and Italy.
It’s bizarre that with ancient cities to visit and high mountains to scale, somehow we are usually both able to be more productive than in the comfortable, “perfect environment” of home. When you have something worthwhile to do, you don’t spend a moment procrastinating nor a minute longer than necessary to get ready. You do what you have to and somehow manage to achieve more.
One explanation would be Parkinson’s Law. It states that the work expands to fill all the time it has available. So when you really have a 3-hour task but have to fill the entire 8-hour workday, you’ll do that with ease and probably will clock in some overtime if you don’t have plans that day. The other reason is that we are underestimating the role that focus plays in our productivity. We still tend to count hours, disregarding their value. In my career, I had 5 hours of focused work more productive than 5 weeks of bumbling around in the office.
The value of each thing you’re doing follows a positively skewed distribution – 75% of the things you can focus on don’t really matter, and the value of the few important ones outweighs all the other ones. When you are driven to make progress, you focus on what matters.
The Deadline forcing function
I’ve known these things intellectually for a while now, yet I have trouble replicating the travel productivity surprise at home. I take too much time to make coffee. I browse the tasks to be done and nibble at the less important ones instead of boldly grabbing the meanest and toughest ones to gain progress.
Deadlines attempt to fabricate a similar productivity spike. Even if you’re moving them further and further before the launch, it motivates people to focus on the actual problems, not the vaguely relevant “nice to haves.”
Like all the other negative motivation tools, the deadline forcing function only works for a time. If your team learns that the deadlines don’t matter, they lose their effect. It’s called learned helplessness.
As a positive motivational tool with variable reinforcement, Travel productivity surprise doesn’t seem to lose its appeal the longer it’s in effect. I guess that explains how Nomads are able to achieve anything.
If you have an idea how to replicate this at home, please let me know. We’ll be traveling until then.
In an experiment, people rated a physicist’s talk at a scientific conference as 19.3% better when they listened to it in high quality audio vs slightly distorted, echo-prone audio.
When audio quality is high (vs low), people judge the content as better and more important. They also judge the speaker as more intelligent, competent, and likable.
The one cheap fix is to focus on the microphone. Airpods pro may make you look better with no cable at all, but they gather sound from all around you. Headsets with boom microphones like Sennheiser SC-160 will be most portable and versatile. Matt Mullenweg (creator of WordPress) has a great comparison here.
I want to see Gucci deliver a home studio build for their elite clients, that fully and completely ‘guccifies’ their space. Again, this is not reducible to the physical objects ordered in the visual field. It extends to the optics, to the lighting, maybe even the film grain of their digital feed, evoking 8mm film cameras, or anamorphic cinematograph
Until you have a ready Gucci streaming setup, invest in a good headset and put a little thought into your Zoom frame. You’ll look (and sound) like a pro!
As the gripping cold conceded to the heatwaves in July, we moved to the countryside for a few weeks. There, we have a good view of our neighbors’ farm. While those small farmers are still around, we’re ecstatic to observe the rhythms of the rural lifestyle.
When the cow moos full of milk, my neighbor has to milk her. When the rye is ripe in July, he works 16 hours a day to scythe, sweep, and rake. He collects his chickens’ eggs at 5 am and waters the vegetables at 8 pm when the sun is not so scorching anymore.
Countless articles recommend keeping “Work-Life Balance”. Leave your job at 5 PM, turn off the work phone/email and enjoy your “Life”. It is crucial to set proper boundaries – the articles state in unison. Keep your mental hygiene.
My neighbor is too busy to sit in the office scrolling articles on the Internet, so he hasn’t heard about Work-Life Balance. He does what he needs to, and he rests in between. He sees the fruits of his labor and spends hours watching the rye grow. I envy him sometimes.
He lives on that farm. Farmers were working from home long before COVID.
In the 1800s, 90 percent of the US population lived on a farm, rocking their WFH setups. How did they all survive without mental breakdowns and Harvard Business Review articles praising strict Work-Life Balance?
I believe we have the work-life balance debate wrong. Instead of introducing more rigid walls between Life and Work, we should focus on keeping a dynamic equilibrium – just like my neighborhood farmer.
Do things that need to be done, and stop sitting in place just because the clock tells you to.
“That’s a debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade-off. And the reality is, if I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy. And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy. It actually is a circle; it’s not a balance.”
I don’t have such issues with the phrasing, but I think we have it wrong where we think “balance” means tall walls between parts of life. But balance may mean a dynamic equilibrium (as in “Power of Full engagement“) – when one side of your work+life pie gets outsized, you compensate – from Anne-Laure’s article:
One day, one of your kids may get sick; another day, you may need to replace a colleague on the spot; yet another day, you may feel a burst of productivity and get so much done you can take a really nice break. It feels different to work in the summer than in the winter; it feels harder to work when you lack sleep; it feels easier when your colleagues are being helpful. These are ever changing factors you can’t control,
Demand more Life from your Work
Time is a bit cruel. It flies by when you’re having fun, and drags on forever when you’re counting minutes for your shift to end. So you can just decide to have a little more fun, and work will be less exhausting. Any workplace can provide:
Fulfillment and Challenge
Working on something bigger than yourself
Coworkers that can be turned into Friends.
If you’re trying to introduce strict boundaries between work & life, you’re going to treat your job as the enemy and something to run away from the first chance you’ll get.
Avoid BS (As in BuSywork) like the plague. You shouldn’t do constant overtime just to “prove your loyalty”. But if you get a chance to do something awesome, don’t throw it away just because it’s 5 PM.
We seem to have a political (public) imagination so shallow that it cannot conceive of what to even do with children, especially smart children. We fail to properly respect them all the way through adolescence, so we have engineered them to be useless in the interim.
But it does not have to be this way. In fact, we can teach them BOTH agency, and knowledge from the curriculum:
The secret of the world is that it is a very malleable place, we must be sure that people learn this, and never forget the order: Learning is naturally the consequence of doing.
Thanks to the Internet, you can undo years of school trauma today:
You don’t have to wait for professionals to tell you how to make stuff, you can just make stuff. Start typing
Owner of Gail.com refuses to sell the domain to typosquatters
Typosquatters register domains similar to known, existing ones hoping that somebody misspells the address and end up on their site instead.
The owner of Gail.com received the domain from her husband, and it turns out many people end up there instead of gmail:
In 2020 this page received a total of 5,950,012 hits, which is an average of 16,257 per day. Looking at just unique hits, we received a total of 1,295,284, for an average of 3,539 unique hits per day. Occasionally, we get Twitter-bombed and may get several tens of thousands of visitors a day. As an example, on July 21st 2020 we received 109,316 hits.
This person, an outstanding Internet citizen refuses to pollute the common good:
Q: Are you interested in monetizing gail.com? A: No, but thanks for asking. Q: Don’t you know that you could throw some ads up and make money? A: Yes, I know, thank you. For those who feel they need more advertising in their life, please have a look at our swanky Electronic Frontier Foundation ad below. If you believe in a free Internet, please consider clicking on the link and donating to the EFF.
Be like the owner of gail.com.
Lego Lost at Sea
On Feb 23rd 1997, nearly 5 million bits of Lego fell into the ocean when a huge wave hit the cargo ship Tokio Express, washing 62 containers overboard. We’re still finding it 24 years later. Among the pieces lost were green dragons, highly prized among beachcombers.
Lego Lost at Sea project documents those findings but has since expanded to all plastic debree washing out on Cornish beaches.
Last week’s deliberate newsletter issue about Tesla, Bitcoin, and Ducks turned out to be a spectacular success, so I have an important update to share with you today. Did you know how flamboyant Northern Rockhopper penguins are? Well, now you do.
Another important piece of information about penguins is that there are penguins in Africa! I had the privilege to swim with them in Cape Town.
Best Advice is what NOT to do.
My mom loves sharing unsolicited advice with me, and my grandpa is a master mansplainer. He would ask me for help on something I do for a living and later interrupt me to explain a detail I just told him. (I think I may have inherited some of this advice-giving enthusiasm since, well, here is another email from me.)
We live in a post-scarcity world of information. The shortage of opinion is not a problem we have to solve. Quite to the contrary – we are bombarded with options and would gladly defer to someone to remove some of the choice.
And yet, people still act as if “just another idea to consider” is something we crave. My personal pet peeve is googling an article full of general non-information ending with “you should act in accordance to your personal situation and consider other sources.”. I know that, but JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO.
If you want to be most helpful, here is my advice-giving algorythm™️ (also on Twitter):
Good advice is NOT a truckload of other things they could worry about. People seeking advice are overwhelmed already. The best help is curing that overwhelm.
The best advice is: “at your stage skip all this and all that. Here is the step you should focus on. Here is how you start”.
The best way to know is to ask “What have you tried?“
Remember that advice is about helping THEM. Not giving you an opportunity to finally regurgitate all you know about a topic and prove that you haven’t wasted 5 years studying it. Give them a starting point. The simpler the better and don’t overwhelm them with information.
The best advice is “don’t worry about these 10 things. It’ll sort itself out, or you can look at this later”.
The Remote Work experiment of 2020 has caused a massive exodus from the world’s biggest cities. Employers had no choice but to permit working from home, and that has allowed deliberate choice about where this home should be.
Beyond anecdotal accounts of bankers fleeing Manhattan and tech workers saying sayonara to the Bay Area, we have loads of private data to back up the story that superstar cities are in trouble.
Redistributing workers (and tax revenue) to smaller towns is the most exciting consequence of Remote Work. I have been betting on this outcome for a few years and I’m really happy to see it start.
Superstar pain could be America’s gain—not only because lower housing costs in expensive cities will make room for middle-class movers, but also because the coastal diaspora will fertilize growth in other places.
Continuing the trend of surprising consequences, it’s now socially acceptable to work from your bed! Mostly because nobody cares. What you do in your bed is your business, even if that means business.
Working from bed is a time-honored tradition upheld by some of history’s most accomplished figures. Frida Kahlo painted masterpieces from her canopy bed. Winston Churchill, a notorious late riser even during World War II, dictated to typists while breakfasting in bed. Edith Wharton, William Wordsworth and Marcel Proust drafted prose and verse from their beds. “I am a completely horizontal author,” Truman Capote told The Paris Review in 1957. “I can’t think unless I’m lying down.”
“Being in bed is great,” he said. “I wish, in general, there were fewer norms and standards around where it is and isn’t acceptable to work.”
Ridiculous as it sounds, even before the lockdowns, I missed the commute.
The gentle rocking of the bus, The camaraderie of workers returning home, and the blank stares filling the space. The commute is universally recognized as bad, right?
It eats into your schedule, robbing you of your life
It starts your day off rushed and stressed, which limits your performance and happiness
You share the rush hour traffic with half of the known universe, all competing for the same 10cm in a bus to squeeze in.
You get infected with every possible ailment your fellow travelers can carry.
And yet, a few times a year, this feeling comes back. Especially during challenging periods of focused work, I sometimes yearn for this transition period that will let me decompress between work and private engagements.
Now when we all are sheltered in place, these boundaries get blurred. We carry our stresses from work to home, because, well, both happen on the same couch!
The unexpected benefits of commuting are much more apparent now During summertime, it was quite enjoyable. I love cycling to the office and am in a fortunate position where I have 8 km of parks between the coworking spot and me.
On the way to the office, I get my daily fix of cardio and spent some time in nature. I identified some time ago that on the days that I see the trees, my mood goes up.
On the way back, I sometimes cycle quite slowly, reflecting on the day and some times maybe even sit in one of those parks.
On those exhausting days, the way home lets me decompress and maybe even put a border between times of the day.
The commute helps switch gears mentally
Me cycling to work produces mental energy
While stuck at home, you may want to reproduce the benefits of a commute:
Hopefully, the lockdowns will end, because the commute can be quite OK if you choose it. With a flexible work schedule, going to the office on any given day is my decision, and I can make specific arrangements to avoid rush hour traffic.
Remote Work, you don’t have to choose between your career and behaving
like a human being. You don’t have to uproot yourself and embark on an
uncertain journey to seek a better life. The days of Wild West are gone.
The opportunity to move for work is a privilege, and the immense potential of those of us who are not willing to leave our lives behind is only beginning to be explored.
I write this, my grandfather is not doing so well. I very much enjoy
the opportunity to visit him and listen to his crazy war stories. About
the time he was running a public house as a 14-year old to feed his
family. Or how he stole german weapons and sold them to the resistance.
My Wife appreciates these stories too, and she “adopted” him as her own.
Let me tell you about quite typical situation in my life.
I’m sitting at a bar with my friends. A few people I’ve just met overheard me telling some travel story and they want to know more about remote work. So I start to explain the reality of it – that our company has no office, we talk over internet and so on.
They nod along for a while, and after about a minute or two I hear something like:
But I couldn’t work from home!
I DO understand why they say that – and they are right!
Working from home makes one… different.
It’s good to stay in touch with other people. Have you ever been sick for 2 weeks and then you just became sick of… being sick?
There comes a time when you would do just about anything to leave your apartment. The perspective of spending every day like this is scary indeed.
Stages of working from home
Believe me, I can relate. The only difference is that I have a crow sitting in my window. Her name is Kraaatherina.
But I do have some good news!
Remote work does not (necessarily) mean work from home.
One of the benefits of remote work is that you can choose a place within walking distance from your home.
You don’t waste so much time commuting to the office,
You are not limited to companies hiring in your area,
You can work for the company of your dreams without having to move.
These are fantastic benefits that can change your life. But if you don’t feel like it, you can ditch the office – there are plenty of options to choose from.
Working from a Coffeeshop
I’m sure you have stumbled upon a romantic, greatly overused photo of a wooden table and a MacBook perched on top. And a cappuccino (of course).
I’m aware this looks like a hipster’s wet dream. When working remotely, you have to get used to the fact that your life resembles a promotional photoshoot. Working from exotic places, whipping out your MacBook at a cafe…
The struggle is real.
So how does it look in practice? How do you get work done from a coffee shop?
I usually pick a chain one. Unfortunately, my favourite cafe in the neighbourhood is taken over by moms with their kids. It may be surprising for you, but this constitutes a sub-optimal work environment.
In Poland I opt for Caffé Nero – they have the best sandwiches. But while traveling, there is always a Starbucks. And a Starbucks on the corner of every Starbucks.
At a chain coffeeshop, I don’t feel self-conscious when I’m sitting and sipping one cup of coffee for 3 hours,
They usually have a long, wooden table where I can secure enough space for my laptop. Romantic, round tables are probably useful when discussing poetry and charging tourists ridiculous prices, but not for real work,
You know what to expect. I appreciate some variety in my life, but when I have a stressful task to accomplish – the unexpected factors, high noise level or limited bathroom access can make us feel a little uncomfortable.
However while travelling, I do look for “pearls”. When my fiancée and I worked from Paris, we were heartbroken by the fact that all those Parisian cafés are incredibly uncomfortable. But you do (have a chance to) stumble upon some interesting decor. Rainforest Cafe (an USA chain) imitates, well, a rainforest with fake gorillas and all. In Lviv, there is an amazing “Apteka Mikolash” where the inventor of a gaslamp used to spend his days.
Usually I get to a cafe around 9:30-10:00 and leave before lunch. Sitting there for about 3 hours, I pick “less popular” times so I don’t block the table during breakfast and lunch time which is an avalanche of hungry mob.
I like to eat breakfast at the cafe, to leave more money – in the end it’s a business, not a charity. Unfortunately, healthy options are sparse. If you want to limit caffeine consumption at the same time – it’s even trickier. Most non-caffeine options are pretty sugary. By the way, I highly recommend ginger tea in Starbucks. It’s great for those cold mornings.
When I walk into a place, I’m like a special-ops commando. But instead of assessing exits and possible murder weapons, I do check for power outlets. I carry a 3-meter extension cord with me (write me if you want to know more), so it’s less of an issue nowadays. If I happen to secure comfortable-looking table close to power outlet, I need to mark it by my sweatshirt. Searching for a proper work spot carrying a sandwich and a coffee is a real challenge.
As I mentioned – I like those long communal tables, even if I have to share them. I don’t mind company, but I really value desk space.
So I start to work.
Headphones are key, but from my experience cafe is not the most noisy environment. Other patrons tend to scroll their facebook feeds, chat in small groups, read book or work like me.
Do you want to know how to make sure you can secure a power outlet, which headphones will ensure blissful focus and what cafe is best to work from? Sign up now!
Cowork is an office space you share with other companies / freelancers. You can get a whole room, but a desk in a an open space is much more common. You can get your own dedicated spot or a “hot desk” – where you just sit at the spare desk.
This arrangement is the closest to traditional office and has some benefits:
Every day you see the same faces. You meet folks during coffee breaks, you can chat about football, startups or challenges of your projects. You will have the opportunity to network – or even find friends.
If you’re a freelancer, it makes it so much easier to find business partners or clients. The startup that is producing a video game 3 desks away may trust you with their marketing campaign if your off-handed advice will pan out.
Coworking spots tend to have their unique communities. In my WeWork we get breakfast for the whole community every Monday. We can get to know one another while aggressively fighting for the last spoon of tomato hummus. Nothing brings people closer than food and a brawl.
These are the most beautiful offices you have ever seen. Coworking spots are evaluated the same way as potential spouses are – totally superficially. The nicer looking one always wins. Fortunately, its less paperwork to get out of coworking deal than a marriage (usually). WeWork puts a lot of effort into design.
Every cowork puts coffee, scanner and a printer as a benefit. Those perks may be less important for you – but you don’t have to worry about it anymore.
You get a physical address to put on official business documents. In Poland, that’s a legal requirement and not every landlord lets you do that in a rented apartment.
If you buy crap interesting items on AliExpress or do a lot of online shopping – you will have someone to sign for all those packages. This is important if you tend to wander around the world like me.
Price usually hovers around $250-$350 for a desk, but that depends on the location.
But there are tradeoffs
As I mentioned – coworking spaces have a lot in common with regular offices. With all the up and downsides.
In coworking spaces there are companies dealing with various things – for example sales or accounting – and make a lot of phone calls.
Fortunately, in my WeWork there are dedicated phone booths. This is a gamechanger. Loud phone calls are the reason why I left my previous cowork. The noise made it impossible to focus.
I generally have 2 complaints against coworking spaces:
It is surprisingly louder than a coffee shop.
If you travel a lot, it may not be feasible. The per-day passes are around $20, so monthly memberships are much cheaper. But if you plan to sightsee and enjoy the city, coworking spot may not be the best option.
When you were in college – did you happen to swing by the library to finish some project or focus? Why should it be any different now that you have your amazing remote career?
I am a fan of libraries myself.
Me, while smoking a pipe
This is the only place that ensures quiet working conditions. You don’t even need your headphones!
There is no shortage of outlets and desks.
Sometimes the interiors are phenomenal. All over Europe, libraries are the most spectacular buildings as they were founded and frequented by rich & famous. Now you have to be rich and famous to keep that tradition. It’ll be easy because – as you already know – libraries are free.
Now, that’s a pro territory.
Museums are a very picturesque environments/ interiors. You get to work from a very impressive/intriguing/stimulating location, get some culture and learn interesting stuff during the breaks. The potential is big, but you have to do your research.
A few hints how to find a museum and which ones to avoid:
Science, naval and war museums tend to have more seating options,
Unfortunately they tend to have more screaming children,
Your best bet are very unpopular museums,
Power will be an issue in all of them. Bring extension cord or a powerbank,
Usually the best chance of a table and power is the museum cafe,
It will be loud,
Some museums have libraries!
Working in the open air is like having a beer in the forest. But with a laptop and continuous quest for better wifi/lte signal. And without the beer.
By far this is my favourite mode. I love spending time in nature, watching trees and waterfalls. My remote work arrangement lets me commit new code in a Canadian National Park, conduct a video call with the Loire Valley castle backdrop and test new product version from the beach in Thailand.
WiFi is widespread nowadays, but it’s good to always have a 3G option with you. “Hotspot” option in your smartphone is usually enough.
US and Canada have a lot of picnic tables in parks. They are probably meant to be used as a place to have lunch, but they are also a great spot to whip out the laptop and pretend you are working while secretly checking your Instagram likes.
Artur, you promised that I don’t have to work from home!
I won’t lie anymore. I worked in all of those places, but pretty often I end up in my… home office.
We recently bought an apartment and I enjoy my place a lot. I can see birds from the balcony (I need to keep tabs on Kraatherina). I love being able to cook fresh vegetables, going to the gym or the swimming pool without carrying all my belongings and a laptop with me.
If you want to know how to arrange an awesome Home Office, do sign up!
Remote job allows you to work not anywhere, but… everywhere!
In a traditional job you have to sit in one place. Moreover, you have no say on the matter. It’s only natural that while moving to a remote setup, you are searching a replacement.
But… is it good for you to sit in the same position for 8 hours trying to focus? Won’t your mind appreciate a little bit of change? Won’t it feel energized in new surroundings?
In the morning you can work from home. Let everybody else stuck in traffic jams,
Once crowds are gone you can get your morning coffee and enjoy the coffee shop,
Around lunch time it might be a good idea to work from a restaurant? From my experience, Mondays are always empty and nobody will mind the laptop,
Maybe… Don’t you feel like a library is a good idea today?
Or maybe it’s better to hit the cowork early in the morning, go to the gym when everybody else is still in the office and finish work at home?
You get to choose. It’s worth it!
The best benefit of remote work is that the workplace has to fit you. Not the other way around.
„Remote” by David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH) and Jason Fried is a book about (you guessed it) remote work. Both DHH and Jason are huge advocates of the distributed setup as they should – they run a company called Basecamp that hires remotely.
And so am I – I work in one of the biggest distributed companies ( Automattic ) and I help to run a foundation in Poland called Remote Ninja. The focus of the initiative is to promote and help set up remote companies and lifestyle so that people in the most remote parts of Poland can participate in the global economy without leaving their families.
Since remote work is weaved into every part of my life, it is hard for me to learn something new from the book. I can swear by everything that they have written there and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about remote work.
Benefits of remote work
As a company, your talent pool is much wider
Employees are much more loyal, since they can fit work intoo their lifestyles with ease
They can fit the work into their chronotypes easily
If you work remotely you dont have to wait for retirement to travel the world
Stuff I wholeheartedly agree on with the authors
Office is much more distracting environment than home
Remote work puts work first, hours spent last
I am much more productive when I can work when I feel like it, not when my ‚office hours’ are
Asychronous communication is the only way to do the work in a sane manner
Urgency is overrated
If they do say the office, they’ll include a qualifier such as “super early in the morning before anyone gets in”
We traded the freedom and splendor of country land and fresh air for convenience and excitement.
That’s a much more realistic goal than buying lottery tickets, either the literal or figurative ones. As an example of the latter: pursuing a career-ladder or stock-
But why wait? If what you really love doing is skiing, why wait until your hips are too old to take a hard fall and then move to Colorado?
In this world very few leaps of progress arrive exclusively as benefits. Maybe the invention of the sandwich, but that’s it.
People have an amazing ability to live down to low expectations.
And let’s not forget the ergonomics of sweatpants!