How to be productive without an office

· 7 min read
How to be productive without an office

If you’re starting a startup, or working remotely for one, you probably don’t have an office. That’s a good thing!

Offices are expensive – you may as well be paying rent twice. In the early-stage, you just don’t need one.

In the past year we’ve grown our startup to be ramen profitable and hired our first remote teammates. Still growing. Still no office. Still no plans on changing that.

We’re also traveling the world. We’ve visited and worked full-time from 20 cities in 14 countries and 3 continents. We work from work-friendly cafes or whichever Airbnb we’re staying at.

Before that we lived in San Francisco, also working from cafes. Whether you’re living in a big city, traveling, or something in between, you don’t need an office to be productive.

Tell your brain it’s work time

Hey Brain, it’s work time, so let’s get some work done!

That’ll work just about as well as “Hey Brain, it’s exercise time, so let’s go to the gym!”

Sometimes it works, but sometimes your brain says “I’m tired” and decides staying on the couch is a better idea. More often than not, your brain is actually the one telling you what to feel and do.

But there are some tricks you can use to get yourself into work mode.

Namely, your brain associates places with activities. That’s why working from bed is a terrible idea. It’ll tell your brain that your bed is for working and sleeping. This leads to sleepy work sessions and stressful sleep sessions. Nobody wants that.

Bed is for sleep and watching The Office

Find a specific room or desk at home and only use it for working. Then your brain will associate being there with being productive. If you get distracted, leave your productive space. This way you don’t let your brain associate it with unproductiveness.

Enough about brains.

“Go to work”

Working from home is definitely a luxury. You don’t have to commute. You can spend more time with your family. You get to work from the comfort of your own home.

But be careful you don’t get too comfortable. Don’t just roll out of bed and hop on your laptop.

What I mean by this is, mentally, you still have to “go to work”. Take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast. Whatever your morning routine is for going into the office, do that for working at home too.

Otherwise, your sleepy morning and productive work session meld together. This makes for an unproductive, stressful mess. Find that separation. Do your morning routine. Mentally go to work. In this case, that means your productive space at home.

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Andrew Rasmussen

Hi, I'm a co-founder of Canny. Before that, I was a software engineer at Facebook. I love JavaScript, rock climbing, nerding out about the future, and SaaS.

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Get out of the house

If you don’t have a space you can dedicate to productivity, or home doesn’t work for you, it’s no problem. Get out of the house!

Luckily there are about a million work-friendly cafes out there. It’s totally normal and appropriate to spend several hours working at a cafe. Many of them specifically have Wi-Fi and outlets to encourage workers to visit.

Some even have cute cat friends (Yaboo Cafe, Taipei)

There’s definitely unwritten etiquette though. Most of it is straightforward if you aren’t a jerk. For starters:

  • You must purchase something for every 2-3 hours you stay there. Otherwise they’re losing money on you. A cafe is a business, just like yours.
  • Only take up one seat to save space for others. Especially if it’s crowded.
  • If they specifically say they aren’t laptop-friendly, then don’t work there.

There are also several criteria that make a cafe a good place to work:

  • Good Wi-Fi. Without fast Wi-Fi, you probably can’t do your job. Some cafes have a 30 minute limit for how long you can use the Wi-Fi. Avoid these cafes.
  • Power Outlets. Imagine you’re in the middle of some hard work when that “3% battery remaining” window pops up. Nothing is worse!
  • Seating. The best cafes can get quite crowded because, well, they’re awesome to visit and work from. Make sure they have plenty of seating or you get there early.
  • Good Coffee/Tea. This one isn’t a must have, but is definitely a nice to have. A delicious beverage can make you look forward to going to work.
  • Good Food. It’s hard to work for more than 3-4 hours without at least eating a snack. Food means you can stay even longer, and not feel bad about that because you’ve ordered a drink and a meal.
  • Hours. Is it open every day of the week? Early mornings? Evenings? Late nights?

If you can find a cafe that checks all these boxes, it’s a keeper. Make it your go-to spot and head there a few times a week while you explore and find other great places.

I’ve also had success working from libraries and even fancy hotel lobbies. Hotel lobbies usually have Wi-Fi, a cafe, bathrooms, and don’t mind you stopping by for a few hours. Some of them are super nice!

It’s actually mind-blowing how much impact going to a cafe can have. Just today I was sitting at home thinking about what to write about, and I didn’t feel like working. My mind was cloudy, and it felt like I was pushing a boulder up a hill.

I hopped in the shower, got dressed, and biked to a cafe. I ordered an iced mango green tea (in Chinese, because we’re in Taiwan). I sat down at a big table with a bunch of other people working away.

Our main spot in Kaohsiung, Taiwan

The difference was night and day. Getting out of the house, “going to work”, and being around productive people made working 10x easier. I brainstormed 15 blog post topics and wrote this post in a few hours.

If you ever feel like you’re having a bad day, it’s not too late to turn it around. Changing up your environment can make all the difference.

Try some of these awesome tools

We’ve compiled a list of awesome tools that our team uses to stay focused.

  • Noise canceling headphones. At a noisy cafe? Trying to tell your roommates you’re busy? Disconnect from distractions.
  • Spotify. Listen to music without lyrics. The “Focus” mood in Spotify is your new best friend.
  • Qbserve. The metrics you track are the ones that go up. If you keep track of how much time you spend working, you’ll work more. Simple as that.
  • Do Not Disturb. I had an iPhone for 2 years before I knew this feature existed. It’s super useful to unplug from the daily ongoings.
  • Twist. We use Twist as our team communication app. They have a nifty “Snooze” feature that ignores all notifications for a set amount of time.
  • Forest. Plant trees by not visiting distracting websites / apps for a certain amount of time. It’s a cute, fun way to game productivity.
  • Healthier. Don’t forget to take breaks too! We take two minute breaks every half hour.

Keep the momentum going

It can be demotivating to work hard and not see any results. Regardless of your environment, you need to know that you’re working hard for a reason.

That’s why momentum is so important. It creates a positive loop: work hard, ship, get results, celebrate, repeat.

Without results, work can feel like a drag. So break your work into smaller projects, ship often, and celebrate your results!

Celebrating new features with some red

You’ll notice that we aren’t even talking about offices anymore. Productivity tools, celebrating results… these things have nothing to do with working from an office. Productivity is more about your mindset and workflow than needing a physical office. So save your money, make life a little more interesting, and go explore some cool cafes! 😎

We post about our daily adventures in work and travel on our Instagram stories @carryoncode. To read more about our journey as digital nomads, check out this post.

Andrew Rasmussen

Hi, I'm a co-founder of Canny. Before that, I was a software engineer at Facebook. I love JavaScript, rock climbing, nerding out about the future, and SaaS.

All Posts · Twitter

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June 4, 2018 4:58 pm

Really nice post Andrew. I think that the biggest positive effect for me is just leaving the house – but not necessarily to work! Every morning I go for a 15-20 minute walk, to collect my thoughts, but also I think it helps you feel more connected to the world, even if you then go home and just put your headphones and work hard for a while.

January 21, 2020 7:00 am
Reply to  Colin

From time to time I go for a walk in the evening immediately after I close the laptop lid to wrap the day and leave the work-related thoughts outside.
Although some of my friends which work remotely leave the house both in the morning and in the evening. They simply walk around the block and get the feeling of commuting to split the day into home time and work time.

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