Dear Person Now Working From Home;
Welcome to the club of several millions of people informed (likely just yesterday) that they’re going to have to work remotely from home for the foreseeable future. A week, a month, maybe even longer. Things are about to get … interesting.
Or, maybe you’re thinking “Hey, this is great! I don’t have to commute, I can work in my pajamas, I can roll out of bed five minutes to nine and hit the ground running. This is a paid stay-at-home vacation!” to which I say WRONG.
Take it from someone who’s worked from home for twenty years; it’s a lot harder than you think it is, and you are going to find that out shortly.
Fortunately, you have me, and my decades of experience working from home to help mitigate this transition for you. This is:
THINGS I LEARNED IN TWENTY YEARS OF WORK FROM HOME
Keep a schedule and stick to it
Is your job a 9-5 job, typically? Then those are the hours you want to keep. You want to be up and at your computer, ready to start the day, and you want to stick to the schedule you keep at work. Do you take a coffee break around 10:15? Do the same at home. When do you usually have lunch? Take that lunch, away from your desk. Take the whole lunch break. Don’t bring it to your desk and keep working. However your afternoons shake down at your office, mirror them at home. And when 5:00 rolls around, you turn the computer off, you close the door to the home office (if you’re using one), and
LEAVE WORK THERE UNTIL THE NEXT MORNING
In my first year of working from home I did little else but work from home. I worked from sunrise to beyond sunset. I worked every day of the week. I worked on holidays, I didn’t take any vacation. I worked without much in the way of pause and it caught up with me.
Speaking of “catching up with you”:
For the love of god, SHOWER
Look, I get it; you’re home, your commute is essentially however it takes to get from your bed to your desk. But if that commute takes you past your bathroom (and even if it doesn’t), veer left or right or wherever, and take that morning shower.
Shower, shave, wash your hair, whatever your normal routine is. And get changed into clothing. Not a suit or anything, but fresh, clean shirt and pants or whatever feels comfortable. Firstly, because you likely will have Skype calls and meetings involving video so you don’t want to look like you just rolled out of bed. Secondly, because you will just feel overall better than if you don’t. I’ll skip the unpleasant details but in my first year of work-from-home I went days between trips outdoors, so naturally I didn’t shower as often as I should have. The results … well, they weren’t pretty, and they smelled worse.
“But Brad,” you say; “This is all kind of redundant. It’s basic stuff everybody knows. I’ve worked from home before. In fact, my office allows us one floating work-from-home-day a week”. To which I say “Great, but this a lot different. This is going to be a long haul. You’re not driving to the grocery store; you’re driving from New York to Los Angeles and you’re only allowed 50 miles per hour.” Incorporating good work habits from the get-go will help manage your time and workload effectively. It will also help your loved ones – spouse, children, pets – that there’s time for work and time for play and they cannot overlap. On that related note:
Give yourself time to play
Nothing will burn you out faster than working to the exclusion of all the rest. Your after-work volleyball games are probably cancelled, and your gym is closed too. But make sure you get yourself outside at least once a day, to take in some fresh air and sunshine. Consider it part of your commuting time.
In my first year of working from home I barely stepped outside, and hardly exercised. By the end of that year I was in terrible shape. I was overweight, my muscles had atrophied from lack of use, I was sick constantly. Fortunately I resolved to make sure I was getting in at least an hour of good cardio-vascular exercise a day, and that’s the one New Year’s Resolution I’ve managed to keep, year after year for the last twenty years. Plus, exercise, fresh air, and sunshine help fight off those nasty germs, and if you do get something, boost your immune system so it can fight any infections off.
[Also, don’t forget diet. Even allowing for that outside time, you won’t be outside as much. Load up on the fresh fruits and vegetables. Prepare meals, don’t just order delivery. Use that prep and cook time to decompress from the desk a little.]
This goes for family. Your kids in particular may think “hey, mom and dad are home, let’s play!” but you have to work, and they have to understand that. A way around that that I’ve found with my child, is to grant him or her some attention during the day, during coffee break or lunchtime. Have a break to read them a story or play with toys, or something that lets them know you’re there, and are attentive to their needs. If you have a backyard space and want to go throw the ball around, do it. Take them with you on your daily walk around the block. A little goes a long way. I frequently pause work to read a few storybooks to my child; usually that’s enough for him to get bored of dad and go off and entertain himself.
Likewise, and this goes back to my first point, once 5:00 hits, call it a day. Turn off the computer, turn off your work phone. Anything sent after 5pm on Friday can wait until 9am Monday. The person who sent that email at the end of the day likely won’t get your response until the next day anyway.
Schedule social time
This is for your office co-workers; keep in touch with them in a non-work capacity. Schedule a call, be it by phone or Face-Time or Skype. This isn’t a work call; this is you just checking in, asking how they’re doing, how they’re coping (and sharing some coping methods of your own if they’re having difficulties). It’s like the virtual water cooler; work is largely social in nature as it involves you, working with other people, towards a mutual goal. If you lose that, it can make working from home feel a lot more isolating, and by equal measure, a lot more difficult if you aren’t used to working from home for an extended period.
As I mentioned off the top, I did everything wrong in my first year of writing full-time. I corrected that, in part, by scheduling that social time. Giving myself weekends and holidays off, taking vacations, were all good. But I also made sure I clocked out early on Fridays so I could meet people after their jobs for dinner, for drinks, to go to the movies to go to a bar. And related to that:
Take the weekend off
This is a big one because it’s one I’m still guilty of doing (I mean, I am writing this on a Saturday). Weekends are there for a reason, people; they’re for you to do the stuff you don’t have time to do during the week. Grocery shopping, cutting the lawn, doing family stuff. The weekend is the reward for all the work you’ve been doing through that week. You will be tempted to hop onto the work computer to “catch up” but you have Monday-Friday for that. It’s very easy to get sucked into working your weekends away. Even I, a person whose occupation is basically “make shit up for profit” takes his weekends off (and doing so made me a MUCH better writer).
Guive yourself some alone time
If you, and your spouse are both working from home and your kids are off school, make sure you give yourself some quiet time to just clear your head. Read a book, watch some TV, play a video game, or just do nothing. If this is looking to be a lengthy stay-at-home for you, it can get very stressful and tiring to be constantly around people; even ones you love. Under normal circumstances, my wife comes home from work, we have dinner, then she and our child do something together, just the two of them, so they can have that time to themselves, and I can have time to myself. Usually I’ll read, or catch up on my watch-list. It doesn’t need to be long, but it needs to be there. It doesn’t take long to feel recharged, reinvigorated. because the next day, the process repeats itself.
One more thing
Are you sitting at your desk reading this? Here’s what I want you to do right now.
- Sit up straight
- Drop your shoulders down from your ears
- Stop clenching your jaw
- Quit pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth
There. Don’t you feel better? Good. Because you’re going to get through this.
We all will.