Given the state of our world today, many people are now discovering the joys and sorrows of working from home. Doing this full time can be confusing and draining, mentally and emotionally. Take heart! It’s totally doable, you just have to change the way you think about certain things.
I have been working from home full time for around five years. This is not my first remote-work job; I have pretty much always done this in some form or another, even when I was supposed to go to the office.
Going to an office gives your brain a strong context-switch. When you go to the office, you have: home -> commute -> office -> commute -> home. Now you don’t have travel modes, which are natural context switchers. You’ll have to adapt. It’s easy, but requires discipline.
The first and most important things are routine and distance.
You need to create a routine. This routine will include what you should call your “working hours”. Your working hours do not need to be consecutive. Spread them out in chunks if you like or do them all at once – it’s up to you. However, I’m going to tell you that you will have problems getting a straight eight hours in, and in fact will advise you not to try.
You will develop a routine. You used to have one, but it involved commuting for an hour and then sitting in an office and then commuting for another hour. Now you have those two hours back! Fill them.
My daily routine goes: Wake, Run, Shower, Coffee, Email. That brings me to about 9 am. Then: Grocery store across the street (food for the day). At eleven I take the pup out to pee. After that I begin my first “work block”.
Work blocks are usually 2 to 4 hours – enough time to handle a set of tasks. This is how you should think about working: not as “time spent on the clock” but “tasks accomplished”. You’ll have several work blocks throughout the day. Schedule them when you feel right.
Think of your day as “slots”. Sometimes slots get filled, sometimes they don’t. I have a slot for “errands that require me to get in a car”, and it goes between “running” and “groceries”.
Don’t feel bad if you work really late! You may find yourself doing work at two a.m. because why not? An important thing is that you must give yourself permission to break the norms because the norms are broken already (more on this in a bit).
The second thing that you need to create is distance – psychologically – between your “work life” and your “home life.” This is most easily accomplished by creating a “working space” – a place you go to do your work that isn’t part of the “daily routine” of your household.
Maybe you work from the guest room. Maybe on the porch. Maybe you set up your nest at the end of your dining room table. Where ever this place is it must allow you to create a “transistion”.
I used to work on my building’s roof where I could smoke cigars all day. Now I use our guest room.
Never work from your bed or your bedroom. Consider that to be a sacrosanct line and crossing it is always moving to “home life”.
Some people like going to cafes. I find that they are hit-or-miss, with lots of distractions. You do you, but in the age of COVID-19, I’d avoid them.
Take phone calls outside if you can. That helps create distance as well.
You may get really anxious because you don’t think you’re being productive. Ignore that shit; it’s a lie. Productivity really can’t be measured that way.
You’ll spend hours doing nothing because you’re stuck and you’ll feel shitty about it. You’ll get unstuck eventually, but until then it’s anxiety-town. This is a terrible place to be.
Here’s how to fix it: Go play a game for an hour or take a walk or vacuum the floors or cook a meal or take a yoga class.
Is this fucking off? No. No, it is not.
You have days in the office where you don’t get fuck-all done, too – only you had to pay the Commute Troll its toll.
The difference between getting nothing done at the office and getting nothing done at home is that you can fake what you think of as “productivity” in the office. You can always look busy if there are other people around.
Here’s the thing: that’s not being productive. It’s all a bias illusion. You are no more or less productive or stuck at work or at home; it’s just at home you can only compare your apparent lack of progress to yourself.
Freedom comes from realizing that this is an illusion and knowing that your brain does not stop working. It is always solving problems, always working to unstick you. It will let you know when it’s solved your problem. Trust it.
Don’t spend your “stuck” time feeling anxious. Use that time to do something useful or fun. Use it for yourself! Just do not feel guilty about it.
You may find that you end up taking on more and more chores around the house. Fight this impulse. It’s procrastination.
If a thing needs doing (the dishes are dirty), do it (wash them). But don’t do extra stuff (sharpen the knives). Does your bookshelf really need organizing right now? Probably not; lower the priority of that task.
Now that you’ve got all this time you’ll find that you start filling it. It is super easy to fill up all your time with work and chores. A really important thing that you need to do is carve out an hour of time every day for yourself and only yourself.
I’m talking about “set your phone on do not disturb for an hour and do a thing.” I will play a game or run around the lake, maybe. Do the thing for yourself and only for yourself. Schedule this time if you have to.
Get dressed every day. Take a shower at least every other day. You will likely have video conference meetings, sometimes randomly, and you need to be ready for those.
Go outside at least once a day – if only to get the mail or see another human being.
Make your bed every day. Making your bed creates a psychological marker: Now is the time that the day starts. It’s time to get busy.
Buy a french press. Make your own coffee.
Regarding substance use: I have no advice for you. You’re at home. You know how you work best. Get the job done.
Maybe you drink a beer or two when you code. Maybe you don’t. Get the job done. Maybe you eat some marijuana gummies. Maybe you don’t. Get the job done.
I used to smoke cigars on the roof in the sun. Now I don’t.
However that works out is between you, your employers, and the Great Programmers Of Our Simulation.
You’ll find that you change the way you want to communicate with your co-workers. This is going to be different for everyone, but my experience is that people tend to avoid spammy communication systems while working from home (e.g., you’ll learn to hate Slack).
On-demand communication (things that ping you a lot) are easy to get lost in when you work in an office because it feeds into that whole “looking busy” part. How useful is the constant pinging really? Shut it off. Shut off your email and chat programs. Only open them once an hour, at best.
You will quickly learn which meetings could have been merely an email.