Right now, chances are good that you’re spending more time at home than usual. There’s a global pandemic, in case you hadn’t heard, and social distancing is all the rage. It’s cool to stay home on Friday nights now. Even cooler to stay at home every night. The coolest is to stay at home all day AND all night. Just hole up and embrace the introvert inside of you, for the sake of every single person on the planet. If you’re lucky, you’ve still got a job and you’re able to do it from home. Turns out all those meetings really could have been emails after all. But, as you might well be discovering, working from home often isn’t quite as good as everyone who works away from home believes. As a person who has been working at home for nearly a decade, I’ve got a few tricks of the trade to keep you sane.
1. Get dressed, you slob.
You know those days (usually about Wednesday) when you wake up and desperately wish you could just sit on the couch in your underwear all day? Yeah, that’s not a good habit to get into. Get up, have a shower, and put on clean clothes. Even if no one is going to see you all day long, you’re still going to have to see yourself. If you look like a hobo’s armpit and smell even worse, you will slowly devolve into a greasy, Gollum-like creature with little-to-no self-respect.
2. Make a routine and stick to it.
Routines are funny things. Too much of one and you’re in a rut. Too little of one and you can feel as though you’re flapping around in the wind like an old newspaper. The kind of routine you have, however, is important: it should include exercise, work, and time to simply do whatever you want. It’s way too easy to simply spend all your time flicking through the endless pages of the internet until, all of a sudden, it’s nighttime, you’re starving, greasy, and your eyes are burning with screen-emitted blue-light. Take the time to get off the computer and do something. Anything. Go for a run. Do pushups. Sit outside (by yourself; we’re in a pandemic). Just step away for a while.
3. Give yourself work hours.
One of the worst things about working from home is the constant feeling that you could be working. If your office is your couch, it’s likely you’ll be tempted to start later and tell yourself you’ll simply finish later, but maintaining regular work hours is important for your sanity. I stick to a 9-5 routine — and I’m generally done quite a bit earlier — with an hour-long break mid-day for a run or a hike with the dog. When you’re done, you’re done. Resist the urge to check Slack, work emails, or get a headstart on tomorrow. Those last things are something I should probably focus on a little more, but hey, the news cycle doesn’t sleep. But I try.
4. Make a workspace.
Don’t work from your bed. Don’t lie there with your laptop on your lap and your neck bent in the shape of an L (on your forehead). Create a space where you work and only work from there. Whether it’s the kitchen table or you’ve got room for a home office, make a space where you do work. After a while, your brain will start to associate that space with the mindset that comes along with staying focussed on the task at hand. And then you can get work done more efficiently so you can get on with the better parts of life. I can’t remember his exact phrasing (I just spent 15 minutes flipping through On Writing trying to find it), but Stephen King has some good advice. It’s very simple: your workspace should have a door. When it’s closed, you’re working. My office is a spare bedroom with a large, dinged-up oak desk and a very uncomfortable chair. The door closes, and I am working. That one barrier to the outside world will — I promise you — make it easier to work without distraction, both from the outside world and inside your head.
5. Get a hobby you can do from home.
This is sort of tangentially related to working from home, but it’s something that I’ve found to be immensely helpful. Depending on your commute, you’re going to find that you suddenly have piles of extra time on your hands. Working from home comes with a few benefits: no wasteful office banter and no commute to suck the hours away from you. You simply wake up, sit down (at 9 a.m., remember) and work. There’s no one around to gossip with, no one around to stretch a coffee break out with. You’ll get things done faster, and that means you’re going to have more time. Learn something new to fill the extra time so you’re not mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or Reddit or whatever. Learn to bake. Learn to knit. Write stories. Try and make a stupidly gourmet meal. Start drawing. Make music. Pick things that require you to actually learn something new and practice it. It’s important to create a space in your mind between work and home life, even if you’re working from home.