What the Internet most certainly does not need is yet another article telling people how to make working from home work for them. You know by now that you need to dress for success, that you need to set work/life balances, that social media is an essential lifeline with the outside world and a defense against cabin fever (while also being a potential distraction and time-suck).
So, I’m not going to tell you any of that.
This, however, is what I have learned about working from home and how, to a very limited extent, I’ve made it work for me for the past year-and-a-bit.
First, I have my workmates. You think you don’t need workmates, but you do. Although being away from a physical office means there are fewer office-politics shenanigans to deal with, it also means you have fewer opportunities to vent when something goes seriously awry. In a normal office, you read an offending email, turn to the one person you have deemed worthy of your work friendship, you point your angry finger at the screen, and you say, “What the gosh-darn-it-to-heck?” Office etiquette compels the other person to at least appear to look at the screen before saying something along the lines of, “My word, what a to-do” and then the incident is over.
Without that essential release of emotional steam, things can fester. Angry-response emails can end up being written at 10pm and never sent…or accidentally sent. Either way, this is no way to achieve a healthy work/life balance.
So, you need workmates. If not for the letting off of steam, then for the background noise that says that real life is still there, that you are existing in the real world and not in some nightmarish vacuum where you have auctioned off your precious, finite time on this planet in hourly installments to (not usually) the highest bidder.
You need workmates.
I have three. I have John Henry, I have Jordan, and I have Spotify.
WFH means you may never need to walk more than 50 steps in any direction to get where you need to be. This is convenient, and maybe even living the dream, but combined with the inevitability of increased snacking and the high probability of early afternoon beer drinking, this lifestyle will lead inexorably to major health problems most commonly associated with shut ins and 19th-century pirates.
So, it might be useful to have a dog. Something that needs to be walked, whether you want to go outside or not. Sure, get a gym membership. See how far that gets you. In six months, it’ll be the last card at the back of your wallet. Your dog, whether it’s raining, snowing, or 100 degrees out there, needs to be walked or you will be cleaning up poop from your carpet.
If you’re the kind of person who does not mind poop on your carpet, do not get a dog. Also, do not work from home.
Take breaks. This, again, is where a dog comes in handy. I have a set lunchtime every day, and I rarely get to actually eat lunch at that time. I’m out, walking the dogs. If I do get time after that, then I don’t spend it at my desk. I spend it somewhere else, somewhere away from the screen with the constant, unceasing stream of email coming in at me. When I finish for lunch, I turn the sound off my computer so I can’t hear the PING of emails coming in. I can also pretend that, if I can’t hear them, then they don’t exist.
Make snacks the night before. Chop up carrots, cucumber, maybe mix some spinach with some roast chicken. Having that prepared makes it more likely you’ll eat it during the day rather than spending time scavenging for chocolate or cake. You know you make bad decisions; the trick is to make doing the right thing easier than doing the wrong thing. You have to treat yourself like you’re an especially wily six-month-old puppy rather than a grown adult with the most advanced brain of any species on the planet.
Accept that you’re going to obsess about weird things: For example, what would be a good color to use for water in a toilet bowl? (There’s so many choices that we can immediately discount: yellow and brown, obviously. And red. After that, you can see how you might be limited. Orange could be too yellowy or reddy. Green, purple, and blue look like cleaning agents. There is only one answer: fuscia…but I digress.)
You will have too much time to think about whatever it is your mind worries about. This may provide an interesting insight into your own psychology, but it doesn’t help your mental health or your ability to focus. Apparently I have a spectacularly morbid case of hypochondria. Which is wonderful.
The Internet can make you stupid if you let it. That may be the subject for a longer post, which I’m sure someone else has also written. But it can take you down rabbit holes that become almost impossible to escape from: Check email; check Twitter; talk yourself out of checking Facebook; remember that Tumblr is for weekends or when you find yourself wide awake at three o’clock in the morning; check the headlines in the Guardian; check IMDB for the name of the movie you really want to see; check Google using something like “movie 2010 starring Salma Hayek”, backtrack through the steps until you can find out if Netflix has the movie you wanted. And they don’t. Check Amazon Prime, check Hulu. Fall deeper down the rabbit hole.
And then there’s Faux-ga – that stretching and half-hearted exercising you do at home. This is not a workout. Stand up, walk around, don’t buy expensive exercise equipment, as you won’t use it and it will sit there staring sadly at you.
Oh, and you should definitely shower and dress for work, shut your computer down at a reasonable time every evening, and use social media to stop yourself losing touch with friends and family, without letting it become a distraction. Those articles all over the Internet are not wrong. We all know the Internet does not lie. Take a look…but not when you’re supposed to be working.