Tips to Successfully Work From Home

I think it is safe to say that a common dream of many of you readers would be to be able to work from your home. I know, that has been a goal of mine for years now. Granted, up until this past July, I actually did work from home. I got to spend nearly a decade working alongside my wife in residential care but circumstances have led me back to the regular workforce. Who knows, maybe someday I will return home.

However, for those of you who are making that transition (or at least planning to), be aware. The dream is often much different than the reality of remote work. While working from home can be a very rewarding experience, it also presents a set of challenges that you would never be faced with by the regular 9 to 5 job.

Rebecca Fishbein recently tackled some of those challenges in an article that appeared over at Lifehacker. For those of you who are currently, or are considering, working from home, this article is for you.


How to Work From Home Without Falling Into a Pit of Despair

Much to my surprise and my roommates’ consternation, I have somehow managed to work from home for an entire year. There are a lot of upsides to leading a laissez-faire life of couch-writing. I never have to commute, which is a true blessing, considering how often all the New York City subways experience systemwide meltdowns during rush hour. I rarely put on real pants. I can make doctor’s appointments in the middle of the day, or at least I could if I had health insurance that covered a doctor’s appointment.

On the other hand, working from home is often claustrophobic and isolating. This is particularly true in the winter when it gets dark just when you’ve worked up the courage to brave the outside. I once went five whole days without leaving my apartment in daylight. I swore after last winter I’d spend the next one in a warmer, sunnier climate if I was still freelancing, but here I am, December oncoming, anticipating another three months of self-imprisonment with no one to talk to but my computer. If that sounds depressing, it’s because it IS.

Still, there are lots of ways to stave off despair if you work from home. Here are a few of them.

Keep to a schedule

This is a much less important step if you have a regular gig with set hours, but if your workday is a little more amorphous, it’s still important to create some structure. “One of the biggest downsides of working from home is lack of routine,” says Goali Saedi Bocci, a psychologist and author of The Social Media Workbook for Teens: Skills to Help You Balance Screen Time, Manage Stress, and Take Charge of Your Life. “If your schedule is not as structured, you can end up sleeping in all day.”

Saedi Bocci suggests going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, since changing your sleep hours can screw with your natural circadian rhythm and leave you feeling sluggish and slightly depressed. It’s also a good idea to schedule a regular work start time and work end time, so your brain can separate work from leisure no matter how stagnant the space. “It’s important to make work time, where you’re saying, ‘Okay, I’m going to work on this from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.,” says Dr. Alan Cavaiola, a professor at Monmouth University. “Setting up distraction-free time is really important.”

Other tips from work-from-home friends include giving yourself a half hour or so of free time before starting work (make coffee, breakfast, read the paper, go for a quick stroll, etc.) to get your head in the zone, and opening windows/shades in your designated workspace to brighten things up a bit before you dive into business.

Get out of bed

I have spent more than a few work days in bed. This is a mistake. Your brain needs to be able to separate work from not-work, and awake time from sleep. “Keep your workspace separate from your living space,” Caviaola says. “Have a little office space that’s set aside for work.” You don’t need to dedicate an entire room to work, though if you can, you may find that helpful. The bottom line is that when you start your workday, you should do it from a desk, or the kitchen table, or your couch, or your living room windowsill, if you prefer to work while standing with the sun streaming in (highly recommend!). The bed is for sleep and Bodyguard bingeing. Get out of bed.

Get dressed

I am writing this very post in the very outfit I just slept in, but this is why I am a slob with a sink full of dirty dishes and relentless insomnia. Experts always recommend that if you’re working from home, you should get dressed as if you are not. This does not mean you need to sit on your couch in a suit, but you should, at the very least, put on pants and a shirt, and potentially brush your hair. Saedi Bocci suggests donning an outfit you’d feel comfortable wearing outside. “Maybe you’re wearing joggers, but you should wear something that at least makes you feel more put together,” she says. “Wear some basics that can go outdoor.” Otherwise, you’re a) less likely to leave your house at any point and b) more likely to go a solid week in the same pair of dirty leggings, not that I’ve ever done that!

Find a working group

Just as you’d make work friends at a new job, I’ve made a bunch of new freelance buddies in my work-from-home year, and we have regular hangouts to break up some of the isolation and monotony that can come with couch-working. Usually I find writing from a coffee shop distracting, but working with one or two other people means I can go to the bathroom or buy a scone without having to take my computer with me, plus I tend to get more work done when there’s someone else typing away and tacitly shaming me into following suit. “There is something about that accountability that’s helpful,” Saedi Bocci says.

If a coffee shop doesn’t work for you, or you can’t afford to join a co-working space, see if you can post up at someone else’s house for a few hours, or invite people to yours. If you can’t find anyone else to co-work with, see if you can start a group chat with your friends on Slack or on text—not to distract you, so much as to have a couple of people to check in with from time to time, or to cheer you on when you’re struggling to get through a difficult stretch.

Put on the television

Or the radio, or a Beethoven playlist, or an 11-hour YouTube video featuring ocean sounds. I find that it’s helpful to have noise on in the background, not just because you feel a little less isolated having sounds around you, but because it drowns out the sounds of your upstairs neighbors or leaking faucet or unending car alarm. Unwanted ambient noise is annoying in offices, but there’s something extra annoying about hearing it all day when you work from home, in part because it feels like there’s no escape from it. I have very nearly started a war with the music-blasting taco shop underneath me, and I cannot promise the current detente will hold out.

With that in mind, I like to work with an old movie on in the background, or an episode of Cheers or Friends—something I’ve seen a million times and don’t need to concentrate on, but can glance up and watch for a couple minutes when I need a break from writing. I have watched My Best Friend’s Wedding no fewer than five times since I started freelancing.

Other people prefer music, with or without lyrics. “When I’m working from home, I put classical music on in the background,” Cavaiola says. Play around with what works for you, and switch it up every so often to give your brain a new challenge.

Keep a planner

If you’re disorganized, working from home is productivity’s death sentence. With no boss sneaking peeks at your computer screen, and no set start/end to the day, it is all too easy to waste an entire morning on Twitter and then get stuck trying to make a deadline at the last minute. This also holds true for chores outside of work. Though working from home technically makes it easier to, say, clean your house or do some laundry, knowing you can always put it off until later makes it more likely that you will, until one of your roommates or friendly house mice sends you a polite but firm text.

“Working from home tends to be a win/win for people who are well-organized. These are people who can set goals and objectives and stick to those schedules,” Cavaiola says. “You take somebody who’s a bit disorganized, that would probably be really difficult for them because they’re just not used to setting goals and working toward goals, and being able to organize their time well.”

If you fall into the former camp, good for you! If you’re in the latter, though, consider investing in a planner or making a bullet journal. Keep a checklist of your to-dos, and give yourself a small reward (a piece of chocolate, a gold star sticker) when you cross off the whole list each day. “I use a planner every day,” Saedi Bocci says. “I write down what my goals are for the next day. A planner can really help to keep you accountable.”

Exercise

When I started working from home, I expected to have more time to exercise, since I wouldn’t be chained to a desk or beholden to a typical 9 to 6 schedule. Technically, that turned out to be true, but I have also found I move less as a whole since I no longer walk to and from a train stop or take a stroll around the block on lunch breaks. Do carve out time to work out, and stick to that allotted time—if you plan to go to the gym first thing in the morning, for instance, don’t decide when your alarm goes off, that you can just do it later. Trust me, you won’t.

Get the hell out of your house!!!!!!!!

This is, in my humble and tested opinion, the single most effective way to keep from driving yourself insane. When you work from your home, it is way too easy to never leave it—day turns into night, night turns into six hour Great British Baking Show binges, and suddenly it’s bedtime and it’s been a full day since you left your couch or spoke to anyone other than your radiator. That’s fine every so often, but when you do it for days on end it’s a nightmare.

In good weather, I like to go for long walks in the middle of the day, right when I start to feel my productivity drop. If I don’t have time for a long walk, I might take a quick stroll to a bakery to pick up some lunch or a snack, instead of making food at home or ordering something on Seamless.

In bad weather, I have a habit of talking myself out of going outside, but you should not! Bundle up, walk around the block, walk in circles, walk to a coffee shop, walk to the drugstore, walk to the train and walk back without getting on. Some people find it helpful to go outside first thing in the morning, before sitting down to work; I prefer midday, but whatever you choose, do it before it gets dark. GET OUTTTTTTT. “Schedule breaks. When you have those breaks, get out of the house,” Cavaiola says. “Take a walk, maybe go have coffee someplace, where you’re going to have contact with others. This way you’re not totally isolated.”

And when you return to your couch/desk/floor, the walls will feel like they’re closing in slightly less.

Do not disappear

If you work remotely, it is easy to be forgotten. This is both true if you are one of the few employees who does not go into the office, and if you are one of many. If you miss meetings, be sure to pitch ideas via email or other correspondence, or attend virtually if possible. If you, say, work in a different city from the main branch of your office, suggest a company-sponsored meetup with other employees in your area, or plan a trip to visit headquarters when you can. Weigh in on group conversations on Slack. Tell jokes. Make yourself known (but not annoying.) This will make you more visible (and potentially important) to your boss, and it will make you feel less isolated.

Set social activities

When I had a job in an office, I looked forward to spending nights at home alone with a good movie and maybe a glass of wine. But those nights are way less pleasurable when you work from home, which is especially tough in the winter when other people are less likely to jump at the chance to go out on a weeknight. “Making sure that you have social outlets is a really big part of [working from home],” Saedi Bocci says. “You can go to a yoga studio or to a gym, or join a church or synagogue. Going out and seeing people helps to protect your sanity.”

I recommend having a few regular weekly activities so you have some set social interactions to look forward to. For instance, I go to the same Pilates class every Sunday, and I know the other regulars. I go to a weekly happy hour. You could also attend a weekly trivia night, or join a skeeball league, or take a Spanish class, just to fill up your calendar. You may have to beg your friends to get dinner with you for the rest of the time, but if they bail, at least you’ve got your standing commitments.

Remember that the grass is always greener

When I worked in an office, all I wanted was to stay at home on my couch. Six months into staying at home on my couch, I spent six hours crying on it because I couldn’t take the solitude. I do not miss the commute, or having to fit in errands on my lunch break, or never being able to go to the dentist, or having my boss ask me every fifteen seconds why I was giggling when I was supposed to be blogging about a murder (probably I was watching a cute animal video because sometimes you need a break from murder), or feeling like my soul climbed out of my body at 2 p.m. when the coffee wore off but I still had to be at my desk for four more hours.

Now, I can take long walks whenever I want. I’m way more productive since I work when I’m feeling most inspired, outside the constraints of a 9 to 6. I save money on lunch and MetroCards and after-work beers I don’t need. I miss the camaraderie of an office, but I don’t miss the politics. Sometimes the best way to deal with working from home is to take note of the benefits. Once you’re back to a regular work schedule/life, after all, you’ll miss the midday naps.


Life is Strange. Live it Well.

Hiatus

Looks like I’ve got one more day in Virginia. Our plan was to stay here until July 2. However, a company contacted me last week about work. I had two interviews with them last week and they have asked me to come for a third interview at their St. Louis location this week. My timeline has been moved up a little bit but it is definitely for the best. Continue reading “Hiatus”

Adventures In Parenting – Kevin & Karie Blatnik

Adventures in Parenting takes us into the life of an individual or couple who are currently (or have been) parents in order to get an idea of how they navigate their way through the process of raising up their children. So, here’s how this works. This week’s guests are Kevin & Karie Blatnik. I have provided them with a list of 25 or so questions of which they were instructed to choose five. This will serve as an interview of sorts with the conversation being, for the most part, of their choosing. Continue reading “Adventures In Parenting – Kevin & Karie Blatnik”

Be Authentic

One of the keys to living a successful life, regardless of your social standing or the depth of your bank account, is found in authenticity. If a person can manage to be exactly who they really are at all times, they have managed to accomplish something that escapes the majority of the population. Now, what I mean by that is this. You have an idea of who you want to be that is driven by your personal interests, hobbies, and desires and you do not compromise that in order to be something that someone else wants you to be.  Continue reading “Be Authentic”

Never Complain; Never Explain

Have you ever met someone that seems to always be in conflict with another person? No matter what the circumstance, this person always seems to be at odds with someone, either in regards to something that they have said or something that the other person has stated. You will often hear this individual state that they just hate all the drama going on around them and try to avoid it. However, there they are, right there in the middle of it. Every. Single. Time.

The truth of the matter is that they probably really enjoy the drama. They enjoy the feeling of the argument, of proving themselves to be correct against someone else’s opinion. There is an adrenaline rush that comes with that entire process that keeps people sucked into it like an addiction.

However, very little good ever comes from this. Brett McKay delves into the logic behind why this is in his article on keeping a tight lip. He looks at two different ideas here that are worth considering. A person should be slow to complain about what is going on around them and never feel the need to explain their actions under most circumstances.

Read on to gain a better understanding of his thoughts.


Never Complain; Never Explain

This pithy little maxim was first coined by the British politician and prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, and adopted as a motto by many other high-ranking Brits — from members of royalty, to navy admirals, to fellow prime ministers Stanley Baldwin and Winston Churchill. The maxim well encapsulates the stiff-upper lipped-ness of the Victorian age, but the timeless wisdom it contains has made it a guiding mantra of powerful, confident, accountability-prizing men up through the modern day.

The “nevers” of course aren’t ironclad and don’t apply to every situation, and even when they should apply, they can be hard to follow through on! But understanding when, where, and why to apply this maxim is truly a great help in becoming a more autonomous and assertive man.

Its four words pack a lot of truth in a small space and work on a few different levels. So let’s unpack them, starting with the meat of the matter — “never explain” — and working backwards.

Never Explain

“Never explain — your friends do not need it, and your enemies will not believe you anyway.” –Elbert Hubbard

When Winston Churchill was a young cavalry officer, he was always looking for ways to get to the front and experience battle firsthand. With much persistence, he eventually secured a position in the field as a personal attendant to Sir William Lockhart, who was overseeing the British military’s campaigns in what is now Pakistan. When Churchill first joined the general’s staff, he “behaved and was treated as befitted my youth and subordinate station.” But then one day he saw an opportunity to offer a bit of advice that led to him being “taken much more into the confidential circles of the staff” and “treated as if I were quite a grown-up.”

Churchill heard that the general and his headquarters staff had been hurt and angry to hear that a newspaper correspondent who had been sent home from their camp had published a very critical article about one of their recent campaigns. The officers smarted at what they felt were unfair charges, and the Chief of Staff had written up a thorough rebuttal and mailed it off to the newspaper to be published. Churchill at once spoke up and tried to convince the staff that such a move was ultimately a bad idea, and that the piece ought to be intercepted before it was ever printed:

“I said that it would be considered most undignified and even improper for a high officer on the Staff of the Army in the Field to enter into newspaper controversy about the conduct of operations with a dismissed war-correspondent; that I was sure the Government would be surprised, and the War Office furious; that the Army Staff were expected to leave their defence to their superiors or to the politicians; and that no matter how good the arguments were, the mere fact of advancing them would be everywhere taken as a sign of weakness.”

In this, as in many things, Churchill turned out to be quite prescient and wise. Offering explanations does indeed demonstrate weakness, for several reasons:

Explaining gives power to another. When someone criticizes or insults you, gets offended by something you do or say, or questions your decisions and why you’ve chosen to do something a certain way, it’s natural to want to explain why you think they’re wrong — especially if said party has impinged on your integrity or honor. And some kind of response may indeed be in order.

If the person is someone you know and respect as an equal — someone you consider to be inside your “circle of honor” — and they have said something intelligent and interesting, you may want to explain yourself in order to invite further discussion.

If they’re your boss or a customer, you may need to offer an explanation to hold onto your job or their business.

If they’re someone you care about — a loved one or friend — and you’ve had a gross miscommunication, you may want to explain yourself in an effort to preserve the relationship.

But, if the critical/offended/skeptical party is someone you don’t know personally (like a stranger online or the public in general), don’t care about, and/or don’t respect as an equal — someone who shouldn’t have any say or sway over your choices — then taking the time to explain why they’re wrong, or why you’ve made the decisions you have, is ill-advised.

To be concerned with what someone outside your circle of respect thinks, is to allow yourself to be pulled down to his or her level.

Explaining yourself is essentially an attempt to seek another’s approval. It shows you’re stung that they’ve withdrawn that approval, and desirous of getting it back. When you show that you care about an opinion that you, and any observers, know you really shouldn’t, you show weakness. In losing the fight between trying to ignore them and craving the catharsis of engagement, you demonstrate a failure of self-control.

Further, when a chucklehead elicits a response, you validate his importance. He’s made you do something against your better judgment. You’ve given to him two of your most precious resources – your time and attention. You’ve gone from the offensive to the defensive. His status goes up and yours goes down.

People — whether irrationally angry customers, estranged family members, or a controlling significant other — will often demand explanations for what you do. They’ll say you are weak if you don’t offer one. But this is the cleverest of ploys! By targeting your pride, they’ll get you to hand over your power.

Of course restraining yourself from responding to someone who’s goading you on is easier said than done! As someone who’s subjected to a constant barrage of feedback on my work, day after day, I find I am able to successfully ignore about 98% of it. It’s when someone says something that impinges on my honor (even when I know they’re not part of my honor group), or when they seem like a dude I can have a good debate with that I get in trouble.

When someone is clearly off their rocker, it’s easy to ignore them as really out there. And when someone has something critical but intelligent to say, engaging them can actually be interesting and instructive. It’s the people who greatly distort who you are/what you did/what you said, but mix together sensible sounding discourse with nuggets of crazy, who prove the most irresistible. They almost sound like someone you can have a reasonable discussion with; it almost seems like you could explain to them why they’re objectively off the mark. But as it invariably turns out (and this is a lesson I have to learn over and over!), if someone’s mindset/mentality is such that they’re able to grossly misinterpret something, no amount of explanation — no matter how thorough and well-reasoned — is going to change their mind. Quite to the contrary — they’ll simply dig in their heels all the more!

“Never complain; never explain” doesn’t necessarily mean not saying anything to your doubters, complainers, and critics, but limiting your response to a sharp rejoinder. Disraeli in fact formulated his maxim after hearing the advice of fellow politician Lord Lyndhurst, who said: “Never defend yourself before a popular assembly except with and by retorting an attack.” Thus, a short, pithy rebuttal or a humorous, yet withering sarcastic quip (Churchill was the master of these) may be in order. Then you turn heel and don’t engage further.

Of course, even a simple retort may draw you into an argument you never wanted to have, which often makes complete silence the best possible response. In fact, nothing drives someone nipping at you heels crazier than to have their questions and demands go utterly ignored and unacknowledged.

Explaining demonstrates a lack of confidence in your choices/creations/principles. Have you ever been looking at a book or product on Amazon and seen that its author or manufacturer has jumped in and responded to people’s negative reviews? I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, even if the negative reviewer sounds like a real ding-dong, and the rebuttal is reasonable, well-done, and conciliatory, I still end up thinking less of the author/company, and cringing a bit on their behalf.

Most everyone knows that authors and companies check in on their reviews at least occasionally, but when you give people demonstrable proof that you’re hovering around, you confirm your insecurity and/or vanity and thus show weakness and a lack of confidence in your work. In stepping from the ranks of the creator, to that of the consumer, you lose status.

If you arrived at your creative vision or set of principles for good reasons, if you said everything you wanted to say, in the best, clearest way you knew how to say it, and endeavor only to put out your very best work, then you can be content to let your decisions and your work stand on its own. You have nothing else to add. People either get what you do and are about, or they don’t.

There will always be those who twist your words, or misinterpret your meaning, or don’t find your design sense to their liking and mistake their subjective taste for objective truth. If you’d rather make money than stay true to your creative vision, then by all means, try to explain and change the minds of those unhappy with your work. Try to hold onto all the customers you can. I don’t mean this sarcastically; sometimes products are not vessels of your values, but merely utilitarian, and it can make sense to be very connected to the needs of your customers.

But, if you’d rather fail and have to try something else, than change your ideas and principles to suit the tastes of others, then choose to be like Jack London, who felt that the public continually misunderstood his work, and contented himself by deciding: “The world is mostly bone-head and nearly all boob.”

Or as the British academic Benjamin Jowett put it: “Never retract. Never explain. Get it done and let them howl!”

Explanations easily turn into excuses. Naturally, even when you endeavor to give people your best, unforeseen problems do sometimes arise. When you’ve objectively messed up, should you explain to people what happened?

People do typically appreciate a little explanation as to the what, when, and why of your blunder. But the explanatory part of your apology should be kept short — for as Lord Acton, yet another explanation-spurning British politician warns: “Beware of too much explaining, lest we end by too much excusing.” You should pivot as quickly as possible to taking responsibility and saying how you’re going to make things right. In the words of an old proverb: “Don’t make excuses; make good.”

A perfect example of this principle in action arrived in my mailbox just the other day from a company called Guideboat. I had ordered Kate something from their catalog for Christmas. I didn’t experience any problems with my order, but I guess some other folks did, which prompted the CEO to send out this letter along with a $50, no-strings-attached gift card to me, and apparently thousands of other customers:

guideboat (1)

Good customer service and corporate accountability are so rare these days, that I found this letter positively astonishing. Minimal explanation, no excuses, and an attempt at making amends. That folks, is how to do business right.

Never Complain

While “never explain” and “never complain” are two discrete parts of the couplet, a common thread runs through them: autonomy and accountability.

Once you understand why you should rarely explain, you should understand why you should rarely complain. You simply put yourself in the shoes of the party you’re seeking an explanation from, and act accordingly.

If a person or company has failed to meet their own clearly delineated standards, you can of course ask for an apology or file a complaint, asking for your money back or what have you. Keep the explanation for your unhappiness short, moving as quickly as possible into what you’d like them to do to make it right.

If you think your feedback could help someone improve something, offer it in a constructive way.

If you’re in a situation where a complaint will accomplish nothing, then common sense dictates that you should remain silent.

If you’re in a situation where complaining will accomplish far less than going about trying to make the desired changes yourself, choose action over whining.

And if you’re tempted to complain about something on the basis of subjective taste,reconsider. For the party you seek to complain against has a purpose and vision outside of your own needs and desires.

Take professor evaluations in college, for example. Some students will complain that the professor “sucks” because his coursework is challenging, while others students will praise him because the coursework is so challenging. The professor has a purpose and a set of principles all his own, and while you might disagree with him, and decide never to take another of his classes, why complain that his priorities are not more like yours? If people complained against your vision or work, you shouldn’t care, so why should he?

I once read an interview with Ben and Jerry — the ice cream makers — in which they said they wished they could forward one set of the letters they received to the senders of another set. Because some people would write saying they wished their ice cream had less/smaller chunks of things, while others would write saying they wished the chunks were even bigger and more numerous. Which complainers did Ben and Jerry listen to? Neither, of course. They stuck with their own vision of what constituted the best kind of ice cream, and the heavens rained down dough of both the monetary and cookie varieties.

I’ve gone out to dinner a couple of times where the experience was so bad, I felt I couldn’t wait to get home to write a bad review of the place online. But invariably, that feeling would dissipate, and I’ve never written a bad review of anything in my life. Because ultimately…who cares? Maybe my experience was atypical, or maybe some people like the food that I thought was completely gross. The restaurateur is doing things the way he wants to do them, and I’m content to let the market decide whether his vision is a good one or not.

The world doesn’t exist to meet my expectations, and if they’re not met, I figure I can do one of two things — go somewhere else, or create something myself more to my liking.

I never complain because I don’t think I should have to explain myself to other people, and I don’t think other people should have to explain themselves to me!


So, there you have it. If you are one of those people who struggle in this area, I hope this sheds some light on the problem. And, if you do not struggle in this area, share this post on your social media. Someone else out there may be waiting to see it.

Life is Strange. Live it Well.

 

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