Working From Home Without Clawing At The Walls

Ryan James Spencer

Swaths of people are shifting into working from home, otherwise acronymized as "wfh", and for some, it's a drastic shift. For those with kids, the reduced productivity will be a change even for those that are used to working from home. I have a fair amount of experience working from home and I thought I'd share some thoughts from my experience of key things that have helped keep me productive but also, more importantly, sane. After all, long periods locked up inside can easily drive one to cabin fever; how do all the introverts and remote workers keep from space madness?

Welcome. You are now working from home. You have a computer, a brain, and a way to link the two, and this is (for purposes of simplifying this article) largely what you need to get your job done.

Parts of what I'm to recommend are peppered with caveats due to the nature of why people are coming in droves to the practice of working remotely. Take what I say with a grain of salt.

NB. I started writing this on a Sunday and became aware of Alice Goldfuss's fantastic article on the same subject the Monday after. It is far more thorough and I strongly recommend it.

  • Wear your work clothes. This is going to set off the "I'm wearing work clothes, I'm going to work" cells firing. Resist the urge to wear the same clothes you wore last night post-shower and relaxation. There are a few points here that are about separation

  • Get outside. If you have a morning routine, say with tea or coffee, it can help to simply exit your house for a brief period in the morning. Getting some time outside the confines of the walls of your home may seem inconsequential but I've found it to have a profound impact on my psyche. Lots of these points may seem like "well of course!" but the reality is that working from home tends to get you into tunnel vision about work.

  • Dedicate space to where you work if you can. Productivity can dwindle, and your ability to relax, if you mix and match places for use of work and leisure. If you don't have the space to dedicate as an office you can always pick strategic places in your house that are more for business than they are for recreation. For example, it might be cool to work at the dining table or the kitchen island but not in bed and on the couch.

  • Do a bit of exercise. Doing a small run or bike around the block, some yoga at home, or doing pushups, situps, and jumping jacks throughout your day in small spurts can add up. Lack of exercise can lead to a reduction in energy and alertness but you don't need to be doing really heavy exercise to get back into the habit.

  • Do a bit of stretching at regular intervals. I make this a separate point because if you work at a computer like me, it's vital to remember to get up and move around constantly and stretch out all the muscles attached your hands are up in your back, neck, and so on. I also own a foam roller and massage ball for my back and neck that I use for about ten minutes at the end of each day.

  • If you work in a high-pace work environment, having lunch at the ready so you don't have to cook it helps reduce stress. Ditto breakfast and dinner although, in another point we'll cover, hours of work can sort of distort a bit.

  • Depending on what you can do, if you do anything with a deep work effort, be free with how you organize your day during the "deep work" period. There might be the time where everyone catches up, perhaps with a standup or quick chat, but the idea is that you should feel a bit freer to, say, read a bit for fifteen minutes or take a bike ride. This is important because it breaks up your day and time you reclaim from the commute shouldn't all be poured into work. You need to structure the demarcation of you-time and work-time responsibly because things like getting on the train won't be present.

  • If you are a social person, it can help to have things like podcasts and audiobooks at the ready so you can get an influx of other humans talking into your daily psyche diet. I call this the morning-television effect. When people put on morning television it is more to create the presence of people than the content they broadcast. It can pay to have a little bit of human communication on a quick ten to fifteen-minute call per day either for work or with a friend, too.

  • In some ways, we are basically like plants in that we need water, oxygen, and light. Getting plenty of these in some form or another improves quality of life while working from home. This is a bit more than the "get out of the house" point because it can be done without leaving the home, although getting out of the house also makes you feel a bit "free" from the confines of your home as well. Physiological needs can be the first place to try to supplement and repair when things are feeling funky at home.

  • When you feel flustered, shut off the computer for a bit. I know not everyone can do this as some people's jobs, say in software operations, need to be present for most of their clocked time when on duty. If you do have the option, it is powerful to push your laptop away and go someplace with just your journal. Once there, try to de-stress a bit and forget work. Once your head is a bit clear, focus on whatever problem you are dealing with on paper first. Being indoors is claustrophobic. Being indoors inside the mental space of a computer is doubly so.

A majority of these boil down to a couple of heuristics:

  1. Focus on your physiological needs when things seem off
  2. Ensure you have routines and structure in place to keep your mind focused
  3. Be flexible with your expectations on yourself and on your work, particularly concerning where hours are dedicated

As I write this it's a stressful period. Go easy on yourself and those around you while everyone adjusts. I hope some points here help ease the adjustment.