How to Work From Home Without Going Crazy
This past year I made the decision to leave Southern California and relocate to Nashville, TN. In doing so I left the 9-to-5 work environment I had known for nearly three years and became a remote worker for the first time. The transition was tough and full of mistakes, but now that I’m settled in I think I’ve figured out how to survive in the remote employment world. In this article I’ll share with you what I’ve learned in hopes that it’ll help your transition when/if that ever happens.
Create a Schedule and Stick to it… No Apologies
Tennessee and California operate in different time zones, which means my day starts about two hours earlier than that of my colleagues. The problem I had, however, was that I would attempt to not only work my full day at home, but also cover the additional hours of the Western work day so that I was accessible to my co-workers.
This isn’t sustainable, so eventually I had to just come to terms with the fact that if I was going to work alongside my colleagues, I had to alter my schedule. Instead of starting my day at 9AM Central Time, I opted to begin my work day at 11AM CT, which is 9AM PT. I told myself it was ok to start my day later, and that I realized that going out to breakfast or running errands beforehand didn’t actually make me a bad employee, it made me more productive in the long run.
In addition to altering my working day timeline, I also decided I was going to have a hard “clock out” time every single day. This enabled me to completely shut down for the day and detach myself from work. Previously I had the luxury of leaving an office and driving home, but now I’m merely a few steps away from my office at any given time. Allowing myself to “punch the clock” gave me a sense of completion and allowed me to walk away without feeling guilty.
Have an Office… Go to the Office
No, I’m not saying you need to rent a space to work from, but I do think having a dedicated working space in your residence is a must. Don’t just try to do your work while laying in bed or sitting on the couch. Find a quiet spot in your house that you can work from, set it up as a work-only environment, and make sure that it’s use exclusively for that.
Remember, you don’t have a commute anymore, so you have to trick your brain into thinking the short walk from your bedroom to your desk is the same thing. By quarantining this area off and using it exclusively for work you’re telling your brain that it’s time to get stuff done. If you try to work from your bed, chances are you’re just going to wind up taking a nap.
Put Your Clothes On
When people hear that I work from home they inevitably say something like “oh, it must be great to work in sweats all day, huh?” Well, honestly I wouldn’t know. At first, yeah I tried it, but it felt awkward and I quickly changed my routine. I treat every day as if I’m going to the office now. I shower, shave, and dress just the way I would if I weren’t working remotely. You’d be amazed at how normal this will make you feel and how much of a sense of purpose it creates in your mind.
Understand It’s Ok to Have a Life
Fear is a big part of learning to work from home. I was fearful of doing anything outside the scope of my job during the work day, and that was miserable. Figuring out it was ok to walk to the mailbox, go grab lunch, or do a load of laundry while a project is uploading was a big relief for me. Nowadays I’m ok with taking my dog to the vet, answering a phone call, or simply taking a 15 minute break to watch the news. There are times when these things come up at the office, and it’s acceptable to take care of them there, so why wouldn’t it be acceptable at home too?
If you’re going to be “out of office” for an extended period of time, just make sure that you’ve communicated that to your team ahead of time. Being a remote worker already carries with it a stigma that you’re just sitting around watching TV, so the more you can do to let people know where you are and what you’re doing, the better off you’ll be.
Talk to Your Teammates
The thing I miss most about working in an office is the face-to-face interaction with my co-workers. Human interaction is something that we crave on an unconscious level, and not addressing that need can have a seriously adverse effect on your new at-home lifestyle.
Our team(s) at lynda.com make heavy use of online meeting platforms like GoToMeeting and Google Hangouts. I have weekly 1:1 meetings, monthly team meetings, and on-the-fly meetings regularly with my colleagues using these systems and it’s a great way to fill the void that is left when you start working by yourself. Make sure that you get down to business in these meetings, but put in a little time for casual conversation as well. Ask your co-workers how they’re doing, what’s life like back at the office, and let them know how you’re doing as well.
Communication and face time is probably the most important thing about remote work. Without it you’re pretty much guaranteed to fail. If video conferencing isn’t an option for you, just use a good, old-fashioned phone call. Hearing someone’s voice isn’t as good as seeing them face-to-face, but it’s certainly better than nothing.
Become a Slave to Your To-Do List
As a remote employee you’re not going to have a manager looking over your shoulder every day, but you’re still going to have to get things done. Find a way to schedule out your tasks, whether that’s using a to-do list app on your phone, writing things on a whiteboard, or simply covering your desk with post-it notes. Your days should be filled with what I call “baby step goals” that help you achieve progress towards a much larger over-arching goal or project. Set yourself a daily target and mark your progress in your to-do list. Accountability is your responsibility now, so become your own micro-manager.
Create the Illusion of Activity
Some people can work in complete silence, and while I appreciate a lack of interruption, I still like ambient noise of some kind around me while I’m working from home. If you are the same way, you need to find yourself a way to make your deserted island feel like a co-working space. One thing I’ve found that works well is Coffitivity. This web app (also available on iOS) is great for creating a real-world feeling in your otherwise isolated environment. There are days when I’ll actually forget I’m working alone because this service does such a good job of capturing the sounds of things like a restaurant or coffee shop. You may not like it, but finding something similar will really help you, I think.
This sounds simple, but seriously, go outside. Let your mind wander a bit and enjoy a little fresh air. This is a great way to break up the monotony of the at-home-work lifestyle. If going outside is difficult (maybe you live in a high-rise), open a window. Sunlight and breeze can really change your mood and enhance your working experience.
This is by no means a template that is set in stone. Every situation is different, and what works for me may not work for you. Working from home isn’t for everyone either, but just know that it does take time to truly find your groove and get to a place where you’re comfortable. Hopefully some of these tips will help you in your transition, and if you ever want to chat about remote work or ask me some advice, my door is always open!
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