I’ve been working remotely full-time for the last 12 months out of my house in Austin, Texas.
I’m not a digital nomad. I have a wife, dog, and cat that prefer to have a stable home.
Now that everyone is writing about work from home tips I thought I’d write about what it’s like to work remotely for a long period of time. There are some simple things that everyone talks about:
- Yes, you need to eat healthy.
- Yes, you need to take breaks, walk around, stretch, and work out if you’re really ambitious.
- Yes, getting a 2nd monitor is a must.
But there are some harsh realities I learned too that weren’t as obvious.
You won’t be as productive, at first.
Sitting in meetings is not productive time. I get very little value out of most meetings I’m in, and they comprise 30-50% of my days sometimes.
Time spent in meetings is time you could’ve used to get shit done. Your productive time between meetings is precious. Protect it at all costs.
In an office that’s not a problem. You’re surrounded by other people working, and appearing to be productive, so it’s easy to do the same.
But at home, getting distracted is so much easier. When you get up to grab a snack, you’ll be surrounded by distractions. The dishes need doing, laundry needs washing, the dog wants attention.
Suddenly you’ll notice how dirty your house is. You’ll get weird urges to clean because cleaning is productive and makes you feel accomplished, but it’s just your brain trying to trick you into not working.
I’ll admit my house is cleaner since I started working remotely full-time. Sometimes my breaks consist of vacuuming parts of the house for 10 minutes, just to get my mind off work.
The honest truth is it’ll take a week to really get settled into your groove where you can be productive at home. You may try working from the couch, your kitchen table, and on your back patio until you find a spot that you can sit down and comfortably work at.
Since you won’t be surrounded by other people working, so you won’t have that subtle pressure to be productive. Want to screw around Netflix for an hour? No one can stop you, and no one will know.
If you didn’t do it in an office, don’t do it now that you work from home. It may be tempting to let The Office play in the background all day, but if that’s not something you had at the office then I would recommend against it. Mirror your office environment at home the best you can, especially during your first week.
Here’s how I carve out pockets of productivity at home:
- Put Slack on Do Not Disturb mode. Do it for 2 hours.
- Close your Gmail tabs. Both your work and personal ones. I know you have them open.
- Put your phone screen-side down in another room. Turn off the ringer.
You’ll miss social interactions
This is especially true with the amount of “social distancing” that is recommended today. You can’t jet off to a coffee shop or go out to lunch.
You’re going to miss those little conversations around the coffee machine or at your desk. You’ll miss having in-person meetings where you can read people’s body language.
No, Zoom is not a perfect equivalent for in-person meetings.
At first, it’ll be fun to see all your co-workers living arrangements at home and see who has the most interesting background on their video call.
But after days of being cooped up in your house, working at whatever desk setup you cobbled together last-minute, you’ll be ready to see some real people dammit.
Setup a video call with your friends, outside your current company, over lunch or a coffee break. Set aside a time to catch up and talk about real-life shit. Get some non-work social interaction.
Maybe call your Mom too, she would like that.
Your schedule will change
Not having a commute drastically shifted my daily schedule. Suddenly I didn’t have to drive an hour each way to work in the mornings and afternoons.
My workdays started earlier because after I finished my morning routine I was ready to work.
Instead of starting my day at 9 am when I got to the office, it started at 8 when I would normally have jumped in the car.
Guess what? If you start working earlier that means your days should end earlier too.
It’s easy to get caught up working, the next thing you know it’s 6 or 7 pm. Force yourself to stop for the day, close your laptop, and put it away and out of sight.
I’m serious. Literally put your laptop back in the bag so you can’t see it. You don’t have a physical distance separating your work life and your home life, so you need to mimic that.
Go for a walk outside after you’re done working. That will be your commute home.
Just because you get more time back in your day by working remotely doesn’t mean you have to spend it working.
Pursue your hobbies. Do things for you. Write that blog post you’ve been putting off, or complete that art project that has been sitting unfinished for weeks
Work will still be there tomorrow.
Working from home is great. I don’t know if I can ever go back to working in an office full-time. I get so much time back in my day, so much time that last month I wrote and published a new blog post every day for 29 days. I also started a newsletter, and I’ve been going to the gym 4-5 days a week for almost a year.
But this isn’t for everyone. Some people need to be in the office to be productive. The lack of social interaction can be tough, distractions are everywhere at home, and your schedule will change, for better or worse.
I hope this was a helpful glimpse into the realities of working from home long-term.
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