Now that millions more people are working from home due to the coronavirus, I thought I’d share some tips on how to keep your sanity.
I haven’t worked in an office full-time since 2012. Losing the routine and the camaraderie of co-workers was tough during the first year. I often found myself twiddling my thumbs, waiting for my wife to wake up because I had been conditioned since 1999 to wake up by 5:30 am.
There was probably a point where I lost my mind for a couple weeks being so isolated from the outside world. So I decided to write about some of those feelings throughout several posts. Here’s one of them: The Negatives Of Early Retirement Nobody Likes To Talk About.
Over time, I got used to the isolation as I found my own routine.
Although I don’t have a day job, I do spend roughly two hours a day on average writing posts and a newsletter.
With the world firmly moving toward remote work, employees everywhere will soon realize several things:
- How absolutely ridiculous all those meetings were
- How easily a meeting can be replaced with an e-mail
- How incredibly inefficient it is to commute in rush hour traffic twice a day
- How much time is wasted during work hours
- How it’s no longer as necessary to live in an expensive city
- How difficult it is to concentrate at home when you have kids and a stay at home spouse
- How much deadweight personnel there is
- How lonely working from home truly is
- How much more productive you’ll be at home
For many, working from home sounds like a dream come true. But like with most things, the grass is always greener on the other side. This post will help you better appreciate your ability to work from home and highlight tips on how to maximize your work from home opportunity.
The Work From Home Survival Guide
There is a great saying, “When the cat is away, the mice come out to play.” Slacking off at home is the #1 reason why most bosses don’t want you to work from home. Nobody I know who works from home really works a full day.
During your initial weeks of working from home, you may feel thrilled by all your new free time. You’ll probably want to test the limits on how much slacking off you can do and still get things done.
Perhaps you’ll do a video conference call in your underwear just for giggles. Or perhaps you’ll take a phone call while you’re enjoying the heated seat of your Toto Washlet.
My favorite activity, especially after phones became water resistant, is dictating a post while in the outdoor hot tub. I’m sure if I was blessed with a well-paying job that allowed me to work from home, I sure as heck wouldn’t be spending most of the day at a desk!
Unfortunately, no matter how much freedom you have, you will slowly go insane working from home if you’re not careful.
Here are some tips to keep your sanity and be more productive:
1) Make sure you don’t work too much.
Given you will find that working from home is way more efficient than working in an office with its constant interruptions, you may end up doing way more than you should with NO commensurate financial or title benefit.
I estimate that one hour of working at home equals two hours of working in the office. That’s right. You are twice as productive at home while also saving on commute time.
Initially, most work from home newbies will still put in their usual number of hours a day. Due to twice the productivity, they will initially feel great getting so much done. But within about three months, they will start burning out because they won’t be used to so much output.
Unfortunately, your boss won’t be doubling your pay or halving the time it takes for you to get a promotion. Old processes die hard and you will still be earning and moving at the same traditional pace, no matter how much extra value you provide to the firm. As a result, you’ll eventually become bitter.
The key to a happy work from home life is to do just enough to stay on your promotion and pay schedule. Therefore, I recommend trying to see if you can do the same amount of work in half the time by the end of the first month. Once you get this routine, your happiness will blossom because you will free up so much time to do the other things you want.
2) Make sure you get out of the house every day.
Make it a point to do some work at a coffee shop or meet up with a friend for lunch once in a while. It’s very easy to stay at home in your pajamas all day if you feel you must work the same number of hours as you did when you were working in the office.
The best time of day to do errands is often in the middle of the day when most people are at the office. Things like grocery shopping, going to the post office, or getting a haircut are so much easier between 10 am – 12noon and 2 pm – 3:30 pm.
Getting out of the home resets your spirits. Not only will you appreciate the fresh air, you’ll also enjoy the breakup of work routine.
3) Find a physical-to-mental balance. Part of the reason why there’s an obesity epidemic in America is that many office workers sit in a chair all day without any exercise. It’s four hours in the morning at a desk, followed by one hour of eating, and then another four hours at the desk before driving 30+ minutes home. No wonder why our guts continue to grow!
The opportunity to work from home means a terrific opportunity to exercise daily. Try exercising for 5-10 minutes for every hour worked. For example, if you work for four hours in the morning, go for a 20 – 40-minute walk/jog around your neighborhood before getting a light lunch.
You should also try and do walking conference calls if you can. For example, if you know you have an internal call or a client call for 30 minutes, you can use that time to talk and walk. It feels great to do both at once.
4) Try napping after lunch. My other favorite thing about working from home is the ability to take afternoon siestas. Yes, you’re not supposed to be sleeping on the job, but why fight biology?
Your circadian rhythm causes your level of wakefulness to rise and dip throughout the day. Most people feel the strongest desire to sleep between 1 pm and 3 pm and then again between 2:00 am and 4:00 am, but this can vary from person to person.
Therefore, instead of drinking coffee, try scheduling a 15-30 minute nap between 1 pm – 3 pm every day. Not only will you feel great sleeping, but you’ll also feel reenergized to tackle your remaining tasks before calling it a day.
5) Post your hours of operation to your family members. Unless you have a mansion, working from home can get very tricky if you also have a work from home spouse or a stay at home spouse. Because working from home tends to come with an assumption that you have a lot of free time, your spouse/partner may interrupt your work more than necessary.
If you get interrupted while you are being twice as productive, it can feel very jolting. It’s much less pleasant to fall out of a car going at 40 mph than at 20 mph! Therefore, make it clear every day which hours of the day you plan to be working the hardest. Close the door and write your hours of operation on a whiteboard if you have to.
Clearly communicating your work hours and when you have free time will save you from a lot of frustration. Further, if your spouse is used to having the entire home to his or herself all day, it will take them time to get used to your work from home presence as well.
Here’s a great example from the movie, The Shining, the shows what could happen in isolation. Poor Wendy. All she wanted to do was hang out!
6) Keep your manager abreast of what you are doing. If your firm suddenly goes to a work from home protocol due to a health pandemic, you’ve got to earn your boss’s trust. Her default assumption is that you won’t be working as much or as hard as you would in an office.
It’ll be worthwhile to check in with your boss every morning to tell her what you plan to be doing and provide a midday or end-of-day update on what you’ve done. Occasionally lob that 11 pm e-mail update as well! It will probably take 3-6 months’ worth of regular updating before your boss will trust you enough to work from home.
Being out of sight makes it more difficult to get paid and promoted. Therefore, you must also view your check-ins as a type of face time. Not only should you be updating your boss on your accomplishments, but you should also be using these updates as a way to build a deeper relationship.
7) Find your tribe of other work from homers. One of the best things about working in an office is the camaraderie. It’s fun to sometimes gossip at the water cooler. The occasional happy hour event where the boss pays for all drinks and snacks ain’t too shabby either.
When you work from home, you can’t help but feel lonely. And if you are an extrovert like me, you will struggle at home way more than an introvert. My wife can stay in the house and see nobody all week and not go crazy. After a day of being cooped at home, I start losing my mind.
You must proactively find people who have a similar lifestyle so you can commiserate with them about the ups and downs of life working from home. Make an effort to join your company’s softball league or whatever social activity your company provides. This way, you get the benefits of working from home and the camaraderie of your co-workers while doing something fun.
8) Try to keep at least one weekend day off-limits. If you happen to find yourself in a career where there is a tighter correlation between performance and pay, you may end up working every day of the week. But if you work every day of the week, you will eventually become miserable. You might become so miserable that your work quality suffers or you might burn out and quit.
The occupation that demonstrates the tightest correlation between work and reward is being a solopreneur. When you are a solopreneur, you only have yourself to depend on.
Before I started to write a weekly newsletter, I absolutely would take one weekend day off a week. Since making a commitment to publish regularly the newsletter, however, I feel this constant pressure every Saturday morning to write something unique for Sunday publication. As my mood deteriorated, I decided to adapt my writing schedule and write portions of the newsletter throughout the week. By doing so, I freed up more time to be with my family.
9) Your kids will be fine in the next room while you work. First time work from home parents will feel a little perplexed how they can simultaneously work and take care of their children. Over time, they’ll figure it out because they must! Their improved efficiency will make them do what at first seemed impossible.
Here’s a response on Twitter when I asked what people thought were the reasons why parents still send their kids to school if parents are being forced to work from home to help contain the viral spread.
Change is hard and I understand the financial difficulties some parents face when they can’t send their kids to school. But if there is no other choice, we must find solutions!
If you find yourself in a temporary bind, like having school shut down for months due to a health scare, don’t panic. During the time you can’t spend taking care of them, depending on their age, you can offer the following:
- YouTube Kids or Khan Kids
- Podcast lessons and stories for kids
- Sesame Street on PBS
- Let them practice independent play
- Make them read a book
- Do extra homework
- Watch an age-appropriate movie
- Make them do chores to build good work ethic and pay them so they can understand the value of money
Yes, too much screen time is bad. However, if you don’t have a partner, an au pair, or a nanny, you’ve got to make do with what you have until the quarantine is over. Lots of screen time will be OK! If you must work the graveyard shift after your kids go to bed, make it so.
It helps to set a 30 minute timer as well to stop what you’re doing and check in on them. Creating a routine for kids at home is huge. Create a half-day or full-day schedule comprised of work, play, snack, nap time, meals, and homework time for them.
Trying to work from home when you have a toddler is hard. You can hear the difficulty starting at the 7:45 mark in the podcast episode, The Bull Market Has Ended. However, with practice, it can be done! Below is a clip of an Israeli mom of 4 struggling with school being closed. It is hilarious!
You’re Going To Love Working From Home
Once you regularly experience the joy of not having to commute to work, you’re never going to want to work in an office again. Not having to deal with in-person office politics is also quite a relief. It’s still going on, but at least it’s not as overt.
The stigma surrounding working from home will eventually fade. More employers will allow more employees to work from home, not only as a benefit for attracting and retaining employees but also a great way to increase productivity.
Parents who are constantly juggling with how to excel in their careers while taking care of their children will be the most appreciative of the increased acceptance of working from home. Having the flexibility to drop off and pick up your children without having to “escape” the office will b a nice relief. Just the increased amount of time parents can spend with their children is a huge blessing.
Finally, for those of you who are interested in making more side income, working from home gives you the perfect opportunity to do so. Just make sure you get all your work done first.
If I had been able to work from home in my 20s, I would have started Financial Samurai much sooner and grown it into a mammoth site. Alas, something is better than nothing!
Readers, any of you work from home? What other work from home tips can you share?