Sleep In, Don't Schedule, Wear Comfy Pants
My 14 Years of Work from Home Advice
I've been working from home for about 14 years and my experience has been that it's vastly superior in every way. I'm happier, I produce high quality work people tell me they are very pleased with, and my health is far better than it was when working 9 - 5 in the office.
It was recently suggested to me that I should share my advice on working from home. At first I had no idea how to go about doing so. After all this time, to me it's not even "working from home" anymore, it's just working.
But then I remembered that across these 14 years I have researched and experimented with all kinds of different approaches to my work & lifestyle - (the two become more tightly related when working at home). My experiments have included:
Getting up at 5am daily
Getting up half way through the day and working during the night
Micro-scheduling my whole day in 20 minute chunks for maximum neurotransmitter efficiency
Optimising my environment and food for minimal neurotransmitter waste and maximal neurotransmitter replenishment
Wearing blue-light blocking glasses and consuming melatonin boosting foods in the evening to promote better quality sleep and hence sleep shorter hours
Constructing my day's to-do list the night before
Starting the morning with a list of 3 work to-dos and doing nothing else until one of them is complete
Eating 1 meal a day
Eating 5 meals a day
Not eating breakfast
Taking cold showers in the morning
Affirmations and NLP at bed time
Quitting social media
Yeah... I don't do any of those things anymore, especially not quitting caffeine.
What I have arrived at after all these experiments is that the absolute best way to work from home is to take advantage of the flexibility you have available to you and go with the flow. Don't have any rules set in stone. Feel out what you need each and every day, each and every hour. Listen to yourself.
I might not do any of the things I listed above as a daily regimen, but I do draw on those experiences and occasionally do each one at unpredictable, unplanned times. I'll do something on that list when I feel it's what I need at any given moment. And it's only because I work from home that I'm afforded the opportunity to make things up as I go.
Why is that? It's because of the two key differences in working from home compared to the office: control over your time, and control over your environment.
Working from Home Key Differences: Time and Environment
Work-Time: a Focus Shift
When I used to work 9 - 5 in an office I focused on trying to make my allotted hours as productive as possible.
Now that I work from home I focus on producing outcomes, such as completing and delivering projects. The organisation of the time that goes into those outcomes becomes secondary.
Even when I am working with a client who pays by the hour, I still don't follow a 9 - 5 schedule. Rather, I arrange the hours the client has contracted me for in whatever way generates the best results.
Environment: Anything You Want
At home your surroundings can be whatever you want them to be. Setup your workspace how you like, (mine is pictured above), wear what you want, eat what and when you want.
Everything is totally within your control and you can use that to create a environment in which you are simultaneously happier, more productive, and have more quality of life.
How exactly do you go about it? Well to start, with the three tips I included in the title of this article, and then a few more bits of advice to go along with them.
Tip 1: Sleep In
This might seem like the opposite of the advice you'd expect to get. That you should strive to retain a disciplined routine even when working from home.
In my opinion, forget that approach and turn off your alarm. (Unless you have an early online meeting scheduled.)
I don't believe that forcing yourself to be tired all day helps you at all. In my experience it only creates negative outcomes. When you're tired you produce more slowly and in worse quality, and your work then has to be corrected later taking up even more time. The extra hour of sleep you get will gain you two hours later via higher quality, more efficient work.
Some days you will actually want to get up early. When you do, you'll wake up and jump into action without needing an alarm and without feeling tired.
Sometimes I'll go for a long stretch getting up at the crack of dawn and loving it. And then other times my whole day will naturally shift forward to later mornings and nights. I don't try to force my body to fit timing I impose on it. Rather, I work according to what my body needs, and let how I feel dictate my waking & working hours.
So unless you are expected at a certain time by your colleagues or clients, get that sleep if you need it.
Tip 2: Don't Schedule
Applying a fixed schedule to work is, in my experience, counter productive.
A fixed schedule is of greater necessity when working at the office because you are only there for a relatively short, limited period of time and have to work within those confines.
But when you work at home the day is yours to do whatever you want with. You can start whenever you want, finish whenever you want, and cycle your work and breaks however you want.
This means you can leverage the times you are at your best to produce high quality, and avoid producing sub-standard work when you are not in the right state.
If I'm flat and feeling stupid, I don't force myself to work. Because if I try to push myself when I'm in poor form, just like if I deny myself sleep, I will produce sub-standard work. Instead, I'll either take care of some mundane work that doesn't require much much mental capacity, or I'll just rest. I take care of myself and typically bounce back strong and productive the next day.
In my experience the output of one good, rested day is superior to that of two forced, tired days' work.
I also improvise my hours depending on how I feel and the projects I have at the time. Sometimes I'll start at 1pm and do a four hour day. Other times I'll start at 9am and do a fourteen hour day. Sometimes I'll work Monday through Friday. Sometimes I'll work part days all seven days. Sometimes I'll take a weekend right in the middle of the week.
The only real reason to schedule anything at a specific time is so you can coordinate with other people.
As long as you know when those important touch points are, like meetings and times at which projects need to be complete, everything else can be flexible. In my take, everything else should be flexible, because when you allow yourself to work according to how you feel you produce the best quality output.
Tip 3: Wear Comfy Pants
You know that feeling when you get home from work and kick off the uncomfortable shoes, get rid of those unforgiving work pants, and sigh in relief as you switch everything out for clothing that doesn't cause persistent mild discomfort?
Yeah, working at home makes that feeling your standard level of comfort.
I know some people find they can focus more easily if they wear work clothes as they find putting them on sort of activates "work mode". If that helps you, of course go for it.
But for me, my concentration is entirely on the projects I have on the go, and wearing comfortable clothing helps that. I don't want to be distracted by the dull ache of rigid shoes, or the pinch of an unrelenting waistband. I wear clothing that is kind to me, that never gives me a reason to think about it, and as such my ability to focus on my work is enhanced.
Wear comfy pants.
On Motivation & Procrastination
I hear a lot of people talking about struggling with motivation and procrastination outside of an office environment. To be honest, I suspect a lot of that difficulty relates to what I've already described above, where you feel that you are duty-bound to stick to the same work schedule as you follow in the office, but now that you don't have to, you don't want to.
I think you know what I'm going to say. If you feel like procrastinating, there's actually nothing wrong with that. What you are feeling is that you need rest, and that you're not in your best state of mind for producing quality. Take that rest, feel better, then come back and smash it.
If you have a deadline by which you need to finish a certain task, that will quickly override any sense of procrastination or lack of motivation. When you have to produce something because your colleagues will be relying on it, or it's necessary in order for you to get paid, you will most certainly find the compulsion to get it done. Unless you have absolutely no instincts for survival, you're never going to procrastinate yourself out of a job.
But if you do have the option to change up your schedule and get yourself into better form before you tackle a task, by all means take that opportunity.
Even though I don't suggest rigid scheduling, you do still need a way to keep track of everything you need to get done. I've tried all kinds of tools for this including Trello, Todoist, Wunderlist, Joplin, Workflowy, Basecamp and lots of different things.
I'm currently using a combination of three tools:
Dynalist uses a nested bullet list system that makes it very easy to capture thoughts, research, ideas, tasks and just about anything.
I have high level folders representing my clients and various subsections of my business, then subfolders and documents representing projects I'm working on in each.
I also have folders for projects currently in production. When I start production on a project I move its documents into the "in production" folder so I have them easily at hand. When I finish the project I move the documents out of the folder again.
Dynalist also allows me to share documents by just copy pasting a link, so I can use it to create simple project plans to easily share with my clients and get their feedback.
Dynalist is online only, and I do wish I had a FOSS offline or self-hosted equivalent so I have full control over my own data, but I've found it too useful to give up.
Notion is basically a really fancy spreadsheet application, and I use it to help me make decisions.
If I'm not sure which of a possible 20 projects I should work on first, I'll use Notion to help me sort those projects by ratings I apply to them on things like my personal interest level, how long they will take, what their potential revenue is and so on.
If I'm suffering from indecision I just feed a bunch of information into Notion, apply sorting, and let it bubble up the best options for me.
Desktop To-Do Widget
The last part of my toolset is a little widget I have on my desktop with a to-do checklist. Dynalist and Notion let me organise and wrangle large amounts of information, and my little desktop widget gives me the very small subset of that information that I need to know for the immediate future.
I add the small tasks I need to do in the near term here, and check them off as I go along.
Having this list on my desktop makes it easy for me to see what's in front of me when I boot up for the day, but if your operating system doesn't provide this functionality you could add a similar thing in Dynalist and have it pinned to open when you run your browser.
As I mentioned earlier, when you work from home your lifestyle becomes much more closely intertwined with your work. And two of the main aspects of lifestyle that can cross over are food and exercise.
On Eating at Home
Now that you have access to all the snacks stored up in your pantry and the ability to eat whenever you want, you might be feeling a little led astray.
To be honest, I think it's fine to have a little bit of a snack party while this is all novel. Enjoy your new found freedom for a bit. Even if you junk it up for a short time you'll soon get that urge out of your system, as long as you follow the principle of paying attention to how you feel.
So far I've been imploring you to schedule your work time based entirely on paying attention to how you feel so you adapt to what your physiology needs, rather than trying to force your body to do what you want. The same thing applies with food. Have some snacks, have some treats, but just don't do it unconsciously. Notice if it's starting to make you feel bad, then ask yourself what would make you feel good and eat that instead.
I've tried all different types of diets and meal structures over the years and in the end I keep it simple. I eat when I'm hungry, and choose based on how I feel. Easier said than done sometimes, I know, but that's really all there is to it.
On Exercising at Home
I'm not the foremost expert on this topic as I have a long history of joint issues that have put pretty significant limitations on how I'm able to exercise. However, I do have a few tips I can share on some fun ways to stay active at home, without needing to leave the house.
My absolute all time favourite way to exercise at home is with the Playstation VR system, aka PSVR, in particular the game Beat Saber. If you're struggling to exercise at home this game will give you the opposite problem - you won't want to stop exercising, even when you probably should, because it's so much fun.
All you need to do yoga at home is a few square meters of space and an internet connected device. There are several outstanding yoga instructors who give free lessons on YouTube. My personal favourite is "Yoga with Adrienne", and if you can manage to keep up with him, Gabo Saturno of "Saturno Movement" is also excellent.
Weights & Bands
I'm not so much of a weights person on account of the joint issues, but my partner uses them frequently. (We both work from home). Staggered over a couple of years we purchased a rack, bench, bar, discs, dumbells and resistance bands. All up it only cost us about $600 and has been going strong for ages, so pretty great value. We have a spare room with all the gear in it and it provides everything necessary for resistance and body weight workouts.
When to Exercise?
I'm a broken record so I'm going to say it again: there's no need to have a fixed schedule. You can exercise in the morning before you start work, you can exercise in the evening when you're done, or you can go do 5 minute sets of weights or yoga interspersed all throughout your day.
Try to notice when you're feeling stiff or sore or hunched, then give yourself a second to decide which form of exercise would best sooth those issues.
Things I Know Nothing About
I don't have kids, so I'm afraid I don't have any pearls of wisdom about juggling work and family in the same physical space. Sorry about that. I also work in my business with my partner and hence don't have a large team, so while I'm pretty good on communicating with clients, I'm not much help with advice on interfacing with your colleagues.
But a Little Advice on Communcation
What I can suggest though, based on my experience with clients, is to keep communication open and frequent.
I never allow a business email to go longer than 24 hours without reply unless it's the weekend. I err on the side of providing too much information over too little. But I try to make that information readable and absorbable by breaking it into bullet lists.
If I have a client who is paying me for hours rather than projects, I check in at the end of each session (which are always flexibly timed) and let them know what I've done.
If I have a client who has booked me for a project I let them know when I've nearly finished the one ahead of them in the queue, and when I expect to start theirs. When I start I let them know when I expect to deliver. And if there are delays I let them know immediately.
Never leave someone who depends on you wondering what you're doing, if you can help it. Keep them informed and you'll both be happier for it.
Working from Home is Better
I genuinely believe that for a great many types of work, producing under conditions where you have control over both time and environment, i.e. at home, is far better both for you and for the business for whom you are working.
Once you get the hang of how you like to control your work environment, you'll be happier than ever, and your employer will start to see the benefits as well.
Throw all the old rules out the window, and make your own.
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