Week 127 in the Richardson household. All gone dark. Last potato has melted. I hiss at birds now. Can’t remember if pants are clean. Finished 3rd back-to-back rerun megamarathon of Judge Judy. Hid from postman. Took some good pics though. Growing body of evidence that he is trying to kill me. Is that me I smell? I don’t know. Must go now. You know too much.
I’m pretty sure that if I asked 100 people, at least a decent handful of them would assume that my life closely resembles the above. But there is an element of truth: if Working From Home (WFH) is something you don’t get to do very often, it can be difficult to know how to behave. It can certainly end up going one of two ways: a cycle of procrastination, furious wanking, and daytime TV, or massive overkill through a deep-rooted, ingrained sense that being at home during the week is morally wrong. The bottom line, or my bottom line at least, is that neither of these is quite on the money – but it took me a while to learn new behaviours, understand new routines, and become comfortable with my situation.
But let’s be honest – it isn’t a few days, or a week of WFH that can cause problems. It’s a sustained period of it; the isolation, the silence, the tendency for motivation to wane and with it, routine. It’s for these reasons that I’m writing this, as a nation prepares to settle itself into my world for a while.
So, welcome! Get your slippers on, pour yourself a coffee, and start developing that ass groove. Of course, if you’re in week 1, you can disregard this and get back to fondling your balls (or equivalents) or rediscovering MTV, pogs, and weed… or whatever. But by week 3, you might find some of these tips useful, and it might cheer you to read this and remember that, no matter how uncertain things may feel, you are not alone.
1. Establish a routine, with regular breaks
The one perk I have allowed myself over the last couple years is not setting alarms. Now, this isn’t an option for everyone because you might have children / be obliged to get online at a certain time / sleep for 11 days uninterrupted if left alarm-free. What it has taught me, though, is that a body clock is a powerful thing. I’m always up and ready to work by 9:30am, unless I’ve seriously misbehaved the night before. I try and stick to a 9:30am start, with an 11am break for coffee, an hour or so to myself at 3 or 4pm, then a main meal break with the other half whenever she gets home. I usually work after she goes to bed, but I try and always finish up by 2am.
Of course, the beauty of WFH is flexibility. If I want to be out on a weeknight, I can – but I’ll have to work later to compensate for the lie in. If I want an afternoon nap, I can have one, but that extended evening time with the wife might get cut a bit short. I’ll always make time for breaks though. It’s easy to forget how often you get a screen break at work, just by having to go and speak to someone, make a coffee, or go to a meeting. WFH is intense – if you don’t enforce breaks, you can easily sit completely still in front of the same screen for 16 hours and end up with square, pixelated eyes.
I can also extend my afternoon time off for other things, like…
2. Take(ing) up a new hobby
All work and no play, etc. etc. The truth of the matter is, you have more time if you WFH. Consider the amount of time it takes you to get ready in the morning, get to work, make small talk with people you hate, go through your various non-work-but-at-work obligations, travel home, and get changed. Now, take that away. What’s left? Again, if you’re in weeks 1 or 2, what’s left will probably be absentmindedly staring at things, extending lie-ins, or taking much longer to do the simple stuff that previously took 2 minutes.
But once you get beyond a certain point, you’re going to get restless and feel unfulfilled. This will negatively impact your sleep, your work, and your general mood. So, take something up. Do those Masterclass videos, learn to knit, read Ulysses, or do what I do: channel excess energy into exercise. If I feel restless, I work out. Weights 3 or 4 times a week. Cardio once or twice. One really extended period of exercise. I’ve taken up running ultramarathons and discovered that running, and exercise in general, have such an incredibly positive impact on my mental health. I’d go so far as to say that they have saved my life.
You have the time. Use it fulfillingly (this is not really a word, but you know what I mean).
3. Build a new support network
As fulfilled as you might feel 16 miles into your trail run, or 16 scarves into your mission to singlehandedly clothe the country’s homeless, there are low points. The lack of human contact can be really fucking hard. For quite some time, I became the guy you could rely on to always be free for a midweek pint. “Yes, I’ll come, please pick me, I haven’t spoken to a human face to face for 2 weeks and I think I might have forgotten to articulate actual words”. This is expensive, unhealthy, and quite disruptive to a working routine.
I’m in my mid-30s now; my best friends have settled down, picked different suburbs, had children, and generally become as exceptionally boring as I am. So, we have a WhatsApp group. Some of us (hiya!) use it quite compulsively, but it is a window to the outside world, and to my friends. I lean on it heavily, and it has helped me on countless occasions when I have felt lonely.
4. Changes of scenery
The great irony of WFH is that you spend all your non-WFH years pining for the sofa and when it finally comes to you for an extended period of time, you start climbing the walls. This is what gardens, local parks, and dogging were made for (I haven’t seen an official government stance on this, so I assume it’s all systems go). Get up, go to a different room, or step outside the house for a bit. The power of fresh air and natural light shouldn’t be underestimated.
5. A pleasant atmosphere, with incentives
All those gripes you might have about the awful radio station choices, the uncomfortable chairs, and the shit coffee? Now is your time to take control. Get comfortable, treat yourself to decent food and drink whenever you want it, and choose your own music. Unless you’re really disciplined, you’ll likely find it hard to get in the work zone unless your surroundings look a bit like a workplace, so using a non-living room for work might be good. You might find it helps to get dressed, too. Personally, I go for house wear – tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt caked in filth. And a real guilty pleasure of mine is “Winne-the-Poohing,” when you put on a shirt and/or tie for a video call but are wearing pants / absolutely nothing below the waist. Just remember what the state of play is before you stand up too quickly!
For incentives, I say to myself “X is on at 2pm, so I need to get to point Y before I can allow myself to watch it,” or “Get through to midday and you can have a fancy coffee/restorative run/nap.” Or perhaps “Do 10 more pages and then you can get royally shitfaced and be sick into a bin.” It’s the little things that keep you going.
Anyway, regardless of your situation and the people around you, the next couple of months (and probably longer) are going to be extremely tough. Just remember to check in on those people who live alone, as solitary isolation can be a very complex mental challenge. Stay safe everyone and enjoy WFH!