Yes, that’s right. I work from home. I bet that conjured up a lot of images for you, mostly of me luxuriously sipping cocoa while I blog in my pajamas, late on a Tuesday morning (swap tea for cocoa and insert yoga pants, which are basically pajamas, and you do, in fact, have my current state). But, as Laura Donovan ingeniously pointed out in her post on not-so-funemployment, staying home all day can actually be pretty terrible. It can be lonesome, alienating, and depressing, and it robs you of a lot of the normal social interactions/small real-world experiences that make life rich.
Not that I’m complaining too much. I’m flexible, able to travel (well, I would be if I had any money), able to build things like volunteering and weekday brunch into my schedule, and I don’t have to put up with hassles like traffic or unflattering fluorescent lights. But to make working from home a little less like being on house arrest, I’ve come up with the following tips.
1. Don’t buy a cat. I don’t exactly mean this one literally; if you really want a cat, you should have a cat. What I mean is that you can’t rely on a cat, a dog, or anything else, furry or otherwise, to give your life meaning. I have thought many times of heading over to the pound for a puppy just to give myself something to do other than write and edit at my dining room table all day; I have even briefly thought about what it would be like to have another kind of bundle of joy to take care of and buy onesies for. But you can’t adopt a pooch or get pregnant just to find some validation in your life.
2. Shower and get dressed. One of the first things people say to me when they hear that I work from home is, “Wow, it must be nice getting to spend all day in your pajamas.” Really? That sounds nice? To me, that sounds like living on some sort of psych ward. The few times I have spent the majority of the workday un-showered and in my PJs, I’ve felt even more like a shut-in or an invalid than usual. It makes me lethargic, unproductive, and mopey, like I’ve stayed home sick. I’ve learned it’s incredibly important to get up, take a shower, dry and at least passably style my unruly mane, and put on some sort of outfit, even if it’s just a T-shirt and jeans. Only then do I feel like a real, productive person, and not either a baby or a character in “Girl, Interrupted.”
3. Eat something normal. Being inches from your own refrigerator all day can have a very weird effect on your eating habits. When I first started this working remotely gig, I’d just sort of graze all day (hummus for breakfast, a LOT of string cheese for lunch, pickles or way too many olives for dessert) because I hadn’t yet figured out that the above combination would make me feel and smell like death. My body wants breakfast food for breakfast, a filling lunch, and definitely less string cheese and pickles. I’ve found that eating breakfast away from my computer, before I “start” work, and taking a half hour or so to make something that actually counts as lunch, helps give my days a bit of a normal rhythm, which helps with both productivity and feeling like my job (and life) is real.
4. Talk to someone. Yesterday was one of those days when I actually didn’t leave the house, except to switch laundry from washer to dryer a couple of times. That doesn’t happen all that often, but when it does, it’s the weirdest feeling. My mom called around noon, and it actually felt bizarre to be having a conversation with someone who isn’t my boyfriend (also a freelance writer, and therefore also home a lot — but that’s a whole different post). What I’m trying to say is that you have to actively seek out even the smallest social interactions when you work from home. Sometimes that means spending the morning at a coffee shop rather than in my “home office,” and sometimes it means making a bigger commitment. I’m scheduled to start volunteering with the Tucson branch of the International Rescue Committee next week; my beau is a docent-in-training with the Arizona Historical Society. Any means of getting outside my tiny work-from-home bubble is going to help me fight this battle against being a batty lady who talks to herself all day, because there’s no one else to talk to.
5. Designate work time and home time. This is probably the hardest part of working from home; you’re always sort of at the office. An email comes through at 9 p.m.? It’s not like I have the excuse of not having been around to read it; I’m always around, so I feel guilty not replying right away. The same is true for weekends, which are depressingly difficult to differentiate from the rest of the week. So I’ve learned that setting limits is the most important strategy for me. Sure, I’m available during normal business hours, and beyond them if there are extenuating circumstances, but I can’t be on call 24/7. I spend my evenings reading, writing, working out, spending time with friends or cooking dinner, rather than scrambling to get ahead on the week’s work tasks, and my weekends are almost always designated as work-free. Without these limits, I’d feel compelled to check in with work around the clock, which we all know is unhealthy, whether you work from home or in a high-stress office.
So, while I’m still more isolated than I’d necessarily like to be, I’ve come up with a passable routine for working from home without feeling suffocated by my own constant companionship and/or the rapidly increasing presence of voices in my head (mostly kidding). Here’s a bonus sixth tip that I’ve had to learn the super-duper hard way: For the love of God, if you work from home, especially as an independent contractor, FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO YOUR TAXES NOW. Because the self-employment tax, more than the lonesomeness or lack of social interaction or diet of overly salty back-of-the-fridge snacks, is the bane of my existence.