So, You’re Working From Home!


HELLO [work_from_home_user], I SEE YOU HAVE BEEN QUARANTINED DUE TO [current_pandemic] AND ARE NOW SEEKING INSTRUCTIONS.

GOOD NEWS, FELLOW HOMEWORK CITIZEN. I HAVE BEEN — *clears throat* — sorry, I’ve been in these here freelance mines for oh, about 22 years now, and so I am glad to share any lessons I’ve learned along the way regarding the brave, surreal act of working from home.

Let’s just get this out of the way up front: I am no expert on this, except I am, and you should listen to me, or you’ll die. It’s dangerous to go alone, except you’re going alone, and only I can save you. *checks notes* Okay, my lawyer informs me it is not best to paint myself as an “expert” or “cult leader” in this regard, so I will add the legal disclaimer that I am not an expert, but please see my vigorous winking, wink wink wink, so you know that really, you can trust me, and only me, forever.

Anyway.

Your biggest problem right up front is a bifold peril — and you will be tempted to fall one of two ways off this horse.

The first way is this:

You will fall entirely into work. You have uploaded WORK into HOME and now, everything is work. You will start work early. You will end work but then go back to it after dinner, maybe before bed, maybe at 3AM, because you’re floating in a sensory deprivation tank of PURE, MERCILESS WORK. You’re the seven dwarves now, it’s all hi-ho hi-ho until death. Worklife has no margins. It is a land without borders and you will wander it aimlessly. And worse, your employers will smell this on you like the stench of slick, fresh fearsweat, and they’ll encourage this behavior. “Hey, can you send me that file?” your boss asks you at like, 6AM, 6PM, 9:30PM, whatever. Because the boundaries of work-home have now been chewed to dust by the termites of our current apocalyptic moment.

The second way is:

You will not be able to summon the discipline to work. Listen, being at home is — well, c’mon, it’s cozy. Cozy as hell. You have everything there! Why would you ever leave your home? You have, probably, I’m guessing, ALL THE MUSIC, and ALL THE MOVIES, and ACCESS TO DAMN NEAR ANY BOOK YOU HAVE EVER WANTED and haha, woo boy, it’s hard to summon the ability to commit to actual effort when you could just eat candy on the couch. Have you ever just sat on a couch, eating candy? Not doing anything else, just peacefully staring forward and eating candy? It’s great. It’s fucking great. Why would you work on a spreadsheet when you have a book to read? Your comfortable home bubble refuses to be punctured by the needle of work. It is turgid and unyielding and your recreation will not be denied, goddamnit.

So, your fight will be against endless work… versus no work at all. Your job will be to live in the interstitial terrain where even though you are ensconced at home, you can still create a work perimeter — a safe summoning circle in which wrestle your employment demons.

And in that vein, then, here are some tips. These tips are not facts, they are just my opinions, just the way I deal with things. And certainly my job — sorry, “job” — is less strident than standard employment. I’m ruined for public life. I’m basically a creepy magical hermit at this point. So, you are wise to distrust me.

Still. Tips. Let’s have at them.

Sure, you can masturbate. I know. I know! It’s rude to be talking this way but listen, we’d be foolish not to acknowledge the self-pleasuring elephant in the room. You’re home. Jacking or jilling it is a good stress reliever and an immune-booster, so you can do it. And it’s not like you can do it at work usually, so take the tiny salacious bump in your dopamine levels as you perform the illicit act of getting paid to tickle your bits.

Set clear boundaries. Boundaries mean time and place. That means start your day at a time, have lunch at a time, end it at a time. If your boss calls outside this time, you answer it and say, THE OFFICE IS CLOSED in a nasally voice, then drop your phone in an aquarium. Also buy an aquarium, fish are very relaxing. Place also matters — if you have a home office space, use it. If not, try not to make a too-comfy place your office space. No bed, no couch, no sex furniture, whatever. (Wait, do people not have sex furniture? Hm.) Dining room table is… enngh, okay if you gotta, but the ideal is to keep your routine home space relegated to home activities. Again, form that work perimeter. It’s like caging a T.Rex. Don’t let it out, or it’ll eat all your goats. (Wait, do people not have goats?)

Ergonomics. I’m gonna guess your job involves computers and desks and whatever — it’s not like you can be a coal miner and work from home. This shit ain’t Minecraft. So, ergonomics are going to be a thing. You will really dork up your back and neck if you don’t protect your haggard, bent prole-body. For the first several years of my freelance life I did not pay so much attention to this, and turns out, that’s not good for you. Once I concentrated on it, I eradicated endemic back pain I was having. All because I was sitting poorly. (Given that this is my professional life, I bought a very nice chair, a Steelcase Leap, which really helped. This is outside the range of what is likely cost-effective or normal if you do not intend to stay home for a long period of your work life.)

Those boundaries don’t need to be too strict. I see some folks advocating for strict adherence to work life protocol — like, say, dress for work. I’m pretty agnostic on this point and feel like, working from home should have some benefits, and one of those benefits is like, fuck yeah I’m wearing pajamas. If I have to Skype, I’ll put on a shirt and comb my hair, but you go to hell if you think I’m putting on pants for you, Dave. Working from home is still often more fun than working from an office, so you don’t need to make it a punishment. PANTS ARE A TOOL OF THE OPPRESSOR.

The blood must flow. Get up. It’s like washing your hands — make it a part of your routine. Move the blood around. Have some hand weights nearby. Take a walk, go for a run, take a bike ride. Take breaks and move your slugabed body around. Slosh your viscera. That shit needs to move or it calcifies. Bonus: blood flow moves blood to your brain, and your brain is where all the thinky thoughts happen. Blood makes the grass grow, or something, shut up. Move your blood. Get some sun. Listen to birds. Birds don’t give a fuck, they’ll just tweet and twoot and it’s nice, a good reminder that there is an existence beyond your own computer screen, your own anxiety.

Eatin’ good in the neighborhood. No, that doesn’t mean to eat Applebee’s, settle down. God, why would you do that? Though, I guess Applebee’s is not an uncommon work lunch joint. Anyway. Point is, don’t eat poorly whilst on your WORKHOME SOJOURN. Good, healthy snacks: nuts, jerky, fruits. Have you had an apple? They’re great. No to Applebees, but yes to apples. If you eat a lot of heavy carbs, or snack a lot, your brain will jog through concrete, and that makes work harder.

Beware your internet habits. These days, social media and the internet is a slick-lubed flume ride that will have you swiftly descending into a timeless, panic-fueled void. Now, to be fair, if you were a person with a computer in an office, this was a problem then, as well as now. And we all have a Panic Rectangle in our pockets to check like a rat hungry for its electric shock. Good news! At home, you might be able to install a product like Freedom, or I think there’s one called Cold Turkey? Point is, you can be proactive in dialing back your internet habits if you feel like that’s a problem for you.

Habit trackers are fine! Your schedule will feel a bit topsy-turvy. This will feel like a new normal. Nothing wrong with tracking your habits in a journal, or on a whiteboard, or carved into the walls of your cell. Something just to give you a sense of how much time you need to allocate to different things, and how certain habits have shifted.

Take sensible breaks. I like to work for 45 minutes, then break for 15.

See people. Unless you don’t like people, in which case, relish in your introversion and become the cave monster you have longed to be. But more seriously, social contact isn’t the worst thing, even if it’s Facetime or whatever. Just check in. Together, but separately!

Listen, hear me out: coffee coffee coffee. Failing that, tea. I brew my own pot. I bring it with me into the office with a mug. I guard it with a spear. I drink it and snarl.

Be forthright. Tell your employers when you’re having a problem or difficulty adjusting. Also tell your family. Don’t suffer alone. Not that I think working from home is suffering! For me, it’s amazing. But it will take some adjustment for some, and extroverts may find it hard. Just let people know.

Reclaim travel time. If you drove 30 minutes each way into work, don’t add that into your work time. Why do that to yourself? Use it similarly. Use it for books or audiobooks. For making yourself a healthy lunch. For playing video games, I dunno. Don’t give those minutes back to THE MAN, man.

Daydream. Real-talk, work is hard, the world is literal batshit right now, and so take a little time to just sit and let your brain percolate. Not in an anxious way — but willfully daydream, or meditate. Seriously. Deep breathing. Think about awesome stuff. Find grace and gratitude in quiet moments. Then masturbate one more time, for good measure.

And that’s it.

If you have more tips or tricks, toss them in the comments below.

* * *

WANDERERS: A Novel, out now.

A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world’s last hope. An astonishing tapestry of humanity that Harlan Coben calls “a suspenseful, twisty, satisfying, surprising, thought-provoking epic.”

A sleepwalking phenomenon awakens terror and violence in America. The real danger may not be the epidemic, but the fear of it. With society collapsing—and an ultraviolent militia threatening to exterminate them—the fate of the sleepwalkers and the shepherds who guide them depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart—or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.

PrintIndiebound | Let’s Play Books (signed) | The Signed Page | B&N | BAM | Amazon

eBookAmazon | Apple Books | B&N | Kobo | Google Play | BAM

AudioAudible | Libro.FM


22 responses to “So, You’re Working From Home!”

  1. I work from home too and loooooove master — um — procrastinating and discovered bullet journaling to be quite useful. For those who wouldn’t wanna do that, to-do lists for the day are good too…once you figure out how not to make those lists too long.

  2. yes! especially birds!— my home desk is by a window and i’ve been at this work from home thing so long that a few birds know to sit on the fence, sing, and *watch me work* every day — one of them is a child of one of the first birds — seriously it’s the best thing ever

  3. …stops reading to look up Steelcase Leap on Amazon…promptly falls out of non-ergonomic chair but affordable chair… dang

  4. The best tip I have to keep work/home stuff separate is to use two browsers.

    One for work, one for home — and make sure they stay that way.

    Easiest way to do that is to use two completely different browsers.

    But — if you’re married to a particular browser, and willing to weather the occasional bug — I believe all of the major browsers now have preview editions, which can run alongside your main browser.

  5. Good post, Chuck. My abode’s layout doesn’t allow much separation of work space and life space without a large expenditure of money, but my employer DOES provide me with a laptop, so I use that only for work and my own laptop for non-work. The two cannot and do not mix. And my employer also doesn’t expect me to work more than my normal hours, with emergency exceptions, which are few and far between.

    Now I just need to get the ergonomic and masturbation things worked out and I’m set.

  6. When I began working from home, I set up a beautiful office with books and art all around and bought a huge gorgeous desk on which to prop my computer. There I could close my door and retreat into the solitude of uninterrupted working time and space. Within two months, I found myself back at the kitchen table because that simply “worked” better for me. I fought it, kicking and pouting, but the bottom line was my output dropped from a thousand words a day to a thousand a week. Sometimes less! Now I use my office for thinking, letting my mind wander to work out the next chapters, and especially when I don’t want my family asking me if I am okay as I stare into space.

  7. Chuck – can you tell me how to work from home? I want to quit my day job. Do you have any books on the subject? *faceplants on floor pathetically* Please help me!!! *sobs*

  8. Fortunately, writing is a job best done at home, alone, and being Aspergian I can use my super-power of an 8 hour span of attention to get a lot done. Also, having a book to finish, a book proposal to finish, and a major article to finish (by the end of the week), provide goals. Given I am old enough to be “at risk” merely for having survived this long, and also have COPD due to a misspent youth, I have sufficient reason to separate myself from the world to the max. There’s also the fact I enjoy solitude.

    And then there are the distractions. Despite the best laid plans of mice and men, normal life continues. Sometimes normal life includes abnormal activities. Like having your wife, who suffers from Parkinson’s, fall down a week ago and have the X-ray at the ER show a fractured pelvis and broken femur (did I mention she also has osteoparosis?). So by midweek she was a bionic woman with a new hip joint, but also had a period of recovery in a rehab (i.e., a “nursing home”) until March 26. Fortunately, it is a place where they are following the federal guidelines for infection prevention, and this past Monday, when Los Angeles declared a public health emergency, the facility was closed to visitors “until further notice.” So there’s the distraction of worrying about her and the distraction of calls from her dealing with her fears. Which I am OK with because this makes things as safe as they can be in what is a non-safe situation. And the need to keep the home disease-free for her return in two weeks gives an additional reason to separate from the world. Fortunately, when this whole thing started, we went out and got food for 30 days.

    If this lasts any major amount of time, 2020 may be my most productive writing year ever.

  9. When you keep re-reading the same paragraph twenty times over and it blurs into a weird squiggle and you’re thinking whaaaat??? Then it’s time for a break. If this turns out to be ninety percent of the time, you may need to take an eye test.
    Also, for those out there who are studying from home, like me, don’t forget ‘passive study’. AKA watching a TV show or documentary that is mildly related to your field of study and counting that as substantial evidence when you sit your exams. If you fail, tell them that IT HAPPENED ON GREYS ANATOMY, OK? Therefore it must be true.

  10. …so I’m sitting here blissfully munching on carmelcorn and chocolate ice cream, reading a goddamn BLOG telling me to watch my media habits and ration my carbs….

  11. My day goes like this:

    7am to 9am – Major trauma as I prepare my 2 children for school and drag them there, kicking and screaming.
    9am to 9.30am – 3 strong coffees as I pace up and down, gathering my senses.
    9.30am to 10am – Write 2 sentences.
    10am – Check Facebook.
    10am to11.30am – Browse through links for stuff like the latest teeth whitening paste, the top 10 boxing knockouts, or the best value electric car I can’t afford.
    11.30am to 12pm – Decide I’ve been distracted so I let the dog take me for a walk to re-centre.
    12pm to 1pm – Browse property websites for the house I’m going to buy when my international best-seller is made into a blockbuster movie.
    1pm to 1.05pm – Eat toast.
    1.05pm to 2.50pm – Edit or re-write the last 2 sentences with occasional visits to Youtube and Facebook.
    2.50pm to ???? – More trauma as the monsters are home from school.

    DAMN THE INTERNET!!!!!

    This fantastic post has made me realise what I’m doing wrong. I’m not masturbating enough.

  12. I’m new to working from home as my company just told us all to go away and work somewhere else for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one at home during the day. I also can’t work if there is distracting noise, like a phone conversation, nearby. I’m sure others who live in tiny city apartments with bad soundproofing will also have this same issue. (What is that TV show they’re watching next door? [after 20 more minutes of listening, then trying to search for tv listings, and trying to identify theme song] Perhaps I should get back to work.)

    I found that pure “white noise” just gets irritating. So, I’ve discovered the joys of over-the-ears headphones, and ambient sounds from YouTube. My favorite source is The Guild of Ambiance. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvVWCrxq_aZr7fN_KpaGGTA

    So far, Rain & Thunderstorm with Crackling Fireplace (3 hours) and Fireplace Sounds Medievel Tavern (1 hour) are my favorites. Enough to mask the distracting sounds, but not enough to distract themselves.

  13. […] I’m afraid I have little else to offer on the subject that hasn’t already been said, and for fear of breeding panic I’ve made the choice not to do a long blog post on COVID-19. But, if you’re looking at ways of keeping entertained or tips on working from home, check out what Chuck Wendig has to say about it. Since I study from home I could relate a lot to this post. […]

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