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.

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