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How to Successfully Work from Home Without Losing Your Goddamn Mind (Or Your Job)

As most (all?) of you know, I started working from home full time a little over a year ago. It’s pretty great! I’m saving a metric fuckton of money on commuting costs. Plus, I have more time in my day to devote to things other than sitting in traffic shaking my fist and cursing the futility of existence.

Before working from home.

 

After working from home.

I’m an acquiring editor at a book publishing house. This is a fancy way of saying I babysit writers and occasionally correct their constipated prose for a living. Most of my job consists of reading book proposals and telling authors why they suck. I need little more than a laptop and a cell phone to do my job.

I regularly join meetings at my corporate headquarters via phone or video conference. During these meetings, my wardrobe is generally business formal above the waist, slumber party below.

And you guys, I rock. I’m real fucking good at my job and I have the employee reviews to prove it!

While transitioning from an office to working from home was a bit of an adjustment, I’ve since developed good habits for getting quality work done efficiently and quickly.

And yet there are some stubborn bastions of luddites who absolutely insist that a white collar worker needs to come into an office every day in order to be successful. I don’t cotton to that kind of backward thinking. For one thing, it makes it harder for caregivers and disabled people to find employment. For another, it fosters a culture that negatively impacts the environment and public health.

If a worker proves herself capable of getting the job done without commuting to an office, then by Grabthar’s Hammer, she should be allowed to do so!

But the only way we’re going to spread the work from home revolution is if we all work circles around our be-cubicled counterparts. Through trial, error, and interviewing people who have been working from home much longer than I have, here’s what I’ve found to be the best work-from-home practices in the biz.

There’s something to be said for routine

I am but one humble Bitch. And I’ll be honest: I kind of struggled to be productive when I first started working from home! As I’ve already admitted, I procrastinated and wasted time. I was not the most effective work-from-homer for a while.

DON’T JUDGE ME.

So I turned to some fellow personal finance bloggers to compare notes on best WFH practices. And across the board, everyone recommended what it took me a few months to figure out: you need to set up a routine.

And part of that routine means starting your day off just as you would if you were leaving the house to go to an office. That means:

Keep normal business hours

Arise before the crack of noon, o laborer! Be productive during the hours in which everyone else is being productive.

My company is based on the East Coast and I am not. This means that I work East Coast hours, despite living a few time zones away. I’m available to everyone in my office and all the literary agents in New York for the same hours they’re available.

And while waking up early isn’t everyone’s cup of Bailey’s-spiked coffee, it does mean that I get to stop working in the mid-afternoon when there’s still time and daylight enough to go have adventures of my own. Which my dog certainly appreciates. (Note: most of my work routine—nay, my life—is designed around what makes my dog happy.)

If you’re tempted to let your work hours bleed into the dinner hour and beyond, set an alarm at both the start and the end of the work day. Once the bell rings, school’s out!

Set up an “office”

Even if it’s just a folding table in the corner of your bedroom, use a dedicated space for work and nothing else.

Don’t recline on the couch every day like Cleopatra in her palanquin. Don’t roll over in bed to turn off the alarm clock and pick up your laptop with the same hand. Get up and go to your “office.”

Our girl A Purple Life explains that having a dedicated office creates a physical separation between your “work life” and your “fun life” and never the twain shall meet. Letting your work life and your fun life bleed together can be just as disastrous for your personal relationships and health as it can be for your career.

And Kitty takes the whole home office thing one step further: she recommends you decorate.

It might be frugal, but sitting on a folding metal chair in your unfinished basement is about as conducive to creativity and comfort as the interrogation chamber it evokes.

Paint! Buy a fucking fern! Hang an inspirational poster! And for the love of Bob find some decent lighting that doesn’t buzz and flicker with all the charm of a horror movie set. Your work environment doesn’t necessarily need to feel like Genie’s Bottle, but it shouldn’t scream “WORK IS TORTURE” either.

I’m fortunate in that I have a whole room in my house that doubles as my guest room and office. And in that room I have shelves for my books, a cork board for reminders and shit, and a desk—a whole desk!—dedicated to my job. This desk serves no other purpose, and when I wake up in the morning, I go straight to it.

Sitting in my rolling desk chair and turning on my fancy desk lamp and looking at my dormant desk orchid is my way of clocking in. It just puts me in the mood to get shit done.

Put some fucking clothes on

Look, you don’t need to put on a tie to work from home. But you should wear something other than pajamas. It just tricks you into feeling more professional, more accountable for the time you’re spending on the clock.

I have CONCRETE ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE to prove this one’s true.

Some nights I lay out my outfit for the next day before I go to bed, just like I did when I was working in an office. And sometimes I roll out of my bed and start working without changing out of my pajamas. I am… definitely more productive on the days when I’m not negotiating contracts in dragon slippers and my pajama pants.

Don’t set non-work appointments during work hours if you can help it

For many months I was giddy with the power to go shopping when the stores were empty. I could take a leisurely bike ride to the dentist instead of fighting rush hour traffic to get here during the coveted after-5 p.m. appointment. Oh brave new work-from-home world, that has no other people in it!

But then I realized things had gotten out of control. The appointments and errands were simply interrupting my productivity with the unpredictability of a Black Mirror plot.

I had let the power, the freedom of being able to move through the world without bumping into others at busy times go to my head. And it totally threw off my work routine.

The same goes for social calls. At first I agreed to babysit for friends during the work day, or have friends just “stop by.” Before I knew it, my working hours were filled with happy friend times and grocery shopping and dentist appointments.

As a result, I was missing out on the kind of planned and predictable deep-thinking and prolonged productivity essential to my work performance. In short: I needed that routine to stay focused and productive.

Protect your work hours. You’re being paid for them. Act like it.

Eliminate distractions

I don’t have kids, but I hear they’re a lot like dogs. So if you’re a parent trying to work from home, consider locking the little rugrats up in a crate for a few hours while you make some phone calls.

[producer whispers in my ear]

What’s that? Sorry folks, I’ve just been told that kids and dogs are not interchangeable and enclosing children in wire crates for any amount of time is apparently frowned upon.

Nevertheless, you should find a way to eliminate distractions—kids, pets, noisy neighbors, household chores, and reruns of Parks and Rec alike—while working from home.

Just as you should identify and slay your financial vampires, you should recognize and eliminate the distractions within your home.

Our buddy Brian from Done by Forty recommends several apps and hacks for getting rid of distractions:

  1. Put your phone and personal laptop in a different room from the one in which you work.
  2. The Cold Turkey app will block distracting websites, games, and apps on your phone.
  3. The StayFocsd extension for Chrome limits the amount of time you can spend on time-wasting sites.
  4. Literally put your cell phone/PS4 controller/favorite book in a time-lock safe. WE’RE NOT FUCKING AROUND HERE, YOU GUYS.

Currently my two biggest distractions are a) my dog, and b) housework. I’m much more relaxed and focused when my habitat is clean and tidy. So I try to clean a little bit every day after work just so I’m never compelled to marathon-clean my whole house during work hours like Hercules in the Augean Stables.

My dog, on the other hand, is impossible to ignore. I am at his adorable, fuzzy mercy at all times. Which brings me to…

Take strategic breaks

Take strategic breaks! Plan to work out, walk the dog, tend the garden, or run one short errand per day!

The emphasis here is of course on planning and strategy. Build your breaks into your work day, don’t just let them happen to you when you get bored or snacky.

My dog ain’t dumb (he’s really, really dumb). He has come to understand that every day around noon, I take him for a walk. And because he knows this neighborhood reconnaissance mission is coming, he generally leaves me in peace to work before and after the appointed time. Just as I’ve created a work day routine for myself, so has he:

  1. 7:30-8:00 Inspect yard.
  2. 8:00-11:00 Mid-morning nap.
  3. 11:00-11:45 Surveil street through front window.
  4. 11:45-12:00 Beg for walk.
  5. 12:00-12:30 Patrol neighborhood with great ferocity and self-importance.
  6. 12:30-1:30 Exhausted from patrol, take early afternoon nap.
  7. 1:30-2:00 Surveil street through front window.
  8. 2:00-3:30 Mid-afternoon nap.
  9. 3:30 Clock out and congratulate self on hard day’s work.

My dog’s rigid schedule also allows me to get up and move around. Taking a break from work is proven to increase productivity and work quality. It actually helps reduce procrastination, clears your pores, and waters your crops!

Sadly, not everyone has a dog (donate to our Patreon to ensure every home has a dog by 2025). If you’re tragically dogless, you can still take a strategic break by going for a walk or working out.

If you abhor physical motion (John 8: 7), you can take a break to read a book, listen to a podcast, or rub one out to your favorite Harry/Draco slash fiction. Whatever compounds your interest!

If you’re not winning, change the game

I recently flew across the country for a big meeting. During that flight I had a fully charged laptop… and no wifi. Ladies and gentlemen, I got my email inbox from eighty messages down to thirty during that flight. Freed from the dangerous Boomerang Email Effect and restricted by the limitations of an airplane cabin 30,000 feet above ground, I was more productive than I’d been in weeks.

Something about a little change of scenery gave me the boost of energy and focus I needed to plow through work with ruthless alacrity.

The same is true when I leave the house to work somewhere else. The library is a big favorite, of course (GO TO THE FUCKING LIBRARY, YOU FOOL). But any shift in my environment tends to give me a jolt of productivity. The botanical gardens, the coffee shop around the corner, the patio in my backyard, the best little lesbian-owned-and-operated brewery in the city—all refresh my mind and give me a new perspective on my work.

If you’re feeling cooped up and stir crazy, leave the environment you’re in. Go elsewhere to rediscover your productivity.

That’s nice but how do you even land a job that will allow you to work from home?

Now that we’ve dispensed our highly scientific, crowd-sourced advice, let’s address the obvious: not every job can be done from home. Some jobs require you to work on-site. Hard to be a sous chef from your own kitchen or give tours of Civil War battlefields from your couch, for example. (Though I’d love to be proven wrong! Share stories of your unconventional work-from-home job in a comment!)

But in the Digital Age™, working from home is becoming increasingly more common. If your job can be performed alone while sitting in front of a computer screen, there’s not a whole lot of reason to travel farther than your kitchen table to do it.

If you’re lucky, you already have a job, and your current workplace supports a robust remote work policy. It’s becoming especially common at large, multinational companies. It may be as simple as talking to your manager.

But that’s if you’re lucky! It’s just as likely you’ll be stuck pioneering the perk at a workplace that’s reluctant to try it—or convincing a new workplace to hire a remote employee. Both the Bitches have experience in these miraculous feats, and we’ll be sharing more strategies on this in the future.

Know thyself

Working from home is work. It’s certainly not for everyone, but the benefits to your health and finances can be astronomical. As with any job situation, the key to success and sanity is discipline, dedication, and determination. How you like that alliteration?

At the same time… you’re working from home! Don’t be ashamed to make the most of the situation!

If you’re on a boring conference call that has little to do with you, feel free to mute yourself and empty the dishwasher. Go sit outside and work on your tan. Turn on a podcast or audiobook while you’re filling out paperwork or doing boring data entry. As long as you’re still getting the work done, don’t feel guilty about multi-tasking or making your situation a little more bearable.

By the same token, recognize signs that you’re becoming isolated or lonely. Leaving the house isn’t just to improve your productivity—it could prevent you from entering an unintentional hermitage. Ask a friend to join you on your lunch break or on that strategic workout break you’ve planned. (Maybe don’t get a friend to join you if your strategic break includes the smutty fanfic thing.)

Figure out what you need to remain successful and sane while working from home. Whether it’s a baller playlist, proper video conferencing software, or the fanciest fucking coffee beans this side of Costa Rica, get it. Use it. Kick ass and take names.

How have you hacked your work-from-home game? Tell us all about it in a comment below!

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15 thoughts to “How to Successfully Work from Home Without Losing Your Goddamn Mind (Or Your Job)”

  1. Awesome post! On the rare days I get to work from home I am always so productive! Piggy, I would love a post about the ins and outs of getting a book published- I am sure lots of your readers are people with things to say who have considered book writing (slowly raises hand).

  2. Piggy,
    Seriously, are you me?! I too work for an East Coast-based company from the West Coast, and plan my workdays around EST as well as my dog’s needs/wants/desires. I love the flexibility of working from home. Totally agree about taking strategic breaks to do errands, laundry, dog walking, etc. I do still schedule dentist/doctor visits during the workday, because, well, I can. And I don’t always shower and put on clothes until late in the afternoon (though it definitely helps productivity to do so!) The other thing I like to do to combat WFH isolation is to call a coworker up just to chit chat/gossip every once in a while. I do miss that camaraderie of the office environment at times, and it’s good to stay up on what’s happening in the office.

  3. Good post! I’ve been working from home for 4 years and it’s had it’s up and downs. All the struggles you mentions and I do everything you justlisted otherwise I was going nuts!! I don’t have a dog but started walking my neighbors dog daily through a super cheap arrangement= little extra money plus forcing myself to take a break and walk outside, it has helped greatly.
    I also started using an app to track my hours, it is SO easy to work overtime from home! Either I felt guilty cause I got distracted with laundry and put in a few extra hours or I just kept going until the husband arrived home for dinner. Using an app to track my actual active work hours has helped me be more focused and try to not go over my 40hours unless absolutely needed. Good to read I’m not the only one who loves/struggles with wfh.

  4. Thank you bitches! This post had perfect timing for me. Today I successfully negotiated an extra work from home flex day!! Now I get work from home three days a week, and I am so psyched to officially be out of the office more than in it. I might have to stage a hostile takeover of the guest room to convert it into my office…

  5. I love this! I work two jobs and I want to start getting one of them to let me work from home one day every pay period (max per policy, but nobody does it). My other one is already a work-from-home deal.
    On that note, you wanted weird work from homr jobs and: people pay me to DM. Like D&D DM. Better than my normal job, but I’m a slave to the hours so I doubt I’ll go full-time.

  6. Working from home for 3.5 years RUINED me for a regular desk job again. Going from 0 commute to 2 hours per day (~1 each way), motherforking cubicles, annoying coworkers (sounds AND smells), distractions… It’s amazing to me that my old boss and coworkers had suspicions that I didn’t work all day because I can get more done in an hour at home than 8 hours in a beige box with florescent lighting and ALL THE distracting phones and gossiping around me. I had a decent little transition with my office temporarily housed in a small conference room, but now I’m back in a bullpen with eleventy bajillion lumens above my desk and my eyes scream by the end of the day.

  7. I made the cut! I can go to bed happy.

    Productivity at home has definitely become harder with Baby AF, so I’ve had to resort to things like putting on headphones & Pandora, so as not to be tempted by the siren song of his baby coos in the next room. I have no idea what to do once he’s old enough to just open the door to my office…

  8. The timing of your post is perfect!! I worked from home yesterday due to car issues and finished at least double what I normally do in the office! I was talking to my partner last night about how to approach my boss about working from home one or two days a week. In the past, our organization has been dead set against it, but apparently they’re asking the executives to think about how to “shift the workplace culture”. I want this to be a part of the shift!!

  9. Been working from home for years now and in general I love it. I also discovered all the pros & cons you listed above. I stuck to a rigid schedule pretty early though since I had worked hourly jobs before and was used to a hard line between work/personal hours. I find it hard to leave my home office to work somewhere else though. It seems like I always forget something! I have been struggling lately because I’ve had less to do and I find myself screwing around on the internet too much, because I feel like I have to stand at my computer for 8 hours a day just as if I were putting in face time in a physical office.

  10. As a long time work-from-homer (10 years in July), I have learned to accept that my productivity ebbs and flows. I’m a business manager who works 600 miles from her home office so my job is full of multi-tasking but still being tied to my desk. Some days I spend more time adding things to my to-do list than actually accomplishing anything. But (big BUT) I set a hard and fast rule that I must accomplish 5 things every day. I always keep one or two easy things on my list to get the psychological satisfaction of checking that box off. Some days I might accomplish 20 things, some days just the 5, but I can always see the progress if I look at my list from day to day. I’ve started keeping a bullet journal style list for the last year and that has been crazy helpful!

  11. Great post, thank you. I’m a remote worker that travels a lot. I found myself at home for several weeks in a row in early 2019. Not prepared for that, I fell into many of the traps that you describe. This knowledge will be useful the next time that happens. I like our local coffee shop and the library for my changes of scenery. They’re both 2 blocks from my house, so that’s nice too.

  12. I am not in a field that allows working from home most of the time (some days are exceptions, but did you know that museums really frown on you taking their items home to work on????) and I think that’s probably for the best, I really like having that big separation between work and home. But I’m so happy for people who work from home, and certainly wish more offices had it as an option for employees for whom it was feasible because dang would I love to see that decrease in traffic.

  13. Add me to the list of happy West Coasters working East Coast hours from home – love it!! There are only two things I really miss. The first is walking a mile each way for part of my commute, which used to be my main source of exercise. The second is water cooler chat with my coworkers. I bought a small elliptical machine that works with my standing desk to fix the first issue. It does mean I have to be strategic about which conference calls I can take on video but the physical activity helps me from feeling listless. For the second issue, I try to schedule chats with my closest work friends the same way I do my other conference calls. We’ll have coffee or I’ll walk and talk while we chat. It’s hard to imagine going back to an office to work, even though I have a traditional 9-to-5-type job. I’d only add one other thing to your list, which is to schedule a lunch break in advance (the time as well as what you’ll eat). I found that I was skipping lunch too often and then going to the kitchen to discover that all I had handy in the 15 minutes before the next call was snack-y stuff.

    There are more of us who are office-optional than I thought – would be fun to get a personal finance-minded female WFH chat together.

  14. Working from home brought out the worst in my ex-boyfriend’s chronic depression. Without the structure of an office forcing daily human interaction, he stopped taking care of himself (read showering or changing clothes), and became obsessive about working excessively. When he had to go to an office – a few decisions about his day were made for him. For some one who gets decision fatigue over the tiniest thing, this was a great fix. The structure of a daily report time and culturally enforced quitting time, lunches with coworkers, and the exercise of the bike ride to the office made a huge difference in managing his symptoms of depression. There are people who are great candidates for working from home, but I think it’s not as large a proportion of the population as proponents purport. (Annoying alliteration aside.)

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