The Startup
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The Startup

The Reality of Working from Home

Depression, anxiety and failure. Why I gave up working from home after a year.

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

Whenever I would tell anyone who works a regular nine-to-five grind after a daily commute that I worked from home eighty percent of the time, I was almost always met with a mixture of mild jealousy and claims of how wonderful it must be to have the opportunity to work from home every day.

Working from home certainly does have some significant upsides. No commuting into the office probably being one of the biggest benefits and more flexibility around working hours, not being tied to the office routine, not having to wear pants. It all sounds like a dream.

Be careful what you wish for.

Working from home is not all cookies and rainbows. If you’re given the opportunity to work from home you might want to consider carefully if it’s for you before you jump straight in feet first. In this article I will talk about some of my own negative experiences I have had working from home the majority of the time for the last year. These are the reasons that I no longer work from home, and never will again.

Isolation

If you work in a busy and bustling open plan office environment where people frequently have conversations literally over your head or disturb you constantly with personal appearances to make inane requests while you’re trying to concentrate on your work, you may feel that working away from all of your co-workers will be a breath of fresh air. It’s true that initially the silence of my home office and the fact nobody could walk up to my desk did improve my ability to focus on particular tasks. However there is a difference between being left alone undisturbed and being completely isolated away from any physical human being.

If you have any kind of history with depression or other mental illnesses you should think very carefully about whether working from home is a good idea for you or not.

We are all social creatures, some more than others, but very few of us are made for being completely devoid of human company for long stretches of time. I was used to my house being a place of social interaction with my family and soon discovered that spending all day at home when the kids were at school and my wife was out working felt like I was rattling around a large empty shell.

It didn’t help that I have a long history with anxiety and depression. Over time the feelings of isolation that I got working from home grew more intense and fed back into my depression creating a negative cycle that I didn’t fully realize at first. What was once my home, a place of comfort and love quickly became a place of loneliness and despair where I had to endure eight hours of solitude every day. If you have any kind of history with depression or other mental illnesses you should think very carefully about whether working from home is a good idea for you or not. Looking back I now realize that the isolation of working from home every day was one of the biggest triggers for my depression.

Productivity

As a natural born procrastinator, maintaining a high level of productivity is always a challenge at the best of times. I have adopted various methods to help me focus and stay productive instead of disappearing into an abyss of prolonged procrastination for hours on end. One method I try to constantly implement is identifying things in my life that cause me to procrastinate, and then attempt to change or eliminate them. This wasn’t so easy at first, I spent a long time trying to eliminate things within my environment that I thought were the cause of procrastination before realizing that it was the environment itself that was what was pulling me into the darkness and mindlessness.

Apart from the isolation, there is also the fact that no matter how hard you try and build a work environment in your home, it’s still your home. Being able to separate work from your personal life at home is challenging. It’s too easy to take five minutes to put those clothes in the washing machine, and then that five minutes turns into ten because you inevitably find something else to distract you before you finally get back to your desk.

For me working from home was becoming the biggest impediment to my productivity. The isolation caused my mind to wander and the lack of a real work type environment meant that procrastination swept in eating up huge chunks of my time seeking out the instant gratification of YouTube rather than focusing on work during the day.

My lack of productivity lead to ending the day with a mind racked with guilt and self loathing, two feelings that any grand master of procrastination knows all too well, and those feelings were a trigger for my anxiety.

With isolation feeding my depression and my lack of productivity feeding my anxiety, I would start the next day even less able to focus, and thus the cycle continued.

Routine

Many people recommend setting, and sticking to, a regular routine when freelancing or working remotely. Some people seem to thrive with no routine or set times, and some need the structure and boundaries of a regular daily routine. I’m in the latter camp. Whilst I don’t work well with an absolute regimented routine planned down to the minute, having a portion of the day that is work time and then a clear division between that time and my personal time is important to me, it enables me to stay more focused and minimise outside distractions.

The problem with working from home is that those lines become rather flexible. It’s hard to ring fence a chunk of the day for work time, with a beginning and an end. Having a separate working environment from my home environment made this easy to achieve, but working from home the barriers between work life and home life would become distinctly foggy and my mind could never quite get fully engaged into either mode. This not only affected my work but also my personal life. My day had no structure, the negativity I built up during the day just bled into my home life and I realized I had no work-life balance at all.

Conclusion

I had been working almost full-time at home for over a year and found myself at an incredible low point in my life. My depression and anxiety were at an all time high and I found myself resenting my work and even my home. I ended up seeking some solace by working from coffee shops on occasion, and this resulted in a sudden and notable injection of positive energy into my mind and a huge improvement in my productivity.

After a period of reflection I came to the conclusion that while some people may be cut out for home working, it’s not for everyone and it certainly isn’t as easy as those people sitting at their mundane office desk would believe. It takes an incredible amount of self-discipline and mental strength to be able to successfully work from home. That is simply not me.

At the beginning of this year I decided that things needed to change. I was determined not to spend another day working from home allowing the same demons to keep eating away at my mental health. Working from coffee shops was, and still is, a great way for me to change things up, but it was never going to be practical for me every day of the week. After some research I decided to rent a permanent desk at a local co-working facility.

I will be writing a post dedicated to my co-working experience, but since starting, the change has been profound. I get up early at a set time in the morning, have coffee with my wife and then I leave the house and go to work. Just this simple change in my routine, along with spending the day in a working environment with other people also working has not only made me leaps and bounds more productive but has also been hugely beneficial to my mental health. Getting away from the home office has been such a positive force in my life that I know I’ll never look back.

So if you find yourself in a position to be able to work from home, don’t jump straight in. Trial it for a while and make sure you have the personal life skills and mental strength to make it work for you, the grass isn’t always greener.

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