The Ten Commandments for Working From Home
How to get more done and stay sane while WFH
The Harsh Reality of Working From Home
In recent weeks, many of us have been turned away from our offices, told to “self-isolate” and “social distance.” Companies have quickly whipped up broad policies for working from home to allow employees to still get their jobs done.
Relegated to our dining tables, couches, and other makeshift home offices, we’ve been jolted out of our comfortable routine and some of us are really struggling with the shift.
If that sounds like you, you're not alone. Welcome to the club (possibly the world’s lamest “club”) of those struggling with the reality of working from home.
For those of us who’ve worked in an office, sharing the same physical space as our co-workers, the change is weird. But, as humans and as members of the modern workforce, we must learn to adapt to this change.
This isn’t some lame, regurgitated listicle of tips I’ve compiled from elsewhere on the internet. These are the principles that I’ve discovered through my own time working from home. These principles keep me productive, they keep me connected to my clients and coworkers, and, most importantly, they keep me sane.
With that said, I give you the 10 commandments of remote work.
1. Thou Shalt Wake
Prior to the pandemic, I had a morning routine. On most days, it looked like this: wake up early to go to the gym, shower, take Lily for a walk, eat breakfast, drink coffee, quietly read whatever book I’m working on for about 20 minutes, and finally, drive to the office.
I’m not going to the office anymore, so that part is obviously disrupted. And since my gym is closed, I can’t go there for a morning workout. That alone disincentivizes me from getting up early and destroys the rest of my routine.
Prior to our lockdown, I would get up just before 5 AM to get my day started. But since I no longer have nowhere to go so early, I’ve found myself still in bed after 7 on some days. Those days start off lazy and unproductive and I’ve found it’s hard to recover.
The solution I’ve found is to still wake up at a set time every day and get your morning started, even if it looks different than it did before. Instead of getting up at 5 to go to the gym, maybe still get up at 6 or 6:30 to at least do some stretching.
Or you could stay in bed until the last second, finally scrambling out to log in for work. Your choice. But I recommend waking up a little earlier to establish a new routine and get your morning started on the right foot.
2. Thou Shalt Move
Most of us are occupying the same 1,000 (ish) square feet all day, every day, so it’s important to find a way to move around.
Like I said, my morning routine used to begin by going to the gym. Since that’s closed until further notice, I’ve had a hard time finding other ways to get myself moving so early. There have been days where I didn’t do anything active and my work suffered because of it. If I don’t find a way to get my blood pumping early in the morning, my day is, sadly, going to be subpar.
Lately, I’ve tried going for an early morning run, but my asthma wouldn’t allow that — the combination of drastically colder air outside coupled with heavy cardio activity pretty much closes off my lungs. But after seeing the effects of not moving first thing in the morning, I’ve been determined to find a new “move” routine.
This past week, instead of going to the gym or running in the cold, I’ve been doing 20–30 minutes of yoga in my living room (thank you, YouTube for the Yoga videos). I’ve also experimented with going for just a 2-mile run at an easy pace, a little later in the morning (7 AM versus 5 AM), when it’s not as cold and won’t shock my lungs as much.
Even this little bit of activity is enough to clear the sleep from my mind and get my body prepared for a productive day.
Whatever it is you decide to do, it’s important to get your blood pumping (shoot for 150+ bpm for at least a few minutes). Your work will thank you.
3. Thou Shalt Learn
Whether it’s an online course, a book (or set of books), YouTube videos, or 1:1 virtual coaching, I believe it’s important to use this time to better our own knowledge and skills. What you decide to learn about is up to you. Whether or not it’s directly connected to your job, again, is up to you.
I’d recommend a combination. Maybe you work in marketing, so you read a few marketing books and you might take an online copywriting course. Why not listen to an audiobook about early childhood brain development? Why not read about astrophysics? As long as it’s interesting to you, I believe it’s worthwhile.
My wife is a preschool teacher (hence why I have materials on early childhood brain development easily on-hand), and she told me that her “quarantine dream” (her words) is to learn the piano. So she’s hoping to borrow one of her dad’s keyboard and teach herself how to play. I, luckily, have noise-canceling headphones.
Or you could teach yourself a unique cooking skill. A friend of ours just taught herself how to make genuine, delicious macarons. It could literally be anything you want to learn.
Set aside time every day to learn something. It doesn’t have to be directly connected to forwarding your career (although, I bet that would be a worthwhile use of your time as well). Find something that interests you and spend some time studying it. It’s that simple. And it will keep your mind even sharper when we do return to the office. Who knows, maybe you’ll become the go-to person for macarons when this is all over?
4. Thou Shalt Plan
I’ve found it’s useful to spend 5 minutes at the end of the day to line up what projects you’ll be working on the next day. I use a simple post-it or a folded up piece of paper. I put the date at the top and list out a handful of projects that I can cross-out of check-off as I complete them. I use a fresh list every day, never recycling the same post it or side of the folded paper.
Using this method can keep your mind on track and make sure that, if nothing else, you complete your most important tasks each day.
5. Thou Shalt Relax
This is traumatic. There’s no going around it. We’re all going through a rollercoaster of news, emotions, and constant changes. And it all happened so suddenly. With all of this happening and constantly evolving, it’s hard not to become anxious and super stressed out.
If nothing else, spend just a few minutes to relax. That could be anything; curling up with a cup of tea on the couch while you read Harry Potter (that’s my move), watching a movie or binging your favorite show with a cup of hot chocolate or cookies and milk, or simply spending 10 minutes in silent meditation.
Whatever makes you feel relaxed and lessens your anxiety is worth spending some time to do.
6. Thou Shalt Breath
Speaking of relaxing and meditating. I find it helpful to spend just two minutes meditating and breathing. Here’s what I do:
First minute. I try to rid myself of the feelings of anxiousness, anger, frustration, tiredness, and laziness. Then I think about positive qualities I’d like to exhibit today: love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness.
Second minute. I try to focus just on my breathing. I try not to think about anything specific, just to embrace the feeling of the air moving in through my nose, filling my lungs, and out as the sensation of air passes my upper lip.
This exercise alone is relaxing like nothing else I’ve done. Some days, I like to spend even more time in this quasi-meditative state. 5 minutes, 10 minutes. The longer I do it, the more peaceful my day becomes.
And if I ever find myself feeling overwhelmed, I take just 5 deep, slow breaths, thinking of nothing more than the sensation of the breath. Try it sometime. It’ll help.
7. Thou Shalt Communicate
Your team has been scattered. Or in modern business terminology, you now work on a “distributed” team. Whatever you call it, since you’re no longer sharing the same space as them, it’s important to stay in constant communication with your team.
These are the people who you’ve been spending 8+ hours with 5 days a week. And now, you don’t see them at all.
Here’s the setup that I whole-heartedly recommend (and use myself):
- Email: email remains our main communication channel. Our normal workflow relies heavily on email and that hasn’t changed due to our going remote. Email is used as our “official” lines of communication within our department, across departments, with vendors, and with clients.
- Texting/messaging through iPhone: we have an ongoing group chat from before our scattering. This remains a place for memes, gifs, funny stories, sharing our personal news, etc. Nothing that is “official” work takes place in this chat. It’s purely for engaging in the social aspect of our team (since we are all friends as well as coworkers).
- Slack/Teams/Skype/etc.: I’ve been managing the relationship and day-to-day projects with our remote development company through Slack for years, so it’s natural for me to continue communicating through there. But our company’s official chat is Microsoft Teams, so that’s where I communicate with our marketing team. In addition to standard chat functionality, both Slack and Teams also have built-in video-conferencing tools; this is useful for team meetings, one-on-ones, and company-wide meetings.
8. Thou Shalt Video
Getting some facetime with your team is vital for engagement. Video-conferencing, whether through Zoom, Slack, Teams, Skype, or FaceTime, is the closest thing you’ll get to actually being with your team while you’re working from home.
Every week, our team has one “meeting” that usually lasts about an hour. This is the time to check in with the boss, give updates on projects, share funny stories about clients, and, most importantly, to chat with our teammates in a somewhat face-to-face setting.
When it comes to team engagement, you can’t beat face-to-face interaction. When in-person isn’t possible, video is the next best thing.
9. Thou Shalt Separate
There’s something about getting in your car and physically driving to an office that you simply can’t replicate at home. When you go to an office, it is physically distanced from your personal life, but when you work from home, you probably never even leave the building.
Set yourself up for success by having a physical space in your house or apartment that’s dedicated to working. That’s your “office.” To make this effective — when you’re in that area, you’re not allowed to do anything but work. And you’re not allowed to do work anywhere else. Got it?
Confession time. I’ve actually found myself breaking this rule pretty regularly. But that’s only acceptable if you follow the 10th commandment.
10. Thou Shalt Shut Down
At the end of the day, it’s important to sign off from your work. When you work from a physical office, it’s easier to separate the two, because you’re physically in a different place for work. But when you work from home, it’s a lot easier to blur the lines between work life and home life. Make sure, at the end of the day, to actually sign off from work.
I find it best to save my work, close out all of my applications, and actually shut down my computer when I’m done for the day. This gives me not only a hard cut-off from work but also a fresh start the next morning since there’s nothing already open on my computer.
Even though we’ve been relegated to our dining tables, couches, and other makeshift home offices, we don’t have to struggle with the shift.
Remember, you’re not alone in this. You’re part of — quite possibly the world’s lamest “club” — the club of those who’ve been hastily thrown into the reality of working from home.
For those of us who’ve worked in an office, sharing the same physical space as our co-workers, this change is weird. But, as humans and as members of the modern workforce, we must learn to adapt to change — this one as well as many others.
The principles I’ve shared with you are those that I’ve discovered through my own time working from home. These principles keep me productive, they keep me connected to my clients and coworkers while allowing us all some space, and, most importantly, they keep me sane.
And I hope they can help you do the same.