Make It Work: How To Work From Home Without Losing Your Shit

The elusive dream of all office employees is being able to work from home. “What a privilege and a pleasure it will be!” you tell yourself, envisioning freshly sharpened pencils, crisp legal pads and steaming mugs of coffee, like a stock photo of productivity. “I will get so much done from my home office!” Reality quickly sets in. You don’t have a “home office,” per se, but a desk that you got from a roommate who moved out, or a corner of your kitchen table that isn’t covered in mail, or your couch, your coffee table and a really soft pillow. Soon, you find yourself doing work in dead silence, trapped in a prison of your own making. The world is crumbling outside, or maybe it isn’t, but you wouldn’t know because you haven’t left your house in three days. Even the most introverted among us need to see people sometimes. If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to work from home more often, here are some surefire ways to make your new home office life a little easier.

1. Get dressed sometimes.

If you used to work in an office, and now have come into a job where you work from home, the temptation to roll out of bed and waddle directly to your workspace is very high. Yes, it’s luxurious and indulgent to wake up five minutes before you’re supposed to be at your computer. Yes, you will feel strangely victorious for the first week, gaining that extra half hour of sleep you’d normally spend putting on clothes and making coffee, but the allure will soon wear off. The benefit of a commute is that it allows you to ease into the workday, and creates some sort of work-life separation. That 30 minutes you spend on the train reading or playing Candy Crush, or in your car singing aloud to the radio, softens you up for the impending email-meeting-desk-salad onslaught. If you’re working from home, I strongly suggest you wake up, make coffee, take a shower and get dressed at least three times out of the week. It’ll make you feel a little more normal. Even if your office is your dining room table, it’ll still feel nice to sit at that dining room table dressed and caffeinated, not in the same sweatpants and high school debate club sweatshirt that you wear while marathoning episodes of “Gilmore Girls.”

2. Take lots of breaks, but not too many.

Working in an office sucks because sometimes, it’s really hard to actually get any work done. You sit down at your desk, check some email, do some work and then you have a meeting. You do some more work, you get a Diet Coke, and then it’s lunch time. Maybe your mom calls, and since she never calls you feel like you have to answer and suddenly you’re spending 30 minutes helping her set up her iPad, instead of making that complicated Excel spreadsheet. You want to be productive at the office, but there are so many distractions, so working from home at first seems like a dream. Here you are, in your house, all alone! You have so much free time that you can fill being “productive” and “industrious,” just like you wish you could at the office. It’s great to sit down and bang through a lot of work in one go, but take some breaks so that your brain doesn’t start bleeding out through your ears. Get off the couch and do a sun salutation or something. Walk around your apartment, or craft a standing desk at your kitchen table using those boxes you meant to recycle but haven’t gotten around to yet. Even though those little breaks that happen at work feel like annoyances, treasure them for what they are — a break. Give yourself the same kind of structure when working from home, and you’ll feel less drained during the day.

3. Leave your house for lunch, and speak to an actual human being at least once. 

The wonderful thing about working in an office is that there is forced human contact. Even if you despise most of your coworkers, you have to admit that it’s still nice to speak out loud to a human being every now and then. This is the ultimate sacrifice in working from home. You get freedom, peace and quiet in exchange for the very necessary act of speaking to a human being out loud for like, 10 minutes at a time. I hate people, you might be thinking. I never want to talk to anyone, because everyone is awful. Sure, I’ll give you that. Everyone generally is kind of awful, but when you’ve been sitting at your desk for three days working and not speaking out loud, you’ll find yourself talking to inanimate objects and your pets more than is necessary. Make it a habit to get out of the house and go run an errand when you’d be getting lunch. Speak out loud to a human, even if it’s just the dude in a beanie making you coffee. It’s nice to hear other people’s voices and will make you feel less crazy.

4. Stop working at the same time you would if you were in an office. 

This is easy. If you would typically leave the office at 6:30, that’s when you should stop working at home. So, close the computer, get up from your desk, leave your house, do whatever. Just stop working. Pretend like you’re getting on the train. Do whatever it is you need to signal to your brain that the workday is over and stick to it. A work-life balance is really, really important, and it’s hard to maintain one when you can see your pile of work papers from your kitchen. Put that shit away. Close up shop when you’re off the clock, and you will feel less like you live at your job and more like you live at home.