How to Work From Home, According to the Experts
If you’re currently working from home and in the throes of swirling, all-consuming, procrastination-inducing anxiety that is prohibiting you from getting things done, let us take this opportunity to say “same.” Even though the office structure you were previously accustomed to may have come saddled with a hearty side of “Is it Friday yet/How is it Monday,” at least it had a structure. We are all creatures of habit. When habits get thrown out of whack, so do we.
I learned this about myself when I first made the move into the world of freelance and its accompanying work-from-home universe. The adjustment period was weird. On my best days, I felt like a feral raccoon left alone in a studio apartment with a keyboard and a refrigerator. The main thing that helped me to adjust was the comforting reminder from fellow freelancers that this adjustment was like any other: temporary. Which meant it was okay to not be “good” at this new way of working. That assurance, along with plenty of other advice, made it all much easier.
With that in mind, I have sourced generous dollops of work-from-home advice for you from six people who really know what the hell they’re talking about: a songwriter, a composer, a screenwriter, a novelist, and two columnists/brand consultants, all of whom are verifiable work-from-home pros.
If you’re not working from home because your job requires you to be out in the world, thank you, thank you, thank you for all that you do.
Jonathan Singletary, Artist and Songwriter
I’ve worked from home for the past four or five years, but my music and consulting work from home was interspersed with visits to a remote office space, rehearsal spaces, and recording studios. So even for me, working from home all day, every day has been an adjustment.
For the first three weeks of quarantine, my fiancé Elaine and I were somewhat obsessed with trying to maintain a “normal routine.” Then I realized that this effort was antithetical to my beliefs about change.
Elaine has a favorite saying, which I believe is an African Proverb: “When the music changes so does the dance.” Things are not normal, so we don’t have to beat ourselves over the head about maintaining normalcy in every way. That doesn’t mean we abandon our staple practices of prayer, meditation, to-do lists, exercise and healthy eating, but it does mean finding new ways to flow with this new world. Spending all day, every day at home means my hours of necessary and absolute solitude either have to be very late or very early. I’ve always preferred late. For me, I’ve reacquainted myself with late-night (12 a.m. – 3 a.m.) solo creative time that I loved when I had a nine-to-five. In addition, I’ve added color and character to my office with artwork and albums covers to make my space more inspiring. And I’ve also added functional elements like shelving and cable organizers to further streamline my workflow.
So in short, my advice is:
1. The music has changed, don’t be afraid to dance to a new rhythm or to experiment to find your new flow.
2. Consider reacquainting yourself with old (productive) modes of operating.
3. Dedicate some time to making your home workspace more conducive to creativity and productivity.
(P.S. you can listen to Jonathan’s new single, “Falling Away,” here.
Matt Buechele, Writer & Composer
If you have coffee in the pot from the day before, don’t reheat it and drink it. It’s probably fine, but like, that’s such a sad way to start your day. Don’t start a new day with yesterday’s coffee. (Print this on a mug so I can become a billionaire.)
If you work in a creative field, here’s another tip: Imagine someone you know who you think is really cool, and picture them sitting in your apartment. Now pitch your idea out loud to them. If you can’t bring yourself to do it (for an imaginary person), it’s because your idea needs work. So keep working on it!
Natasha Kanury, Screenwriter
I’m a screenwriter for television, which means half the time my job is collaborative, working as a team in a writers’ room. I love this half of my job. The other half is the work-from-home part, where I write alone. It’s lonely, and boring, and no one is there to instantly validate my jokes. Not even the funniest ones!!!
I face one obstacle when working from home: procrastination. I don’t do anything, ever, unless someone is there to make me do it. I can procrastinate for years. Working from home got easier when I asked myself why I procrastinate. For me, it’s fear-based: Am I funny? What if this is bad? Why am I spending all this time writing a script that no one will produce? It causes crippling anxiety, and the longer I’m awake and conscious, the more it builds. The only way I’ve found to beat it is to literally beat it: to start writing before I can start thinking. So, I keep my laptop on my bedside table, and every morning I wake up at 8 a.m. and write (yes, in bed, get out your torches and pitchforks!!!) until noon. I don’t check my phone, I don’t open my email, I block most websites, and I just write, before my brain can remember the world outside and judge how I’m faring in comparison to everybody else in it.
After noon, I set myself free from writing. If I have meetings or calls, I schedule them for the afternoons. I’m big on tackling the work you dread the most, first. That way, anxiety doesn’t build throughout the day, and often, the sense of accomplishment from getting the hard stuff done early lingers. On the best days, I write more, because the mornings were fun and inspiring. But if not, whatever!!!! I wrote for four straight hours!!!! I am woman, hear me roar!!!!
Joanna Hershon, Author
About twenty years ago, when I was 25, I visited my new boyfriend in a remote town in Mexico for one month. I had decided not to put too much pressure on myself to get work done while I was there, but I ended up learning something about myself which has served me well for many years. I had a paper calendar (one of those “at a glance” types—I told you it was many years ago!) and, without setting a schedule, at the end of each block of work, I jotted down how much time I honestly wrote. I didn’t make a schedule for myself. I didn’t set any daily goals. At the end of four weeks, I looked at my calendar. Some days said one hour, some days 5 hours, some 2.5 hours, etc. Each day was totally different. What was remarkable to me was that the number of hours was exactly the same at the end of every week. And I’d gotten plenty of work done.
This showed me that I could trust myself to work without being too rigid about my time. As my life has gotten much more complicated and populated by children, I have had to be more generally structured, but I’m still not someone who sets a lot of short term time goals. I suggest that if you’re just starting to work from home, check in with yourself and jot down your work time. Do this—honestly, no cheating—for two weeks. Don’t look at your daily log until then. If you didn’t get much done, that’s okay: Set more rigid structures with yourself. But you might not need to! Also okay in my book—and controversial, I realize—is working from bed. Every now and then, I need a day where I work from my bed. Not every day. But I actually get a lot done lying in bed sometimes and there’s no shame in it.
Sidenote: Joanna Hershon’s newest novel, St. Ivo, is the ideal quarantine read.
Sable Yong, Freelance Columnist, Consultant and Copywriter
Honestly, I don’t have a very regimented WFH style, but as someone who’s been doing it on and off for the past five years, the best thing you can do is to figure out out when your brain is most active and allocate what benefits most from your creative brain at that time. For me, it’s at night, so I reserve any essay writing for that time and save the more cut-and-dry stuff for the day. I tend to think of my workday time chunks as a sandwich: Work, go for a walk, do some other stuff, eat lunch, then work some more.
Another tip: When I used to work from a cafe, I’d leave my charger at home to give myself an automatic time crunch. It forced me to avoid distraction and get work done before that battery hit empty. Now that I’m working from home, I hide my laptop charger somewhere inconvenient and try to trick myself into the same battery-dying deadline.
Zach Weiss, Brand Consultant and Writer
I used to alternate between working from home, and writing from a shared workspace. I’ve never considered myself a lover of “office culture” or water-cooler chat, but I have found myself missing the interactions that happen outside of a planned meeting. Once everyone leaves a webcam conference, you’re left sitting there on your own, so I’ve recently started a group text with some friends and co-workers where we talk about nothing all day. On occasion, we’ll leave a webcam conference running while we go about our own work, and if someone wants to say something they can unmute themselves and chime in.
Amelia Diamond is a writer and creative consultant. Follow her on Instagram here.
Illustrations by Jori Bolton