I’ve been regularly working from home for a decade. And for the past five years, I’ve spent the majority of my time getting work done from my home.
I started this blog from home. I wrote six books from home. I wrote 90% of my articles from home. You get the idea. As an experienced home-worker, I’ve seen a lot of bullshit advice.
Right now, people are working from home more than ever because of the coronavirus. So if you were raising your eyebrows reading those types of articles, I’m with you. Here’s a list of bad advice that I’ve read on the internet:
- Have a separate home office—Almost everyone recommends this. But do these people live in mansions? Most of us don’t have a spare room we can turn into an office. Sure, it would be perfect to have a comfortable home office. But we need to work with what we have, not what we want.
- Find a buddy—As if you can’t do work on your own. We’re no longer in high school. We can do things on our own.
- Use the right tools—People overcomplicate this. You just need a laptop and an internet connection. You don’t need new tools to work from home.
- Dress the part—I read somewhere that you should wear the same clothes you usually wear at work. Look, maybe it works for some people. But c’mon, really? Wear whatever you want.
- Make to-do lists—Those things only clutter your mind.
- Set “work hours”—This only works if you’re in customer service. But other than that, it’s nonsense. You work from home so you don’t have work hours. You can work whenever you want. In fact, the people who work for me also don’t have work hours. Just get things done. I don’t care when you do it.
There’s a lot more useless advice for working from home. Most of these content writers are asked to come up with tips and they just make something up. Or they just copy what other sites recommend. In my experience, there are only a few universal tips that will make it easier for you to work from home. Here they are:
1. Adopt a “work first” mindset
This is the most important thing I’ve done for my career. About five years ago, I was tired of the ups and downs of my career. One day I was productive, the other day I was not.
I tried all those useless tips and tactics. Nothing worked for me. But through reading biographies from people I looked up to, I learned that every single one of those folks had what I call a “work first” mindset.
One of my favorite books is Daily Rituals by Mason Curry. In that book, you can read about the rituals of 161 inspirational artists, leaders, writers, scientists, and other creators.
I noticed that all of these people designed their days around their work. That doesn’t mean other things are not important. It means you’re committed to getting your work done no matter what.
We all know this is true. Think about that important deadline you had to make no matter what. Think about the time you had to step in when your co-worker was sick. When the stakes are high, we always get things done. Did it matter what outfit you wore? Did it matter where you worked?
Of course not! What matters is that you had a “work first” mindset during those times. You can wear whatever you want, you can work from the couch, you can work at 2 AM or 6 PM, on the toilet, using any type of app you like.
Practically speaking, a “work first” mindset means that you plan your day around your work. Your work literally comes first. And that looks different for every single person. For me, it’s simple. I wake up without an alarm, have some coffee, and start writing. Only after I’ve done my writing, I move on to the practical things of life.
Some people use their kids as an excuse. Everyone has their own reasons they can’t work first. That’s fine. You don’t have to explain your busy life to another person. I still get those types of emails from people.
“But you don’t understand! I have all these things I have to do!” We all have those things, so what? People who think their life is harder than other people don’t get it. Life is hard for everyone. Complaining makes it only harder.
2. Don’t overdo it
This is a sensitive topic if you have a boss. Some backward thinking bosses and companies think that you must work 8 hours a day because that’s what your contract says.
And some entrepreneurs even think they need to work twice as hard. Where does this all come from? Have you ever kept an activity log? How many hours are you truly productive on an average day?
For me, it stops around 4-5 hours. After that, I start making mistakes and think foggy. The quality of my work will deteriorate if I work too much on a day. Since every person is different, you need to figure out what that number is for you.
Then, don’t overdo it. I’m not saying everyone should work 4 hours a day. Maybe you have 7 hours of productive work in you per day. In that case, use those hours! But if your battery runs out after 5 hours, call it a day. Life is long. There are also other things that need our attention. This quote by Leo Tolstoy, the author of War and Peace, says it all:
“In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.”
3. Experiment with productivity strategies
What matters is that you create your own system for working from home. What works for other people might not work for you.
More importantly, what worked for you a year ago might not work for you today. Our lives constantly change. We need to adapt our habits and routines to what our life looks like today.
For example, right now there’s a lot of uncertainty and anxiety in the world because of the coronavirus. Does it help to put your head down and ignore the news? No.
A healthy dose of news consumption is actually useful in case of a pandemic. You see? We can’t use the same strategies year in year out. We need to adapt all the time.
What I’ve learned is that reading the news a few times a day actually puts me more at ease. I know what’s going on. I know what measures other people and companies are taking. But I don’t watch the news all day. And I certainly don’t watch sensational news.
My primary news source is the WSJ for economic and global news. For local news, I follow NOS, the local Dutch news organization, which is ad-free because the taxpayer supports it. I also like Tim Ferriss’s thoughts on the coronavirus. But that’s about it.
Ultimately, we must find a balance between focusing on what we control (ourselves) and what we don’t (everything else). That’s not an easy process. But look at it as a challenge.
Find a way to be productive from home, and be mindful of your surroundings. And while you’re at home, don’t forget to enjoy it too. You’re in control. You decide what to do next. Doesn’t that feel good?