Let Me Help: Working From Home Survival
Updated: Apr 8
This is the transcribed text of a recorded podcast published on April 4th, 2020.
Pockets of Joy … a Jasmine Tree
[opening] Hey, this is just a note from the road. I'm literally doing my daily exercises because quarantine sucks, but the body still needs to move, you know what I’m saying? Anyway, I walk along this lonely stretch of long road that a private road that leads to the condo complex we’re in right now. So I'm getting exercise. I just walked under a Jasmine tree. It smelled amazing. Little pockets of joy, man. Find it. They’re there. Talk to you soon. [intro]
The Phone Call
[0:45] I just had an interesting phone call. The whole world, we're in this thing together, this whole Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic thing where we're all forced to kind of self-isolate. For some of us, it's the first time that's ever happened, and I just a few minutes ago got off the phone. I was calling technical support from my domain provider and they were having trouble making a purchase. Their systems were having problems and that's okay, and he was helping me make the purchase and complete the purchase of a domain. And all of a sudden at the end, the guy, his name was Bobby, he says to me, "Hey, you've been working from home for a while now.” I said, “Yeah, you working from home, Bobby?” He says, “Yeah, fortunately they got us home. We've been working from home for two weeks now. They made us all remote. It's really hard. How do you do it?”
The reality of this kind of came crashing down on me. It's something that I kind of take for granted. I have had this conversation three times in the last week. I had it with my domain provider, I had it with a service that I purchased online digital ads for one of my customers, I had a conversation with one of their agents, and I had the conversation with an Apple customer support person. That’s just in this last week. I've had this conversation three times where here they are, they are working from home for the first time, and it's starting to get hard. And I had to think back, see I've been doing independent consulting for five years, almost exactly a little over five years now. I've been through this. That first year actually was really hard. You are learning how you don't have an office. You're consulting with people all over the world and you're having conference calls, and you’re having phone calls and exchanging emails, but the world changes for you, right? You just don't have that social interaction anymore. The first thing I want all of you out there to know is that you're not alone, but you are alone, but you're not alone.
[3:12] Think about it this way: we humans are very social creatures, right? We are meant to interact and communicate in person. Communicating to an abstract voice on a phone or in a video conference is actually mentally exhausting because when you're in front of somebody, I don't know if you've experienced this, but for most of us, the act of talking with somebody in person can be energizing. You have a great conversation; you get jazzed by it. One of the things that makes it easy to have a conversation in person, for most of us, is that we have visual cues. We see body language; we see expressions better; we have that natural interplay; we are more forgiving of verbal mistakes when we stutter or say something wrong. Because when you're engaged face-to-face, all the other little types of communication pitch in and help you have understanding. It's less confusing. Those things aren't there when no matter how advanced our technology is, no matter how much we think that we are remote technological beings plugged into the matrix and all interacting together in the hive mind. No matter how much we like to think that, it's just not true. We're made to meet face-to-face, but we're not going to be able to do that as much now. We’ll certainly not do it much at all right now. And in the future, I think we'd be doing it a lot less. I think there’s going to be a lot more remote working and non-office working going forward. I have a whole podcast lined up about my forecast for what business is going to be changed based upon this experience.
Working from Home — Let Me Help
[4:48] But right now, I want to help you. This could be you. This could be you, struggling out there trying to make it work, working from home. So how did I get through it? I didn't have a coach or anybody to help me. I had to kind of figure it on my own, and it wasn't easy and still not at times, but let me help you. Let me be your little working from home coach to help you get through this. It's kind of my Working from Home Survival Guide, and I think it's appropriate right now.
[5:22] The first thing is to understand something. Before, work was work and home was home. This is a huge jump. For lots of people, even how you talk to people, and how you behave, and how you carry yourself is different at work than it is at home. You turn off work when you go home. You have the ability to do that. Home is a habit, work is a habit, and home is a habit. You get in a habit of what you're like when you're at home, and that can be different from who you are and what you're like when you're at work. For most of us, this is true. There's a few of us for who we are more consistent in those things, but for most of us, there's a difference there. This is why the ground has shifted under a lot of people's feet because it's different now. Home and work are the same place, and so you don't have an on and off switch. It makes things different. This whole habit of how you behave has been disrupted. So the first thing is embrace that. The first thing is to know that those feelings that you're having are valid and they're real, and they're confusing, and you're learning how to do things again, and it feels awkward, and that is totally okay. It's totally okay. It may feel a little crazy or a little bit claustrophobic at times. That's how it feels for everybody. It's natural to feel that way. That’s step number one.
Watch Your Diet & Eating Habits
[7:02] Next thing is when you’re at home, that fridge is right there. Eating and drinking. You'll be surprised how you feel hungry at different times and you get in snacky moods and you might drink a little more alcohol than you used to drink, or you might be eating and drinking at odd hours. That's going to mess with your head a little bit. The first thing I'm saying is keep your food consumption at a regular schedule just like it was at work. Eat breakfast at the same time; eat lunch at the same time; eat dinner at the same time. Have your end of the day cocktail at the same time. Don't change that.
Distractions When Working From Home
[7:50] The next thing is distractions. It's crazy. Your spouse, your significant other, the person you’re living with, your family, your kids, your pets. All the stuff is now surrounding you all the time, and they're going to be, at times, disruptive to your workflow. And at times, just the whole environment of the house of distracting. The first thing is to embrace the fact that your family, your kids, and your pets… just like you're used to behaving a certain way when you're at work, and that's different from when you're at home, all of your family and your pets are used to dealing with you a certain way when you're home, and they never see you at work, at least for most people unless you work with your spouse. And that happens sometimes, but most of the time, they just never see you at work. They don't know who you are at the office. Be forgiving. Be understanding of them that they don't know that they can't just walk in and ask you to come and help them fold towels, or they can't just come in and say, "Hey you know, as long as you’re home…” You get that honey do list you didn't get done. They don't understand because you at home means something to them. They have a definition in their brain of what it means when you are at home and that's been disrupted. They have to learn how to deal with you when you're working, and you just need to be compassionate with that, and be understanding with that. Let them know, talk to them about it because it's different.
Working From Home Affects Your Time & Calendar Perceptions
[9:22] Don't be surprised if you start to get disrupted in your concept of time and day of the week. You will find yourself sometimes because you don't have those markers. You don't have Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday - work. Saturday, Sunday - home. These are important things, the habits of our lives that actually inform us and help us keep track. It's like the heartbeats, the back beat rhythm of the drummer of our lives to help us keep on pace, and to help us know where we are. That's disrupted. You were at home on Friday. You were sitting in the same chair looking at the same computer screen on Saturday morning. The day of the week starts to lose definition and meaning. Likewise, it can do the same thing for the hour of the day, especially if you're serving customers all over the world like I am. I’ve had conference calls from 3 AM my time until 10 PM my time, and the customers never know where I'm at. And so because of that, when you can be working at any time, it makes the evenings and days lose their definitions. The demarcation line between them starts to slip.
Learning to Deal With the Psychological and Emotional Challenges of Working From Home
[10:46] So how do I deal with all those things? How did I do it in the first year? It was quite a struggle. I got to be honest with you, it was very hard. I put up a brave face and didn't talk a lot about it, but I was struggling for that entire first year to get in some kind of a way where my life made sense again from this perspective. I knew my job. I knew how to craft messages. I knew how to do Economics calculations, I knew how to take and do due diligence projects…all the stuff that I get paid for. I knew how to write sophisticated blog posts. All those tasks, those skills were still in me. It's all the stuff I use to organize my life and think about myself and define my world - that's the stuff that got shaky.
Using the Pomodoro Technique
So, how do you deal with it? Well, the first thing, and this is the advice I've been giving everybody this week. The first thing is there's a technique that somebody else came up with and I wish remembered his name. I don't, but you can look it up on the internet, because that's what you can do. It's called the Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro is an Italian word that basically just means ‘tomato’. And the reason it’s called the Pomodoro Technique is because the guys had an egg timer, used one of those twisty egg-timers. But it wasn't shaped like an egg, it was shaped like a tomato. It was a tomato-shaped timer that went tick ‘tick tick tick ding’ at some point, and he would twist it and he would set it for an interval. He would just try to stay focused and doing his job until it went ding.
And for me, I just set the timers that I used. I use them on my phone now, but back then I literally put an egg timer on my desk and it went up to an hour. So I would set it for an hour, and I would do my best just to work for the hour - focused work as best of my ability. It was hard at times. You have distractions all around you, but I would focus for an hour. And then when it would go DING, I'd get up, walk around, have some water, make myself a new cup of coffee, stretch, literally shrug my shoulders, stretch out a little bit, just take about five minutes - five, seven minutes - and then get back to work and set the timer again. It gave structure to my day. It put structure in an environment that was suffering greatly, for lack of structure. Pomodoro Technique. Literally, use the timer on your phone.
Sound Body, Sound Mind, Healthier Attitude
[13:11] The next thing is exercise. I'm not a huge health freak and I don't intend to be. I want to stay happy and healthy and I want to be able to eat all the food I like to eat, so I try to exercise. But I got to tell you, when you're in an environment where you're sitting all the time and you're at home and you're a little bit sad, the world's kind of depressing and sad right now for lots of reasons, and you're kind of disrupted and that's a depressing and sad thing, and so believe it or not, one of the best things you can do is you do the same thing. You just say, “Okay, I'm setting my little Pomodoro timer for hour intervals. Every day, one of those is exercise.” If you’ve got exercise equipment at the house, that's great. Since we can't interact or go to the gym, if you're just walking laps around your house or walking laps around your apartment building. That's what I'm doing. That's literally what I'm doing. There’s this road that wraps around our condo building here in Puerto Rico, and it wraps around it, and I walk it. I took and I used Google Earth to calculate the distance in laps and I'm walking four miles every day. It takes me an hour. I'm doing it. You will be amazed because it resets your clock. It gets your blood flowing. It clears your head. It helps you sleep better. And when time’s disrupted, as it is right now for all of us, when time starts to become a blur, you need to get your sleep. It's critical, and it doesn't hurt that good sleep and good exercise beefs up your immune system, makes you happy and healthier overall.
It sounds like I'm just preaching like 17 bazillion other Instagram hustlers out there, “Oh, I'm going to teach you how to be a big buff guy in 60 days.” That's not what I'm talking about. No, I don't want you to be a big buff guy in 60 days. I want you to be happy and healthy, so just do a little exercise. And even if you're just doing what they call body weight squats and push-ups and stuff like that, something. Carve out time. If you can't do an hour, carve out half an hour. If you can't do a half an hour, carve out 20 minutes. If you can’t do 20 minutes, carve out 15 minutes, but be physical every single day. Set a timer, time yourself, and do it.
Dress for Success (Even When Working From Home)
[15:39] Next thing is when you get up – you’re at home and there's been other people in content about this. They talk about how we are used to dressing for work. We're used to being kind of lazy and sloppy at home on the weekends. Right now, you can't afford to be lazy and sloppy. Let me say it to you. You get up, put on a clean shirt, put on some pants even though the world does not require you to wear pants when you're in video conferencing these days. Put on a clean shirt, put on a clean pair of pants, shave, and then get to work. You're going to be surprised how that makes you think about yourself. You're not doing it for somebody else. If you’re just sitting there at home, if your company’s moved you home because you do technical support, or sales consultation calls, and you're sitting at home all day, nobody sees you, so it's very tempting to skip a shower. It's very tempting not to shave if you're a guy. It's very tempting to just sit there in your underpants and that same shirt you were wearing yesterday and look the same. Don't do it. You need that sense that you're going to work. You need that sense that things are okay. You need that sense that you feel good enough about yourself, and you have self-respect, that you cleaned up a little bit. Trust me, you need it. It's a little psychological cue. You just need it.
Keep Work Tech OUT of the Bedroom & Sleep!
[17:15] Next thing. We talked about sleep before. Exercise will help you sleep more, but it's really tempting. I have all the technology in the world. In this house, I got 2 iPhones, 2 iPads, 2 Macbook Pro computers, TVs hooked up to Apple TVs, everything’s interrelated. I can do work from anywhere. When my phone rings, I can accept that call on the TV, on my computer, on my tablet, or on my phone. I am wired. I got this way, but I have an iPad that's just for non-work stuff and that's what I carry around when I'm not working. Keep the technology out of your bedroom; keep your work tech out of the bedroom. You don't have the work environment in a home environment right now. Your home is both work and home and that's disruptive. Make your bedroom the sanctuary. Don't take your computer into the bedroom at all, no matter what, ever. You want to kind of recline while you're working on your computer? Do it on the sofa. You need to have the mental demarcation to relax and to unplug when you’re in your bedroom. You just simply need it. You don't think you do, but I'm right. And if you're arguing with me, you're wrong. You need this. You’re human. We all need this stuff.
Admit It — You’re a Little Sad, So Don’t Make Yourself Sad
[18:47] One more thing. Don't listen to sad music. Don't watch horror movies. Don't watch depressing crime shows. Not right now. This is a tough one for me. I love the blues music. I play it on my bass all the time, I sing the songs, I know the songs. I have a Blues collection that would astound most of you because I love the genre. But when you're going through something tough, you need to keep your mind pointed in a positive direction as much as possible. The day will come back - if you're into scary movies, the day will come back for you to watch them. If you like watching crime dramas involving serial killers - some people dig that stuff – that’s fine. Those will still be there. You can still stream them on Netflix after you've adapted to your new environment.
Right now, every single one of us is battling a little bit of a mental health issue. The world has changed; our job has changed; we're not around our friends at work; we don't know what we're doing. The world is isolating us and we're feeling alone and sad. You need nothing but positive, upbeat exposure all around you. That's what you need. You may not think you need that. You may think I'm just being some sort of a nag about this, but that's just not true. Embrace your humanity in a positive environment.
We All Feel It, You Can Do It
This is it. The rest of it you have to muscle through. You've got to be able to get up and do your work. But if you follow these little tricks, this is what helped me when I was first getting home. It’s second nature to me now. That’s the thing. If this goes on for a long period of time, you'll start to adapt. You'll learn. You'll feel better about things, and you can start relaxing the rules a little bit. We call them rules. You can start relaxing them, and you can start listening to the other music, and you can start changing your workout routine, and you can take a day off and not shower. But right now, you need that structure because I did. I’m an experienced communications economics and technology professional with decades in the game, and when I had to make that transition to working by myself alone in my home office all day, every day, I needed these things because I'm a human just like you and these things are in your head. They’re in your psychology because you're human.
But now, I'm more comfortable with it. I know how to do it. My wife, Ellen, is completely adapted to it. When I need some time to focus into a project, or like this I’m recording a podcast, she knows what I'm doing. She understands it. She's been a part of it with me. She's ridden this rollercoaster ride with me the last five years. Now it's good.
[22:09] When this is over, what you have to understand is that after this particular crisis has passed, there's going to be a shift. More of us will be working from home full-time. More of us will be moving away from cities. Wait for that content, guys. Keep your eyes peeled. I got some really interesting ideas in the long-term economic and socio-economic impacts of this. A lot of us aren't going to go back to the office. And even if we do, those businesses are going to be looking at this thinking, “okay, how do we lessen the impact on our businesses if this happens again?” One of them is to permanently move people to remote offices and to permanently move them to home workers, who will be more okay with it because they were forced to embrace it. So if this is the case, all of us are going to need to take and deal with this and figure out as a community how to make it work. These are my tricks to make it work, especially for that first year.
I hope that's been helpful. That was the total intent of this podcast. I had no intention of recording this particular topic today, but again, I just had that phone call with somebody and they needed it and at the end, he just thanked me. He was really grateful that I just spent a few minutes talking to him about it. I went, “maybe somebody else needs to hear it, too.” So that's it for now. Lots more to talk about. I hope you stick around and enjoy the ride. Thanks for it. Bye for now.