How to Work From Home Without Going Mad

You ever find it’s the most surprising life events have the most profound repercussions?

It’s never the stuff you plan, the things you work for or meticulously plot in detail.

When I look back, the surprises have done the most to me.

At the top of my ‘Things I Didn’t Expect’ list, would be a daft pedestrian stepping in front of me two years ago, cycling to work.

“Gosh, that was unexpected!”

I remember saying, lying in the middle of the road, after successfully swerving and unsuccessfully missing the kerb.

More surprising was him not stopping to admire his beautiful creation of terror and just wandering off.

And the surprises didn’t stop there. I’ve been sent round London for two years in search of healthcare, with most doctors raising an eyebrow of their own.

I’ve canoodled with crippling nerve pain every evening and had threesomes with her ugly hunchback sister Insomnia.

Honestly, if you’ve had nerve pain you have my respect for life.

I’ve experienced pain daily, had constant battles with idiots and struggled to do the basics of my job. All unexpected events. All weirdly beneficial in helping me write this.

And profound repercussions?

I’ve not sat down properly in two years. 

So here I am writing to you, from the flat of my back, in the back of my flat, in Angel.

Now… I like my flat.

We’ve been through a lot. But let me say this. If you’re stuck somewhere, anywhere, physically unable to leave, for a decent length of time… it gets to you. No matter where it is.

So some of the advice hereafter is going to be about mental clarity.

Because I didn’t realise it going in, but any pursuit of survival through a certain affliction is defined by mental strength. And that’s what this period of my life’s turned into. A battle of mental strength.

I’ll try not to bang on about the hopelessness of it all, but if I do, it’s only to remind you this shit happens. At the most unexpected of times, with the most surprising ineptitude from those you expect more of.

Hopefully some of the lessons I’ve learnt will be useful for you.

Because here we are together, in another unexpected situation with the potential for profound repercussions.

How to Work From Home Without Going Mad

Advice for the morning

When I first started working from home, I’d reach over and grab my laptop before getting in the shower. It wasn’t something I thought of as ‘bad’ initially. And in my job, getting content ready for the day is good to do first thing.

So it made sense.

I’d check LinkedIn and the football gossip for some reason, like a bizarre masochistic tribute and then look over copy edits.

Don’t do this. Honestly mornings WFH are more important.

You’ll find someone else’s thoughts on the world taking over before you’ve had a chance to wipe the sleep away. And your mood will be ruined before the steam hits the mirror.

My best advice for mornings working from home is to wake up and get straight up. At normal time. As if you were going to work, on your normal commute.

Then… get dressed, make your bed and leave your room.

Now, how about a bit of good news?

Your commute’s cancelled.

Look at that.

Before we’ve done anything, you’re starting the day with good news. Oh and look, now you’ve got a spare hour to fill with exercise.

Or some meditation? You don’t need to be a yogi, there’s tech to help you.

Maybe read a book?

Get outside and breathe some fresh air?

Even if it’s just a coffee basking in the sunlight, or chilling, watching the rain. I can’t tell you how much better you’ll feel for doing this step every day. Make it a routine and you’ll genuinely like getting up.

NB. Sometimes your day will need to start earlier. If you do this, it’s not the end of the world. But make sure you finish a little earlier so you feel rewarded, not overloaded.

Get a great morning routine, here.

How to Work From Home Without Going Mad

Advice for planning your day

The best way to really nail your day working from home is by understanding how you work. And that might sound funny initially. Like you’ve not done so before.

But working from home’s different.

You have fewer interruptions. Which means you’ll work more. And on the wrong stuff for longer. Trust me.

The first week you work until 8pm you’ll feel battle hardened.

The second week you’ll start to resent everything.

The third week you’ll be done.

Being regimented is the best way to prevent overworking.

My day plan’s often short. A list of 5 words in descending importance on a Slack note. But it helps me visualise what I need to attack first and think about the effort involved in each.

Work out how your days will be structured and how best to attack them.

Work to sprints and for the love of all things holy remember to look away from your computer.

NB. Tech deserves a mention in this part, because it’s really part of your planning stage. Tech should facilitate your job. Not get in the way or make things harder. Here’s a gigantic list of Tech which can help you WFH right now.

How to Work From Home Without Going Mad

Advice for taking breaks

This section deserves its own place because of its importance. It’s really important to spot stress in yourself, here’s how.

Breaking from work to read an email on your phone, isn’t a break. Neither is taking a work call. Or discussing something slightly off topic with a colleague.

You need to do something completely different.

Ideally not looking at a screen.

A good thing to do in a break is the 20-20-20 trick…

Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away, for 20 seconds.

I guarantee both you and your eyes are stressed right now. Spend all day in one room and that gets worse.

Try and mentally describe a tree branch, or picture an old building under construction. Your mind will wander and you’ll find yourself more capable going back to ‘work mode’.

Here’s an article on how to unwind.

How to Work From Home Without Going Mad

Advice for exercising (your body and mind)

Time for a bit of lamenting…

Before my accident I was in pretty good shape. I was working out regularly and had just come back from 6 weeks in Newzie with a tan, which if you know me, is something to be celebrated.

Since April 17th 2018 I’ve not done anything physical. 

I don’t know how I’m not obese.

But knowing I can’t work out means I’ve limited my calorie intake. And that sounds obvious, but you’ll quickly get sluggish and down on yourself if you eat too much of the wrong thing.

When you’re out and about in the world, that’s a bad trait.

When you’re enforced into working from home, it’ll kill you.

If you can exercise, do.

Do press ups before getting in the shower? Do a quick online HIIT routine in the garden? Go for a run? Think differently about how you use your rooms and you can have a bit of fun with it.

Not only will you be in better health but your mind will work faster too.

Here’s an article about great diets, and here’s one about shifting a bad mood.

How to Work From Home Without Going Mad

Advice for talking

Big one this. Probably the biggest.

And it’s not just for the benefit of your bonce either.

From a cohesion perspective, there’s absolutely no better way to connect than a call with your team. Align on principles and effort for the day, just in the same way you would normally. Oh, and remember to have a chuckle too. 

Then it’s about trust. You absolutely have to trust one another to get stuff done. And if your team’s a goodun, they will. Just like you’ll go above and beyond to help them.

During times like this, everyone needs to help each other. Muck in and you’ll win together too, even if you can’t high five anymore.

A word on mental clarity

I’m fairly convinced one of the hardest parts of afflictions like depression, is the surprising difficulty in spotting it in yourself. You’re often so stuck in the moment you don’t realise things aren’t that great.

This isn’t one of those situations for me. I find it easy to talk about my situation because there’s a reason for it. I can’t imagine how hard it is to have something going on and no real reason to nail down.

But right now, for most of us at least, there is a reason.

So talk about it.

I’ve written this before, but just admitting things “aren’t that great” is really powerful.

Even when there’s no obvious remedy.

I firmly believe if you can accept things aren’t sunshine and lollipops to someone else, you’ll feel far more pragmatic in working out how to solve it.

I’m a big lover of pragmatism. It’s possibly one of my downfalls, but it’s served me so well taking emotion out of situations it’s become a go-to in problem solving.

So yes, the physical world’s going to be shit for a while.

See what you can do in the digital world? Talk longer term with your clients. Look at history of pandemics and the areas that kick back strongest, first.

Your brain’s constantly occupied by something. Letting it worry’s an exercise in futility and will stop any notion of productivity when you’re working from home.

An article on struggling.

How to Work From Home Without Going Mad

Advice for the soundtrack to your life

A big one for me this.

For me, the biggest annoyance of an office is shit music. I’m a self-confessed music snob and have little time for a soundtrack that’s not perfect. So actually, the fact I can listen to whatever I want, as loud as I want, all the time, is a nice bonus to isolation.

Sometimes that’s silence though.

Having great headphones used to be something strictly for Tech Heds.

Now, I’d argue they’re much more just a vanity purchase. If you’re able to invest in some snazzy noice cancelling ones then even using them for silence is a neat trick. Especially if you’re sharing your WFH space with others.

Try to perfect the soundtrack to your life as you work from home and I guarantee it’ll make it all the easier.

Music without lyrics is often better for writing. But go and explore genres and see what happens. For the first time in a long time, you don’t have to worry about what others think.

How to Work From Home Without Going Mad

Advice for social media

There’s an argument for stepping things up digitally in the coming months.

Last week I highlighted the opportunity that arises with pandemics. And that’s not to sound crass. Because I know there’s suffering in the world right now. But it’s an inescapable truth. And not admitting it helps no one.

There will be opportunity available.

Most of the time, it’s the quickest and most agile into new markets that win.

If I was a recruiter or a recruitment agency right now, I’d be all about the digital world. Spending time and resources to push a digital brand, to be in the driving seat when this finishes.

Because of that however, you’ll notice social media becoming a bore. The noise will become deafening and about similar topics.

I’ve honestly become sick of it over the last two years. And even for someone whose job relies on it, it’s crucial you shut it down.

Leave it, it’s not worth it.

Put it away and realise it won’t make you happy.

But it can serve a purpose.

You should use social media as a tool. Not let it make a tool out of you.

Connect, chat to people more, help someone you don’t know. Use it for the best parts of life. The moment you feel it affecting your wellbeing, cancel the app and do something else.

And remember, your world view is your responsibility. Don’t limit to the opinions of idiots.

How to Work From Home Without Going Mad

Advice for getting help

Over the past two years my mates have been brilliant. I’m very fortunate to have such a group of legends around me.

And that includes my colleagues who’ve been quick to ask how I’m doing, and quick to move on when I can’t talk about it any more.

But the very best way to get help, is to offer it first.

Why not try and help one connection on LinkedIn every day? You never know when that might be you.

Pay it forward.

Make sure your colleagues feel heard and supported, and they’ll support you more readily. Go above and beyond. Share tips and what’s working for you and lessons you might think are obvious.

You also need to make sure when the time comes you ask for help.

But how much easier are you going to find that when you’ve done the above?

There’s no easy way of getting through troubling times. But there’s always an end.

Focus on that. Visualise it and how you’re going to get there.

One things for sure, we’re all better off fighting together.

Stay safe and keep smiling.