A hermit’s guide to working from home

A nerdy keyboard.Written on a mechanical CODE keyboard with Cherry MX Clear switches and Signature Plastics' Grantite keycap set.

Today, many Alaskans are likely settling into the work-from-home life as we’re being called to do the responsible thing and social distance to limit the likelihood of spreading coronavirus. As a typo-prone blogger, I’m not particularly well-suited for extensive pandemic coverage, but I am an expert on hanging out at my house all the time.

I’ve been working from home since Memorial Day 2017 when I started working at The Midnight Sun and here’s my suggestions for making the work-from-home life a little more bearable. Have any questions or suggestions? Find me where you always can: matt@midnightsunak.com or over on Twitter.

If you have the ability to work from home, remember that not everyone has that privilege. Consider tipping your delivery drivers generously during these tough times, and as always, be nice to service workers.

Set up a designated workspace

Sure, it might be fun to plop down on the couch with your laptop and something on the TV but it’s not all that conducive to long-term productivity (and it looks like we might be in this for the long-term). Personally, I’ve always found it important to have a designated space for work as it not only helps separate work from home but also sends the message to others sharing your space that you are working. (Note: this does not apply to animals in the home, who do not understand this concept.)

Since I do this professionally, I’ve set up a home office in a spare bedroom complete with an office chair, height-adjustable desk and several tech docks. Obviously, not everyone is going to have that luxury, but if you don’t have a room to dedicate to work I would suggest carving out a spot at the kitchen table, a desk or some other space.

And remember, neck and back pain don’t take a break just because you’re at home. It’s worthwhile to invest in some proper ergonomics. In real basic terms that means you should have your screen at eye level, feet on the floor, and keyboard at a level where your elbows can rest at about a 90-degree angle.

If you have a laptop, think about getting a keyboard and mouse so you can set up your laptop on a pile of books or something to at least approximate a comfortable work environment. If it’s looking like the really long-term then an external monitor isn’t a bad idea.

Pace yourself

When you work from home, there’s always plenty of things to distract your attention: Laundry, dishes, dogs, housemates, Netflix. Balancing work life and home life when they’re just a step away from each other takes some practice.

I’ve found things like the Pomodoro Technique—work for a set period of time and then give yourself a few minutes of free time to mess around—to be particularly helpful.

Take care of yourself

Your schedule is probably in disarray but don’t let it completely sideline your life. Remember to eat, brush your teeth, put on deodorant and get some exercise from time to time. A good rule of thumb: Shower at least once a week, whether you need it or not (though this is coming from an Anchorage resident who’s already forgotten his time living in a yurt in the Goldstream Valley so I’ll cut folks without running water some slack).

Be a good housemate

Chances are you’re probably stuck in your house with others. Remember to pick up, do the dishes (even if they aren’t all yours), respect your housemate’s work time and, speaking from personal experience, definitely remember to shower.

Take advantage of the newfound freedom

One of the biggest eye openers about working from home—and one of the most difficult things to adapt to—is the fact that most of our jobs don’t really take 8 hours a day to do. Much of a day at the office is filled with non-work activities—spending a half-hour debating a news story or the flavor of chips with half the newsroom, for example—and without those your day can start to look empty.

I spent most of the first year feeling guilty about not working a full eight hours every day. Giving myself permission to take a break—see the above tip—helped me be more productive when working and more productive with the rest of my time.

This obviously depends on your interests, but I’ve always found it rewarding to cook, bake bread or take the dogs out for some frisbee time. Take this time for some introspection and self-improvement.

Also, a YouTube Premium account, ad-free YouTube plus Google’s music service, is never a bad bet. There’s a whole world of dumb, neat junk out there like Bon Appetit and Defunctland and tons of channels where people make stuff and learn things like Adam Savage’s Tested, Simone Giertz, and Mark Rober.

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