Episode Transcript

9 Tips for Working From Home

EPISODE 35

[INTRODUCTION]

[00:00:08] BS: Well, hello. I’m Britt Skrabanek and you’re listening to Love Your Enthusiasm, a show where creators, teachers and explorers share techniques and inspiration to help you stay focused on your passion.

It’s time for another solo where I explore topics that impact your enthusiasm positively, negatively or all of the above. Thus far, I have covered taking alcohol breaks, lowering your cost of living and what to take with you from 2020. This work from home tips topic was the winner in a social media poll I ran when I asked you all what you wanted me to cover on the next solo show. Thanks all of you who voted on social, always helpful for me to hear your feedback.

Today we’re exploring tips for working from home, which is an extremely relevant topic for much of the world and many of you. My plan is to take a different approach from the plethora of work from home tips content already in existence by not encouraging you to try to force the outdated office routine into your home. Because let’s face it, that is impossible and unnecessarily restrictive and stressful. In addition to helping you with productivity improvements, my goal is to help you bring more genuine balance into your work from home lifestyle.

We have a lot to cover today, potentially way too much because I get really passionate about work-life balance, so let’s hop to it.

[EPISODE]

[00:01:48] BS: The other evening, I was on a dinner date with my husband. We actually left the house and did something woo. I roll up into the bathroom and realized my freaking sweater is on inside out. Rarely looking in the mirror is just one of many occupational hazards I have endured while working from home. Chocolate on my face, green smoothie in my teeth, cat vomit on my sock, oatmeal in my hair. You name it, I’ve done it. Inside out and backwards clothing of course as well. I wish I was making this up, but it happens all the time and it takes me hours to notice.

Some of you have your own businesses and you’ve been working from home for years like I have. Others have been working remotely for your job for about a year because of COVID. Whether you are a work-from-home pro or a newbie, I know you feel me on the absurdities, realities and surprises we face by working exclusively in a home environment. I do want to talk for a moment about my work from home experience so you know that this is definitely not new or caused by COVID. Also, so you know that I have been working from home by design. This is something I always wanted to do.

I’ve technically been working from home since 2009 when I first wrote Beneath the Satin Gloves, which is my first novel. Then I started my blog in 2012. So in 2009 and 2012, I had other jobs, but working on my novel and working on my blog, all happened in my spare time when I was at home. That was when I learned so much about discipline, and about focusing especially when nobody is there to make you do things. I mean, this was all by choice and it happened on the weekend, mornings, nights, whenever I could fit in some time to work on my novels or to work on my blog. I mean, I would actually spend my Sundays often busting out 10,000 words just so I could keep moving forward with my novel.

That was when I learned back during that time how to work from home and that was not really a thing at all back then. Then later, I ended up having some marketing jobs in 2014 to 2016 where I’m pretty much always negotiated working from home, because I was in open concept offices and I was a content marketer. Meaning, I always had to write and I needed some of that privacy, and focus, and it was impossible in those offices. Then later in 2017, I started super neat marketing, which is my other business that I’ve been running this whole time remotely.

Again, my experience is, I started working from home back in 2009 and it has continued off and on until becoming a full-time deal in 2017 and now we’re here in 2021. I’ll admit that I dreamed of living out Carrie Bradshaw’s work from home life, writing in my city apartment with a cup of coffee, maybe a beer or glass of wine if work led into the evening, and warm socks or bare feet, instead of work clothes. The reality looked a little different of course, and I’m sure a lot of you that romanticize the work from home lifestyle found this out very quickly. There are some major pros and cons with working from home, which have a major impact when all you’re trying to deal is love your enthusiasm.

I want to start by looking at some of these pros or benefits of working from home stacked up against the cons or disadvantages. This overview will help ground us before we get into the work from home tips, which will ultimately relate back to these pros and cons. For the pros of working from home, obviously there are plenty of pros when you are working from home. But for the sake of this podcast, I have bucketized these pros into time, focus and balance.

Starting with time as the first area. Commute time is a big one. I first came into the workforce at the age of 17 whilst living in Southern California, which meant setting an hour of traffic to and from work every fucking day. Later it was Dallas, which was slightly better, but still have plenty of traffic and everything is really spread out. Spent a lot of time sitting in a car in traffic when I was younger, commuting to and from work. Think about two hours a day, five days a week over the course of the year, the commute alone is such a time and energy sock. We all know this, we’ve all been through it and we all have seen how much more time we have gained back in our day by not having commutes.

Focus is the next area. Refocusing after just one interruption can take up to 23 minutes according to research from UC Irvine. We’ve heard some different variations on this, but think about that just one interruption can take about 23 minutes to bounce back to whatever it is you are doing. There are significantly less disturbances at home than in the office. One of my favorite books, which was so life-changing and eye-opening for me and I know I’ve talked about this on the podcast before. Susan Cain’s Quiets: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. One of my favorite parts that really resonated with me when I read that book was when she was talking about open concept offices as a writer, especially if you’re an introvert for that matter. It’s really difficult to do you focus work in general when people are on sales calls and in writing is obviously one of those very high-focused tasks that needs to be done in solitude. Again, when you’re at home, you have the option to have less disturbances overall because you don’t have coworkers and as many phone calls and things of that nature going on.

The third area is balance. More power and flexibility to run your day your way, this is a big pro when you’re working from home. If you want to work out midmorning instead of first thing in the morning at 5:00 AM, you can. Want to take yourself out to brunch on Friday because you had a kickass week, you can do that too. This really doesn’t need a lot of explanation because you can certainly have more balance in your life when you’re working from home, because you have power and flexibility.

All right, time for the cons of working from home and guess what, I’m going to use the same buckets that we used for the pros; time, focus and balance. Because the pros and the cons are blurred together just as everything is blurred together when you’re working from home.

Time, so we’ll start with time again. If we suddenly have gained time by not commuting to and from the office, why in the hell do we all feel busier than ever before? Why do we still feel like there are not enough hours in the day? That’s because we’re always on now and we are even more connected by digital communication, which all results in yet another big time and energy sock. We don’t have the commutes, but we still feel so busy. It’s really, really hard to turn anything off now, because we’re doing everything at home.

The next one, focus. You may have chuckled earlier when I talked about “less disturbances” in the pros section. Because naturally, there are plenty of distractions at home. Everything from kids to partners, and pets to laundry. It can also be really hard to feel productive at home, simply because of the nature of the home environment, which is meant to be a sanctuary rather than having a dual purpose as a workplace.

Finally, balance, that last bucket. Overall, there is a total lack of separation between your work and home life and that makes work-life balance even trickier to achieve. Relationships with your loved ones becomes way more challenging, especially if they are working from home or home schooling. And a feeling of isolation is heightened when you’re not interacting with other humans like you used to. This affects your productivity as well as your well-being. Balance is trickier to achieve even though you have that flexibility and more ways to run your day. That can also be a bad thing.

Now that we’ve covered the pros and cons, let’s get into the working from home tips, so you can cherry pick the ones that applies to you to help with any challenges you’re having in the time, focus and balance areas.

I realize there is a ton of working from home tips type content out there, which I mentioned this in the intro. This type of content really ballooned last year in 2020 when everybody was suddenly working remotely, like everybody. The thing that really gets me about a lot of these work from home tips types of articles is that they are — not just articles, excuse me. I mean, there’s everything. There’s been videos and podcasts, all that jazz. The thing that gets me is that they are trying to encourage people to replicate the office environment, which includes trying to mimic some of the strict rules and routines. Now, some of these things work and as I get into the tips, you’ll see that there are a couple of these routines and rules that can be beneficial when you’re working from home. I don’t feel like there should be quite so much concentration. I’m trying to replicate the office environment at home. My goal is to give you a different perspective, one that is more focused on bringing more health and harmony into your work from home lifestyle.

The first working from home tip is healthy routine. Honestly, if you just take this tip and forget the rest, I would be so happy because I think this is the most valuable tip I can offer today. Is, it’s not about having a work from home routine, it’s about having a healthy work from home routine. Have a routine, but by no means does this need to be a militant routine, which is why I recommend focusing on building a healthy work from home routine. This means having a dedicated start, stop time so you aren’t working at all hours of the day and or on the weekends. Been there. I’m sure you have to at some point. It’s awful. The lines get blurred very easily, right, between your personal and professional life. This happens before you know it. You need to commit to dedicated work hours, so having that dedicated start time, super helpful.

A sidenote on start time. For the most part, I get up early but not always. If I have a shitty night of sleep for some reason. Right now, as I’m recording this, we have had a lot of snowstorms in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and we end up with snowplow sounds, like beeping, and shoveling and just like heavy machinery and it always gets me out of bed. So if you have a shitty night of sleep for whatever reason, and if I do personally, I sleep in because I need to be able to perform at my best mentally and physically every day. That is non-negotiable for me. I cannot be dragging ass throughout my day with running a business. As many of you know, I’m a marketing consultant, so I am “knowledge worker” on the highest level and my workouts are pretty intense as well. I also how this podcast. So if I have a 9:00 AM interview, I need to be rested and energetic. This is called Love Your Enthusiasm. You all don’t want to hear me dragging ass on the podcast, right?

Again, with the start time, you don’t have to be quite so regimented. If you lose a night of sleep or something, you need to take care of yourself. And when you have this flexibility, you want to take advantage of it and sleep it if you need to or take a nap.

The second work from home tips, fake commutes. Okay. I can’t take credit for this idea that I stumbled upon recently in a LinkedIn new story, fake commutes. I love it and it is exactly how it sounds. You pretend like you’re doing a commute, so you can walk around the block and you can do a coffee pick up. Obviously, just hanging out at the coffee shop isn’t really a reality for most of us as it used to be, which is a total bummer I was pretty dependent on going to my coffee shops to work remotely. But many workers had commutes before and so this is all about replicating that commute by taking some time either at the beginning or end of your day. Personally, I’m a big fan of afternoon walks. I don’t really do the beginning and end the day commute, but I do an afternoon walk pretty much every day.

Number three, pants. This is such a good tip. I hope you’re laughing. Okay. The Society for Human Resource Management, they shared this stat which I thought was pretty funny. 60% of Americans working from home are wearing casual or athletic wear, such as sweatpants and hooded sweatshirts as their usual daily working attire. So 60%, that’s three out of five Americans working from home basically in sweatpants. You’ve probably been here; you may have tried working in your pajamas. I know when I first started working from home, it’s like, “Oh, I can work from home in my pajamas. This is awesome.”

But like you just feel gross, like you don’t feel productive, like you’re going to kick ass. Also, the jammies are for the relaxation hours. When you’re blurring the lines, this is by choice if you decide that you’re just going to work in your jammies all day. Then what the hell are you going to wear when you’re trying to relax in the evening? I know this is just what we’re putting in our bodies, but what we wear is self-expression, and it does matter, and it does make a difference in how we feel, even if we’re not leaving the house.

A few outfit ideas that I can share with you that have worked for me. I like to wear like non-sweatpants joggers. They’re like loose pants but they’re still cute. I also like pant-like leggings, so they have more thickness than regular leggings, but they’re not athletic leggings. Maybe they have some details like zippers or pockets, just something kind of fun. Then I usually pair those types of pants with a comfy loose-fitting sweater, and this is usually my work from home wardrobe staple in the winter. In the warmer months, I wear a loose flowy pants, tank top, maybe a cardigan to layer up and flowy dresses when I need to feel more dolled up. Again, pants or a dress, just some sort of clothing that’s not the jammies or the sweatpants makes a world of difference.

Number four with work from home tips, time blocks and breaks. Time blocks are very often used on their own in work from home tips. Filling up our entire day with productivity time as if we’re machines instead of humans. I’m combining time blocks and breaks into the stat, because I think it’s really important to encourage a break in between every time blocks. So it’s not just about the time blocks. You’re going to really think about having time blocks separated by breaks.

For example, I will tell you my schedule for the most part on weekdays is, in the mornings, I work on my podcast first thing because I love starting my day working on something creative that I’m really passionate about. Then I work out before I start working on my business, Superneat Marketing and all of my client work. Love Your Enthusiasm, I work out just the kind of take a break in there and reset my mind to get ready for a total mindset switch when I start doing marketing work for my clients. Do that and then there’s the afternoon walk, which I mentioned earlier and then I finish my day with a little bit more Superneat. Then my evening usually rolls into some sort of yoga practice and chilling out after that.

Another way you can take a break and I do this throughout the day to make sure I’m constantly getting up from my computer, cleaning. I love cleaning and it’s nice to be able to stay on top of the dishes, and the laundry and the trash. Just these ongoing little tasks throughout the day, so you’re not doing that shit on your weekend or in the evenings. I think this is a huge advantage of working from home. Some see it as a distraction, but I say, you need to get up from time to time, anyways step away from your screen. You might as well take care of some of those easy domestic tasks, which also can be really nice for clearing out your mind and even thinking through some strategy. I have made some really interesting strategic decisions and came up with some great ideas while doing laundry.

By the way, I also want to mention that Love Your Enthusiasm guest have shared tons of good tips about time blocking and self-care breaks. Most of these guests run their businesses from home like I do or of course, they have also been working from home this past year. A couple of unique tips that come to mind from more recent episodes. Episode 28, with Carolyn Colleen. Carolyn does squat breaks between meetings. And Episode 32 with Lucy Liu. Lucy has a dream life calendar for scheduling the good things into her day as well. Many of us get into the habit of scheduling meetings and scheduling tasks maybe, but her dream life calendar schedule is her workouts, her lunches, journaling, meditation. So really, she has her whole day scheduled the way that she wants it to be scheduled, which is pretty cool. I’ll link to these episodes for you in the show notes if you want to check them out, but as I mentioned, every guest shares their productivity tips in their episode on Love Your Enthusiasm, so any of them are great to listen to.

Number five, media/social media. I realized, especially during the insanity of 2020 and 2021 how freaking tempting checking into social media or the doom reports on the news can be. But these check-ins are just more distractions. Remember what the refocusing time amount I mentioned earlier was. Refocusing after just one distraction takes 23 minutes. Believe me, this can take a lot more time when you’re doing high-focused, complex tasks, like writing strategy, problem-solving. Twenty-three minutes? Yeah, right.

If I get torn away from my writing, sometimes I can even get back to it that day. The distractions of media and social media are real. We know there are a lot of psychological things involved there that are just really distracting and can zap your productivity. I included media and social media after the time blocking tip on purpose because you should absolutely limit your time and keep yourself in check. If you are checking media channels throughout the day, you are willingly giving your attention, not to mention your time and energy away to infinite sources.

Number six for work from home tips, we have relationships. Oh man! I believe most of you already know that I run my other business Superneat Marketing with my husband of 16 years. But if you don’t, yes, I have been not only working from home with my husband since 2017, but we’ve also been running a business full-time together. For several years, we were in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment and we somehow managed to survive. When married couples around the world were suddenly forced to work from home together, guess who started to feel like I needed to give relationship advice in a column? Me. So many people reached out to me wanting to know our work from home relationship secrets.

I’m going to very quickly recap a blog I wrote how to keep your marriage healthy during quarantine, a lot of which applies to working from home and I will link in the show notes if you want more details from that blog. These are my relations of recommendations based on my personal experience. As clearly, I am not a therapist or a counselor. The first one is, give each other space, establish boundaries in a restricted space. It is possible even in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. If you can, set up your workspaces in different areas of the house. If you’re in a small space, shift your work schedules so each person commandeers that main productivity area at different times of the day. Go over your schedules daily and weekly to avoid double-booking calls. I obviously never record podcasts while he’s on a client call, but we have to coordinate. We don’t always just know these things that are going on even with running a business together.

The next one, don’t be too distant. Give each other space, but not too much space. I know this sounds a little weird when you’re working in close quarters together, but even if you’re spending all that time together throughout the day being productive, you don’t want to just spend your evenings and your weekends apart. So you can get distant from one another in these close quarters very easily and you don’t want that to happen because obviously, that’s not great for your relationship. Long walks are great, even just sitting together and talking without devices is so key. You can still ask how the other person day was. Yeah. When was the last time you did that when you’re spending all this time together? We do this all the time even though we run our business together and work together all the time, and we pretty much know everything that’s happened but it’s still nice to be asked, “Hey, honey. How was your day?” or ask your kids or whoever. Like it’s awesome, it does make a difference.

The next one, keep the romance alive. That’s my next recommendation. Have sexy time, don’t forget about that. Get dressed, that will help with sexy side. Don’t just work in your pajamas, or your bathrobe, or your sweatpants all the time. Remember, you’re spending more time in front of your significant other, so you know, make a little bit of an effort. Then be affectionate is another one, and then be mindful of bathroom time. I know this is a little weird to call out, but don’t talk about work or the news while the other person is doing their business. Because you know, you got to have some boundaries. Establish the boundaries in a restricted space. Bathroom time is one of them.

The next one, be kind to each other. You’ll get on each other’s nerves and show a side of yourself to each other that you may not have before. Practice kindness often. And the last recommendation I have when you’re working from home with your partner is to cherish your time together. My husband, Hugh and I once did an exercise that really motivated us to take the leap, quit our salary jobs and start our business together. Calculate the time you spent away from your partner over the years and you will be shocked by a number, and I will tell you ours when we did this exercise. In the first 12 years of our marriage, working full-time jobs, we spent about 36,000 hours apart which equals over four years. Four years apart in a 12-year span of marriage, so cherish your time together that you have now even if you do get in each other’s nerves, and you’re spending way more time together than you ever thought you would. Cherish this time.

Number seven for work from home tips is separation. Piggybacking on relationships, cherishing your time together is fine and dandy, but you also need separation. Separation in all forms with your work. If you can work in those separate spaces from your partner and or children. I realized this isn’t always possible if you have that smaller space. Another thing I forgot to mention earlier as you can use like a room divider or curtain. Because having that separation is really critical for your mental health as well. Looking at your home office while you’re eating dinner makes it really hard to disconnect. I remember we lived in a space for a long time where one of our desks was in the dining room. That was the only place that we had for it to go. It was really difficult to relax when we’re having a meal together, because just seeing the desk, and the computer, and the paperwork and all of those electronics, it kind of just gets you like buzzed again and thinking about work.

Eventually, we did move into a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment to have more separation. The extra investment was worth it for us. The ability to close the door is awesome. So having the separate office now is really, really helpful. As we’re still in an apartment, but we have a dedicated office. Another separation callout is taking a step away, which I know this has been nearly impossible over the past year with the travel restrictions and with COVID. There are still ways to do that at home.

I was actually really inspired by Katrina Naomi who was Episode 17 of Love Your Enthusiasm. Katrina is really great, she’s just awesome anyway. She’s a full-time poet, but she takes a full glorious month off every year to unplug from everything. I believe she does this in August if I’m not mistaken, because that’s just a good time of the year for her with her business, but also with it being summer time in England. So yeah, she just disconnects from everything for a full month. Social media, email, everything, just does whatever she wants near her home. So she loves to swim, and hike and all that kind of stuff. I don’t even think she writes. I think she completely disconnects from that as well since she does that for a living.

That’s a really great idea and it’s something that I adopted in my own way, where I typically take a long weekend once a month. So three to four days once a month, where I have a screen free, productivity free weekend and it is awesome. That is a way that you can get that separation without traveling anywhere, but also to be able to actually unplug, which I know has been really difficult for all of us to do.

Number eight, working positions. Don’t sit all the time, but don’t fucking stand all the time either. I have totally done this before. Standing all the time at my suit standup desk, because being on my feet was way healthier than sitting. The thing is that your upper body is still locked in that dreaded computer position regardless of what your lower body is doing. But your body is taking a beating when you’re desk jockey no matter what you do. So the changing of the work positions; sitting, standing, different locations, different surfaces all really, really help. Changing your work positions and locations, such a good move. Have that variety. The breaks we mentioned earlier are non-negotiable and preferably incorporate movements, some sort of movement during your break. It’s that afternoon walk, maybe some cat-cow stretches, couple of sun salutations if you are into yoga. Just anything is good during those breaks.

How you position your equipment and your body are crazy important and most of us get this totally wrong, like the way that we have, the height that we have our screen, just our entire set up is wrecking our bodies. I will link to a handy, no-frills resource from OSHA in the show notes. Again, it’s no-frills, like you can go to their website, it is a hideous website because it’s a government organization, but they have some great just helpful tips about where your computer should be in relation to your body, how you should sit, how you should stand. I know there’s other resources. This is a basic one that I found that it all seem like it had legit information. So linking to that in the show notes for you.

The last work from home tip, wins. Yeah, the last tip I can share is wins. There is no one here to pat you on the back or give you a gold star. You have to do this yourself. Celebrate your wins every freaking day. If you have your dedicated start, stop time and you approach your to-do list with realistic expectations, feeling good about what you accomplished and adding that big exclamation point at the end of each day, that’s a great way to celebrate your wins. So don’t forget to do that. Again, there is nobody here but you and it’s very easy to forget to do this, but figure out how you can give yourself that gold star, that pat on the back. It really does matter.

The last thing I want to stress before you go. This is your home. This is not your office. This is your home. This is not your office. If you’re trying to make your home your office, you will make yourself stressed and unhappy at home. Figure out a healthy work from home routine that works for you, so you don’t lose the harmonious nature of your home life along the way.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:34:04] BS: I am so freaking excited to share a serious Love Your Enthusiasm upgrade with you all today. Love Your Enthusiasm now has transcriptions available starting with today’s solo show. And bonus, the entire backlog of episodes has also been transcribed. By transcribing 34 episodes, most of which are 45 minutes to an hour, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of words here people. Major, major shout out to my fantastic production team at We Edit Podcast, as I could not have transcribed all of these episodes without you nor would this show even be here without you. Transcriptions were always on the roadmap for the show. I had several requests from listeners who wanted to share the podcast with friends and family who preferred and/or needed a written format, so I am thrilled to share more enthusiasm with more people by bringing you this new medium.

Transcriptions are located in the show notes on the website, which are also linked in the episode description on your listening app. I hope you enjoy this Love Your Enthusiasm experience upgrade. Please share this information with anyone who will be interested to help me get the word out to these audiences. Thank you, thank you, thank you as always for your continued support with the show. Until next time.

[END]

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