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How to not go insane while working from home

Richard Huffaker

This month we’ve run several positive posts about remote work. We declared it to be the future of software. We provided tips from our co-founders and employees about what Clubhouse has learned from its history of being a remote first company. We’ve talked a bit about our goal of doing what we can to increase joy wherever we can.

Forget all that for a moment.

Even though anyone working from home in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis can count themselves lucky to have a job that allows them to do so, this does not mean you’re required to stride into the situation with total positivity and a big smile on your face. Working from home — especially if you’re not used to it, and double especially in a situation where you’re expected to be either totally isolated or surrounded by your entire family all day and night — can absolutely suck.

Unless you own a palatial estate, or at least a home with a separate and secluded office space, remote work means work invading your home. Co-workers take a small tour of your house every time you have a meeting. Your boss can see your couch. The sort of stress you once associated with a separate office you had the option of leaving is now smack dab in the middle of the place where you sleep. This can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.

And that doesn’t even take into account the present requirement that you, me, and virtually everyone we know shelter indoors for the foreseeable future. This means isolation on a scale many of us have never experienced and, for those who are surrounded by their families or other loved ones, an increase in chaos and frayed nerves.

How can you deal with all this without going bonkers?

Be lazy as hell sometimes, and don’t feel bad about it 

About work. About chores. About anything. If you have young kids, you may not have the luxury of being lazy about non-work, so definitely focus on being sort of lazy about work.

This isn’t a joke. You’re naturally going to have up and down days with your productivity. Embrace the down days instead of beating yourself up about them. You have plenty of down days at the office too, you just don’t notice as much because you commuted to the office, sat in a conference room while someone droned on during a meeting, and had to look somewhat busy since everyone could see your monitor; this all feels like work even though it isn’t the least bit productive.

Virtually every project undertaken in the history of humankind came in behind schedule, and you being occasionally lazy while working from home did not cause that.

Put on soothing background sounds

Since you won’t be outside quite as much as you were before, bring the outside to you through the magic of recorded sound. Why listen to the drone of your heater or air conditioner (or your own brain) when you could be sitting in the middle of a storm or standing on the coast of Ireland instead?

These kinds of soundscapes can be found all over YouTube and Spotify / Apple Music, and are usually several hours long so that you don’t have to keep cycling through them once you find some you like. A large collection (with links out to the music platform of your choice) can be found at myNoise.

When you feel tired, stop working. Take a break

Working from home might make you feel like you're already on a break. You’re not. Being at home does not make chores or work more of a break. Doing the dishes is not a break. Vacuuming is not a break.

What do you do when you take breaks at the office? This is what I did:

  • Ate too many Peanut M&Ms 
  • Texted my girlfriend complaining about some work thing I didn’t like 
  • Researched video games online
  • Walked around the block three times 
  • Looked at Facebook 
  • Gossiped with other co-workers 

You can be more creative than this when working remotely. For example:

  • You can look at Twitter and Facebook simultaneously
  • Play video games instead of shopping for them 
  • Walk around your living room instead of the block 
  • Gossip with your family 

Or, you know, anything you want. You’re working from home. Take advantage of that.

If you have trouble remembering to take a break, put yourself in situations where you’re forced to do so. Unplug your laptop and you’ll naturally have to stop working when it dies. Set an alarm on the other side of the house that blares until you get up and turn it off. Buy a giant hourglass like the one the Wicked Witch of the West has in the Wizard of Oz and take a break either when it runs out or when that rude girl from Kansas who dropped a house on your sister’s head gives you back your ruby slippers, whichever comes first.

Watch a TV show while you eat lunch

It can be tempting to eat at your desk or just quickly grab something in the kitchen. Don’t. Use this time to stop thinking about work, just like you would have done in the office. Take your time and cook something. Or, since you don’t have your friends or work acquaintances to talk to, make new friends through the magic of the television set.

Midday at work is a great time to watch something funny or mindless that has a lot of episodes to go through / rewatch. Maybe don’t watch an intense drama like The Wire or Better Call Saul. Instead go with comedies like Brooklyn 99 or Parks & Rec, or with soap operas, or game shows, or even nature documentaries. Just something that you can watch a lot of while building a connection to the characters / hosts / animals.

As a bonus, all of these shows are time limited, giving you a way to time your lunch to ensure it’s not too short and not too long. Just don’t fall down a rabbit hole and watch too many episodes in a row.

Stop looking at computer

Computer is good. Computer is friend. Computer is giving you a headache. Turn it off and do something that doesn’t involve a screen.

There’s no time like the present. Walk away from your computer right now and do something else. Eat a sandwich on your porch (if you have a porch). Read a book in front of a window. Water a plant (if you don’t have any plants, look at a picture of one in a book).

If you’re not already a Clubhouse user, you should definitely create an account when you come back.