WHEN I QUIT MY OFFICE JOB IN 2014, people gave me advice about working from home: “Dress up like you’re going to work each day,” an uncle told me. “This will keep you from getting into the mindset that this isn’t a job.”
The first day I worked from home, I woke up early, got in the shower, put on deodorant, some khakis, and a button-down shirt. I sat in my chair, computer on lap, for about 10 minutes before I thought, “fuuuuuuck this.” I whipped off the pants and spent the rest of the day — and the following two years — working almost exclusively in my underwear and a t-shirt.
The advice you get when you decide to join the freelance economy is usually way off base. I didn’t get a single piece of good advice early on in this portion of my career. So I’d like to offer some tips for people who are considering quitting “the rat race” and working from home.
1. You’re going to throw off the balance of your personal relationships.
I live with my wife. Before I worked remotely, we would get home from work, cook dinner, chill with a drink, maybe watch a TV show, and then go to sleep. Now, when she gets home from a hard day’s work, she wants nothing more than dinner, drink, TV, sleep. But I’ve been in the apartment all day. I want to go out. I want to hit the bars. I want to see a movie. I want to try something new.
We have had to recalibrate our relationship in the wake of my career change. Fortunately, we’ve since found a balance. But a change like this is going to be destabilizing to your relationships, and you’ll need to keep an open line of communication with your partner.
2. There is no bottom to the internet.
At my office job, I still dicked around on the internet. I would, occasionally, play around on StumbleUpon, or spend a half hour taking quizzes on Sporcle before realizing, “Oh shit, I’m not getting paid to do this.” And I was always aware that if my boss walked by and saw me dicking around, I’d get chastised.
This is no longer the case. I now have all of the internet at my fingertips, and my pay is by piece, not by hour. I can spend an entire work day binging BoJack Horseman or Stranger Things — who can stop me? As long as I get in my work, my editors don’t care what I do with my time.
But there is no bottom to the internet. Without a serious amount of self-discipline, you will fall into its depths, and you will drown.
3. You will get depressed.
The worst side-effect of working from home was depression. It wasn’t full-blown, clinical depression, but it was depression. By cloistering myself off from other people, from the outdoors and sunlight, from the marginal amount of exercise I got by walking to and from the bus to work, I was incrementally adding to my isolation and alienation from the rest of the world. And here, there be monsters.
You’ll have to learn how to work exercise into your workday, how to replace the social life that working with other people automatically provides, and how to take care of your mental health. If you don’t, your productivity and your quality of life are going to go down the tubes.
4. You need an office.
It helps hugely to have two mental spaces — one for living, one for working. When I first started working from home, I lived in a studio. So I slept, ate, and worked all in the same place. 72 hours would go by without my once leaving that 300 square foot space.
That’s not work — that’s prison. That’s horrible for you.
Now, I live in a one bedroom with my wife, but that’s still not enough — I no longer work where I sleep, but I still work where I eat and watch TV. This isn’t enough of a divide. It increases distractions, and it makes me less productive.
If you’re going to work from home, the first thing you should invest in — after a computer and a wifi connection — is an office. If this means moving to a larger apartment, do it. If it means finding a coworking space, do it.
5. Coffee shops hate you.
You go in, buy a $2 coffee, and then hog a table for 8 hours while you work. This is not helpful to them. They want to be a social space, but you’re turning it into your office. That’s not what it is, and you’re not paying them enough to rent out a table for a full day. Either buy a new thing every hour, or invest in an actual office.