May 25, 2020

Working at Home Through the Apocalypse: Tips and Tricks

Indoor cat… practicing social distancing.

So: the end is nigh… and it turns out, instead of fighting zombies and stockpiling ammunition and batteries, we’re all hoarding toilet paper and hand-sanitizer, and maybe catching up on Netflix.

Certainly, all those dystopian tales didn’t really prepare us for 2020, and the nutty new reality of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. And while folks are adjusting to the new shelter-in-place reality, many are embracing another equally daunting prospect: working at home.

Now, we’ve seen lots of filler lifestyle posts out there on how to adjust to working at home, mostly devoid of any actual real information. The reality is, only you really know what works for you, and it can take years to find the rhythm that works for you. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re already in need of help, as you’re goofing off on the web and not actually working.

This gets at the core idea of what I’ve found works for me: the mantra of “I should actually be writing right now.” I’ve worked under all sorts of austere conditions, from spurious wifi to a picnic bench next to a tent. I’ve heard that such things as offices equipped with massive multiple monitors and screaming fast wifi do indeed exist, but I’ve successfully filed and created a career as a feral freelancer without them.

True story: I’ve written going on three astronomy books (graphics and all) on the same trusty 13” Dell laptop.

All that is to say, I’ve always found that where there’s a will to write, there’s a way. If I were to wait for all the perfect conditions to come into alignment… I would never write. Think of yourself as a war correspondent in a combat zone, sitting on the back ramp of a C-130 desperately struggling to hammer out the next story before deadline.

Bluetooth headsets and ear defenders are also a godsend when you need the white-noise to tune out all the drama of home life, and focus on work. Ray Bradbury once said that he simply typed away at the kitchen table, while family life swirled around him. I have a pet theory that many (if not all) successful writers are married to other writers. Who else would understand that staring at a blank wall is still indeed work?

And speaking of which, it’s important to differentiate between actual work, and preparing to work. The Navy SEALS have a good mantra, admonishing you to “never confuse planning with training.” Even freelancers wear several hats, and must endure tasks related to creating product, as opposed to the actual process of writing. Promoting of social media, invoicing clients, chasing new stories and reading and research are all part of the ‘prepare to write’ process. Think of a construction worker, building a house. You still have to gather your tools, make a plan, drive to the work site… all necessary tasks preparing you for actual work.

But one thing I’ve noticed when working from home for years is how absolutely normal it feels after a while. Now, commuting to a cubicle and sitting through meetings seems weird. If you’re disciplined and able to focus through distractions, you can be much more efficient and productive.

Still, we’re ready. As introverts, we’ve practiced for this moment our whole lives. We’re all in this together, as working at home is the new normal for the foreseeable future.



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