It seems that working from home — that dreamy day job to which we all used to aspire, and perhaps some of us still do — has fallen on hard times. According to a recent article in The New York Times, a paper with a long history of articles about the trend in co-working arrangements, working from home is overrated, bewildering, isolating, and in some cases downright horrid. Yahoo's Marissa Mayer may be against working from home, but she's not the only one. As a disgruntled work-from-homer told the Times, "I would get distracted by dust bunnies under the desk and end up vacuuming in the middle of the day, or look at myself in the mirror at 7 p.m. and realize I was still in pajamas." The pretzels were too tempting. The Xbox called. Bed, oh, bed. It's easily swayed folks like this who are keeping the shared office in business!
But let's just say you don't want to deal with the difficulties of finding a shared office space, or paying for it, or putting on pants in the morning. Are there ways to make your work-from-home routine a bit more productive, and you, yourself, ever so slightly more efficient, all the while remaining firmly planted upon your own couch? I talked to a few of the Internet's most skilled work-from-homers (as it happens, I am no slouch in this regard either, though I often dress like one when I work from home) for their best filing-from-the-couch advice.
Get Dressed in Some Form or Fashion. I'll admit I usually break this rule when I do find myself working from home. I roll out of bed in sweatpants and a T-shirt, move my laptop to my lap as I sit on the couch, and if it's a working-from-home day (as it was frequently during my recent book leave), I'll stay that way until maybe noon, when, yes, I might put on something a little nicer, particularly if I've ordered in food and will feel ashamed about my outfit. I have experimented with donning workout clothes first thing in the morning; this has the added benefit of making you feel sporty and energetic even if you never get to the gym! STFU, Parents blogger and author Blair Koenig tells me, "One thing I'll always remember is when I told a woman at a party that I work from home, she was super confused and asked me all these questions. She was like, 'So do you make sure to get to your desk by 9 on the dot?', 'Do you get dressed right away?' and—my favorite— 'Do you wear shoes?' Haha. Get dressed when you get out of bed. It makes you feel more alert, and it allows you to open the door for packages without scrambling for a bra." As for the shoes, is there broken glass in the house? Then you should probably go into the office. As for that woman at that party, she should perhaps get out of her own house more often.
Consider Your Resources. In the wise words of Grantland work-from-homer Rembert Browne, "Have good enough internet, but not incredible internet. You need to leave the house sometimes, and the Time Warner Cable/Internet package will see to it that you do, because it will stop working every 97 minutes, forcing even the staunchest homebody out for fresh air or even a change of location." Take these lessons further, across your entire work-from-home mantra. Have a good enough computer, but not an incredible computer. Have a good enough desk, but not an incredible desk. Have a good enough mug of coffee next to you, but not an incredible one (it would only be incredible if it was bottomless, and also full of money, right?), because whether you're in the office or working from home, it's good to get up now and again, to stretch your legs and get some air and another cup of coffee. For the prevention of blood clots and whatnot.
Take Advantage of the Great Opportunities that Have Befallen You! Because you can. Because you can. "People who work from home often don't have set hours, and therefore work longer hours, so fuck it, have a glass of champagne with your sandwich for lunch," says Koenig. Or a beer with your afternoon snack. I'd suggest, also, picking up dry-cleaning or making a trip to the post office mid-day, running out for a sandwich around 3 p.m. in your sweatpants, scheduling a non-rush-hour-timed doctor's appointment, and even taking a coffee meeting around the corner from your home-workplace when and if you feel like it, because you can. (And you can work outside, too.) If you have a dog and you work from home, pet your dog.
Be Efficient. Not only is all of the above nice, it's also consistent with your greater world needs. Suddenly, you can be oh-so-productive because you're not, say, waiting in line, or busily commuting to your shared office space. It's like performance-based multi-tasking. You, among the office-based civilians of the world, are free from 9 to 5, or 10 to 6, or any clock-punching constraints at all! Use that. "Maximize benefits like doing your grocery shopping when everyone else is in an office," says Koenig. "Remind yourself that while you may be 'glued to the couch' or at a desk in your studio apartment most days, you also have the freedom to go to Target when no one else is there if you plan ahead." Related: Make sure you leave the house at least once a day, even if it's at 10 p.m. at night, lest you begin to feel a wee bit feral.
Find Friends. "Try to find a work-from-home buddy you can chat with, either on IM or at lunch every now and then, because it can be lonesome to be so alone. (Having a social media circle is helpful, too, if you have self-discipline!)," says Koenig. Browne suggests working from home with someone else. "Every day you work at home by yourself, and don't see or talk to another human, you lose three weeks off your social skills life." If you do not do this, make sure you're actually speaking to at least one person a day, like, in a human way, more than simply saying "thank you" to the delivery guy you ordered food from via Seamless. In a pinch, talk to your cat, Mrs. Morris Whiskerson, or your plant, Beauregard. But, seriously, find a person. If you no longer know what a person is, get outside ASAP.
Set Daily Goals for Yourself. You can do this in the office, too, but it's even more satisfying beyond the view of any prying coworkers to make a list, accomplish each item on said list, and nerdily cross off those items at the end of the day with a huge grin on your face. It also stands as a reminder of what you need to get done. When you're alone in particular, that motivation can be very helpful.
Keep Yourself Reasonably Clean. "Don't forget to shower. I do, a lot, and that's a mistake," says Koenig. This goes for your greater workspace, i.e., your home, as well. Here is a valuable lesson from Valleywag's Sam Biddle, who lived it so you don't have to: "Oh man. I used to take one home day every week, but I had to stop. I would blink and there I was eating a burrito in boxer briefs with a blanket wrapped around me—it was every sick blogger stereotype enabled. I think there's a lot to be said for working with other people for both psychological and quality of work purposes... but the best argument is that it prevents you from lapsing into a slime bubble." So if you're going to work from home, be aware. Beware the slime bubble! Unless, of course, you do great work in a slime bubble.
If you don't, as luck would have it, you're at home, so you're very near whatever you need to clean. Browne suggests cleaning before you work: "If your room is dirty or there are dishes in the sink, even the quickest of glances at disorder will turn into a 45 minute procrastination break that you most certainly didn't have time for." If you're slightly more carefree, you can double-bill productivity by washing dishes on your 10-minute work break, because you really should get up off the couch sometime.
Sit Up Straight. Here's another rule I knowingly break. I like working on the couch. It's comfortable and it doesn't put me to sleep, and yes, there is an incline to it, and it is soft, and there are blankets in case of chill. But you may want to find several pleasing spots to work in in a work-from-home day, just to keep things interesting. Biddle says you should sit up in these spots: "If you don't have an office or if you have to work from home for some other reason, avoid horizontal surfaces at all costs. Never in bed. The couch will deceive you. It's not a desk. You need to be slightly uncomfortable in order to get anything done, so even if you're sitting on a chair with a TV dinner tray to prop up your laptop, do that." If you have multiple spots in a home in which to work, using them each throughout the day is like the around-the-world party of employment.
Don't Turn on the TV Until You Stop Working, and Be Judicious with Internet. Unless you're following breaking news and writing about it, TV and unlimited online time can be a slippery slope. Keep the TV off, and if you find yourself unable to stop checking Facebook or Twitter or other websites, download an internet-blocking program (Freedom is one) to prevent you from misbehaving. Or just unplug your router.
Don't Work from Home. Browne concludes with this as his last work-from-home recommendation, and it might be some sort of joke, or a last-ditch effort to keep everyone from working at home. You can aim to do it sometimes, not always, if you're the type who enjoys variety. But if you are the type who ends up always working at home, be vigilant about spending at least some of your time at home not working at home. That, of all the above, is paramount.
Insets via Flickr/SamWebster; Flickr/Dave Morris; Flickr/Renee Rosen-Wakeford.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.