I have worked at home for over a decade, and I love it. I cannot vouch for the quality of my work nor the value of it. But I have achieved the thing that matters most now: longevity.
In late 2009, when I first went into captivity, I only had one goal: I wanted to delay ever working in a cubicle again. Somehow, I had found a way to do what I love — tweet — as a social media consultant. I was working with people all over the globe without having to leave the greatest place on earth: my little office filled with an increasing number of beagles in my little house in Ann Arbor, Michigan. With a lot of lucky breaks and unearned privilege, I am typing this in April of 2020 over the snores of three very tired dogs.
In this moment when no one knows what happens next and untold, unnecessary suffering keeps crashing over us in tsunami-size waves, offering any advice feels ridiculous. But if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to function with only a keyboard to connect me to the world.
So here are a few tips about how to work at home until it’s safe to do otherwise:
►Don't die. If you achieve this simple step, your stint as a temporary remote worker will have been a success. Listen to actual experts about how to do this, but I will note that staying home is the best way to not die. And you may even get a little work done.
►But don’t expect to become the super version of yourself. Working at home isn’t a bite from a radioactive spider. The overwhelming freedom of working in the sweats you’ve had on since March might give you big ideas. You may think that you should be able to sneak in the picaresque novel you’ve been meaning to write, or at least finish your taxes while you’re on a call.
Dress for work? It's your choice
Having an outside project that you’re working on for at least a few minutes every day will likely improve your self-esteem. But don’t expect to turn into Joyce Carol Oates or Ta-Nehisi Coates just because your boss can’t possibly walk in on you.
►Try out routines. Everyone is going to tell you routines work, because they do. Humans are boring that way.
Hotline:Share your coronavirus story
At first, you’ll probably have no idea what routine works for you. Some people say you should still dress for work or at least put on something over your boxers. Those prigs are just telling you what works for them. Try it or don’t. Eventually, you'll figure out your own work wardrobe.
I know I’m most productive in the morning. I split the day in half to try to fabricate a second morning. I begin both mornings with something to clear my head. Meditation, journaling, exercise, housework. They all work for me. But you won’t know what works for you until you fail at a bunch of things and persuade yourself to try new ones.
►Invest in your mind. A lot of people who work from home soon realize that you end up working more than you do in an office. This could be because you goof around more with colleagues in the office, or because at home you lack the boundaries that allow you to cut off email at a certain time.
Don't turn on TV during work hours
You’re probably not going to read or write as much as you imagine, but you can learn a lot. Webinar may be the goofiest word in the English language, but many webinars are worth your time, if only to give you something to mock. YouTube videos and podcasts of lectures can be useful to your career or just good, free escapism. So if you can, sneak in time to water your own mind, and try to avoid turning on the TV until you’re done for the day.
►Feel lucky. Working at home is a privilege, and that’s especially true now. COVID-19 is a plague that keeps exposing the vast inequalities, especially racial inequalities, in our society. Being able to earn money as you shelter in place is a gift that suggests you’re likely benefiting from some advantages in life, many of which were assigned by sperm meeting egg.
Sanctuary from a plague:Our last-chance miracle baby was due just as the coronavirus wave began to hit hospitals
We have not self-selected into the ranks of those who are working on the front lines of this crisis. Nor are we those working in service industries who’ve suddenly had the essential nature of their labors revealed to a nation dependent on their sweat and tears.
But we can still be of service. In fact, our privilege makes us obligated to help as we try to decide whether today is a day that requires antiperspirant. Gratitude is the best way to defeat a bleak mood.
Whether you’re helping out family members, neighbors or mutual-aid groups, you’re keeping yourself going.
Jason Sattler, a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and host of "The GOTMFV Show" podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @LOLGOP