We here at BrettTerpstra.com take COVID-19 very seriously. We’ve all transitioned to working from home and maintaining social distance, and to providing you with all of our reading materials online for your protection. So, business as usual.
Seriously, though, how are you holding up? This Coronavirus thing is a big change, huh? Not so much for me, but I feel for all of the people who are newly working from home. It can be quite a transition.
There have been endless articles on how to work from home. And so many of them are wrong in one way or another, yet each proclaims itself to be true for you and your productivity. The fact is that working from home means a lot of different things, and every individual has to find their own rhythm. And for some of us, it’s downright magical compared to working in an office.
Working from home means more freedom. For a lot of us it means a more flexible schedule, which comes with a lack of structure that can throw a lot of people off. I’ve been doing it for well over a decade now, but I would never claim to have a system figured out that would work for anyone else. But I’ll share some general points that might help, especially if you, like me, fall outside of the neurotypical spectrum.
Depending on your available space, it’s not always easy to do, but for me, having an office makes a big difference in my ability to recognize “work time” and keep it separate from “home time.” For me this is a separate room, but it could be anywhere you can set up a desk or some equivalent. A work space.
I use a MacBook Pro as my primary machine, and in my office there’s a dock that hooks it into an external display and my Ultimate Hacking Keyboard. That’s my work setup.
However, it’s also my play setup. It’s where I write music, it’s where I work on side projects, it’s where I get away from the rest of the house when I just want to listen to tunes and surf the internet. I’m not good at only working in my office. And to be honest, that’s always worked out for me. Given no externally-imposed structure, I can work on what makes sense at any given time. If my brain would rather play guitar than work on a freelance project, I can let it. For a while, anyway. If I’m truly avoiding something, and the pressure of a deadline isn’t getting me to focus, then it often takes other tricks to get there.
One of those tricks is “transitioning.” With my ADHD, it’s easy to get hyperfocused (borderline obsessive) on something, and often something other than work I feel I should be doing. When I catch myself doing that, it’s time to transition. For me, that usually means going for a walk or taking a coffee break, but it’s going to be different for everyone. Anything that helps your brain let go of whatever you were focused on and start preparing for what’s next.
I’ve learned to reframe “procrastination” as “marination.” I used to feel guilty about putting off large tasks, but the fact is that I’m constantly thinking about and examining those tasks while I avoid working on them. Deadline pressure helps me focus, and by the time I’m ready to start working on it, I find I’ve already planned it out, mostly subconsciously, during my marination time. Again, that might not work for anyone but me, but seeing it that way has saved me a lot of guilt. I actually feel good about the time I spend planning and brainstorming in the back of my mind while I do something I enjoy.
A lot of articles will talk about scheduling your time, some even suggesting that you recreate your “office” schedule at home. It’s quite possible this works well for some people, but I find the concept ridiculous. Working from home means you have the freedom to create a schedule that works for you, and I can’t think of anything more productive than building a schedule around the way my brain actually wants to work.
I do generally block off time for projects, but they’re huge blocks of time. At least they feel that way when I decide on them, all the way up until I’m at the end of them and still haven’t finished the project. I limit my goals for a day to no more than two different projects. Enough distractions and fires will come up in a day that planning to work on any more than that is guaranteed to leave me with a feeling of failure as my time runs out and I haven’t finished anything I planned to.
I stop working at 5PM. Often 3 or 4, really. If I wrap up with only a couple hours left, I rarely allow myself to dive into more work because I know that if I get into a groove, I won’t be able to stop at 5, and stopping at 5 is important to me. Maybe it’s not to you, and that’s your call. 5 just happens to be an arbitrary time that agrees with the rest of the world, and gives me time to switch over to dinner with my partner, a relaxing evening, a little bit of Star Trek (we’re working our way through the compendium in chronological order).
I try to fit a 1-hour dog walk in with Elle most days. I don’t have a set time for that; usually whatever works for both her and I to enjoy a walk together. It’s a great break, exercise clears my head, and if I’m working on a problem, it gives me a chance to talk through some of the things that I haven’t solved yet. She’s very understanding about my need to do this, even if it’s not an area of interest for her. (I do my best to return the favor.) A chance just to say things out loud and answer someone else’s questions often helps me find solutions. You can get the same effect by talking to a co-worker or friend via a video chat. Anyone to bounce stuff off of.
Side note: I still use a treadmill desk and do a lot of walking while working. I’m not mentioning this as a productivity enhancer because most of the people who will benefit from this post don’t really have the option in what is likely a temporary work-from-home situation.
That’s about it for tips I think have any bearing on other people’s work life. I know there are people who thrive in an office setting, but they don’t need my advice; most of the “how to work from home” articles out there are geared to their needs. If you’re in my ADHD tribe, I suggest checking out the video at the end of this post.
As an aside, I have compassion for all of the extroverts dealing with isolation. It’s easy for me, I’m an introvert who requires very little in-person contact with others to feel energetic and happy, but I can mentally put myself in the opposite position and imagine how hard isolation must be for extroverts (and, admittedly, I’m sorely missing my thrice-weekly yoga classes and the group of yogis there that I’ve come to love). I can’t offer advice in that area, but feel free to speak up on Twitter or in the comments if you’ve found solutions that work for you.
Here’s a video from “How to ADHD,” one of my favorite ADHD resources (the advice pertains to everyone, just especially to ADHD folks). She provides well-researched, topic-focused tips and tricks, as well as interviews. If you have ADHD or have an ADHD loved one, check it out. If you love it, join the Patreon.