How to Work From Home Without Completely and Totally Losing Your Mind

It's not easy, but it IS possible to work from home successfully -- even if you're a depressed, reclusive sort -- without wanting to stab yourself in the eyeballs.
Publish date:
September 1, 2013
depression, day jobs, working from home, co-workers, working

Ahhh, working from home. It's the stuff of many people's fantasies -- and many others' NIGHTMARES. (Yes, I'm being dramatic, as usual.) I've been working from home full-time since getting laid off from my last office job in the spring of 2012, and it's definitely taken a minute for me to get used to it, especially given my issues with depression. For someone already prone to rumination, malaise, and bitter, self-imposed isolation, hanging out at my house alone for hours upon hours every single day has been challenging, but I think I'm finally starting to get the hang of it.Here are 5 things I've learned that help make the working-from-home thing a bit more manageable and less misery-inducing.1) ADHERE TO A SET SCHEDULE, EVEN WHEN YOU DON'T FEEL LIKE IT.Office gigs have their drawbacks, but they were somewhat easier for me to navigate because the fundamental details of my daily routine always looked pretty much the same. This sounds boring, but is actually pretty valuable when you have a brain that likes to fight with you over, well, just about everything.Just like I would for a 9-to-5 office gig, in my WFH life I have a daily routine I try not to stray from -- I get up at the same time every day. I set aside the same amount of time for coffee and breakfast, and I start working at the same time. Just because I don't have a boss looking over my shoulder for 8 hours doesn't mean I get a pass for a workday free-for-all. To that end, to work from home successfully, I suggest having a set number of hours you'll be working, and that you honor those hours. Basically, treat working from home like it's a JOB job -- like any other -- and don't skimp on showing up for yourself (just like you wouldn't skimp on showing up for a boss in an office).2) TAKE A SHOWER AND PUT ON SOME CLOTHES, FOR GOD'S SAKE.This ties in with #1, and this one took me a long time to grasp; I still struggle with it, actually. But I've found that the simple act of showering and getting dressed puts me in the right mindset to actually, you know, get things done and be productive. The days when I don't shower or dress until 2 pm (and there ARE those days) are generally the days that I feel shittier and get less done. There's a huge benefit to "suiting up and showing up," even if you're not going anywhere! Being clean and dressed gives me a nice, fresh, clean-slate feeling. And when you feel better, you do better work. Period.3) GET OUT. EVERY DAY. EVEN WHEN YOU DON'T FEEL LIKE IT.This is another one that can be difficult if you're depressed, or introverted, or simply inclined to enjoy holing up at home being all reclusive and Salinger-y. But I've found that the days when I don't leave my house at all are the days that I (gasp!) feel worse and get less done. I've gone through periods where, aside from walking my dog, I haven't left my house for 3 days at a time because I've been so mired in work (and self-pity). Surprise surprise: Those days were not my best, in any sense of the word. This is why I suggest planning to do something Out In the World every single day -- whether it's meeting a friend to work together from a cafe, or running errands after you've wrapped up for the day, there's much to be said for simply dragging your bum out of the house and into the world. Behave like a functioning human and you will feel like a functioning human. That's what I try to tell myself, anyway.

And on a similar note, it really pays off to talk to people! Working from home means you don't necessarily see or engage with other humans as much as your office-going friends. This can get really isolating and sad, so even if you can't manage to drag your ass to the coffee shop, at least take 10 minutes to call someone and catch up for a spell.4) TRY TO MAINTAIN SOME SEPARATION BETWEEN YOUR WORK LIFE AND THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.For your sanity's sake, it's worth making an attempt to prevent your work from bleeding into the rest of your life. If this means only working from a specially designated office area or room, try that. If this means not letting yourself work from your bed or the living room sofa, cool.This one is tricky for me (who doesn't have nights when you desperately want to catch up on menial work while half-watching "The Bachelor"?), but enforcing this rule can help preserve your state of mind, and can help stop your work from becoming your Everything.This also means enforcing your own pre-set rules about when you are and aren't working -- i.e., it is up to YOU to decide when you're "off," but when you're off, BE OFF. If you tell yourself that you'll stop checking work email at 7 pm, don't check that sh*t after 7 pm! Enforcing this boundary also helps legitimize your job to your friends and family -- for example, maybe your friend will stop asking you to go the gym with her at 3 pm if you make it very clear that you're not done with work until 6 pm, no matter what. 5) TAKE BREAKS, OR ELSE.Just because you work from home doesn't mean you don't deserve a real lunch break! Step away from the computer. Give yourself a nice, solid break for lunch (30 minutes is good), and a couple additional 10-minute breaks throughout the day, too. I've found this helps me get so much more done, and it helps prevent burnout. Not long ago, I had a full-time work-from-home job in which lunch breaks were weirdly discouraged -- colleagues would actually complain if others stepped away for longer than 10 or 15 minutes -- and not surprisingly, my resentment level was high, and so was my stressiness. That kind of pressure was NOT conducive to a happy work environment, and my performance suffered. Don't feel guilty for needing breaks -- you're a human, not a machine. And on those breaks, do whatever you want -- I prefer actually getting up and leaving my desk, but if you want to stay put and catch up on your Twitter feed, fine. Just make sure you're giving yourself a real breather to focus on other things.

Did I forget anything? Leave your suggestions in the comments -- I could use any and all tips on happily navigating the WFH situation.

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