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Managing the Transition from Office Job to Work-at-Home

Managing the Transition from Office Job to Work-at-Home

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    When lay-offs and redundancies are on the rise, it generally follows that people trying to make a living from home, working for themselves, or over the Internet are on the increase as well. So it stands to reason that as we speak, thousands of people are sitting in their new home office (quite possibly the living room, or the dining room table) and tearing their hair out asking: How do work-at-homers actually manage to get anything done when there’s a TV in the next room, a coffee machine in the kitchen and all sorts of fun stuff to do in the laundry?

    If that’s you, well, I feel sorry for you. Not because writing for a productivity blog means that I’ve found the secret to getting everything done before everyone else, but because it’s hard, really hard, to work from home, and there’s only so much you can do to make it easier. That’s what this article’s about.

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    Here are some tips to help you make the transition from the office job, where the environment is tailored to make sure you don’t do anything except work, to the home office, where every distraction you could’ve asked for is present.

    Use Your Newfound Mobility

    If working from the same cubicle day in and day out was frustrating and claustrophobic, do you think it’ll be any different in your home office? For your sanity, use your newfound mobility and get out. You can work from a wide variety of places these days, including cafes and fast food joints, not to mention Starbucks which is somewhere in between the two. If you live in a central location, even better – you can grab your laptop bag and get some exercise walking to your work location, which brings me to…

    Start an Exercise Plan

    This is, of course, one of those things you’re supposed to be doing regardless of where you work. The thing is, you need exercise even more when you work at home; you can go the whole day without leaving the house much of the time. You don’t even get the minuscule activity of walking to the car, and from the car to your cubicle. The sad truth about working from home: you will get fatter than if you were still working in an office, unless you take measures to stay healthy.

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    Exercise is also an important part of making the transition from the office job to working at home. If you can go for a jog or a walk in the morning before you start work, you’ll find yourself much more clear-headed and motivated to work, which is a huge help. It can become very hard to get motivated when you spend most of your life in the one building.

    Plan for Lunch, Before it Plans for You

    If you don’t plan for lunch, then you might find that lunch starts making its own plans for your day, or your weight. If you haven’t planned for a non-intrusive but relaxing lunch break you might find yourself cooking a gourmet meal that takes two or three hours to complete (for the same reason one might suddenly choose to clean that rangehood that hasn’t been touched in months: to get out of working), or you might find yourself constantly driving up to the nearest McDonalds or KFC. Eating an unhealthy diet is not something I’d recommend in any circumstances, let alone those were the sole motivator in the business is you.

    Low Information Diet

    So that particular headline contains one of those annoying buzzphrases, but here’s the thing: there are no checks and balances to keep distractions at bay when managers aren’t patrolling the cubicles and sysadmins aren’t watching your screen without your knowledge. You’ll check email, Google Reader and even the ghastly Twitter and fritter away your precious productive time if you are not careful.

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    Take a page from Tim Ferriss’s book (literally). Check email twice a day, at 12:00pm and 4:00pm. As for Google Reader? Don’t check it – maybe if you’re out of work hours, but not during them. I’m guilty of checking my work-related feeds using Google Reader amongst my personal feeds. Don’t do that, it’s stupid. As for Twitter? Unless your manager asks you to tweet during your work day (yeah right, you say, but it has happened to me!) then don’t. Even. Think. About. It.

    Create Comfort

    I read a book that said you shouldn’t spend money on your desk or office chair or what have you when you’re starting a work-at-home business. Forget it. If you’re not comfortable, the jabbing of your chair or the over- or under-elevation of your desk will gnaw at your mind and add yet another layer of distraction to your day. Get great furniture, and deck out the room with things that relax you – whether that’s posters of Cannibal Corpse or a zen garden and one of those little mini water fountains, that’s up to personal taste.

    Your office should be a place you enjoy entering, not a place that fills you with dread.

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    Read Books, Watch Movies

    Don’t forget to entertain yourself. Make sure you’re reading a good fiction book at any given time, and don’t forget to watch the odd movie, even go out to the cinema and see one. These sort of recreational activities feed your mind while relaxing it; they’re perfect for creative individuals. That said, creatives need to relax without other people’s ideas being thrown at them sometimes, or when would your own mind get a chance to tell you about the bright ideas it has had lately?

    Work Hours and Deadlines

    Set work hours: 9am to 5pm, 5am to 1pm, 6pm to 2am, it doesn’t really matter when as long as you can tweak your lifestyle and body clock to suit. The important thing is that you set work hours, both for yourself – you only work during these hours – and for others, so that clients know when they can and can’t interrupt you and so family and friends don’t break your concentration.

    Don’t Forget Your Friends & Family

    Another common problem for work-at-homers is that we become social hermits. I know it happens to me. A few times, I haven’t seen anyone at all because I started so early and finished so late – despite living with my wife, my toddler and my newborn (not the quietest of housemates). Make sure you spend a couple of hours with your family each day if you have one, and regularly schedule things with your friends – whether it is going out somewhere or just having a beer at your house. The bonus – not that this should be your primary motivation – is that you’ll make sure you get your work done in time to meet your other commitments.

    You might be seeing a pattern in all this. The thing that will make your transition the easiest is to take care of yourself and treat yourself as you would an expensive car – regularly serviced and in good shape. The irony is that taking care of oneself is usually the first thing to go in those who work where they live. Take care of your health, your mind, and your relationships.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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