The Work From Home Survival Guide: Because Your Sanity Is Important

Now that millions more people are working from home due to the coronavirus, I thought I'd share some tips on how to keep your sanity. This is my work from home survival guide. I have actually been working from home since 2012, when I negotiated a severance and left corporate America for good.

Losing the routine and the camaraderie of co-workers was tough during the first year. I often found myself twiddling my thumbs, waiting for my wife to wake up because I had been conditioned since 1999 to wake up by 5:30 am.

There was probably a point where I lost my mind for a couple weeks being so isolated from the outside world. So I decided to write about some of those feelings throughout several posts. Here's one of them: The Negatives Of Early Retirement Nobody Likes To Talk About.

Over time, I got used to the isolation as I found my own routine.

Although I don't have a day job, I do spend roughly two hours a day on average writing posts and a newsletter.

The Joy Of Working From Home

With the world firmly moving toward remote work, employees everywhere will soon realize several things:

  • How absolutely ridiculous all those meetings were
  • How easily a meeting can be replaced with an e-mail
  • How incredibly inefficient it is to commute in rush hour traffic twice a day
  • How much time is wasted during work hours
  • How it's no longer as necessary to live in an expensive city
  • How difficult it is to concentrate at home when you have kids and a stay at home spouse
  • How much deadweight personnel there is
  • How lonely working from home truly is
  • How much more productive you'll be at home
  • How wonderful is to have full control of the thermostat. You can even get to pick the best office temperature to increase productivity.

For many, working from home sounds like a dream come true. But like with most things, the grass is always greener on the other side. This post will help you better appreciate your ability to work from home and highlight tips on how to maximize your work from home opportunity.

The Work From Home Survival Guide

There is a great saying, “When the cat is away, the mice come out to play.” Slacking off at home is the #1 reason why most bosses don't want you to work from home. Nobody I know who works from home really works a full day.

During your initial weeks of working from home, you may feel thrilled by all your new free time. You'll probably want to test the limits on how much slacking off you can do and still get things done.

Perhaps you'll do a video conference call in your underwear just for giggles. Or perhaps you'll take a phone call while you're enjoying the heated seat of your Toto Washlet.

My favorite activity, especially after phones became water resistant, is dictating a post while in the outdoor hot tub. I'm sure if I was blessed with a well-paying job that allowed me to work from home, I sure as heck wouldn't be spending most of the day at a desk!

Unfortunately, no matter how much freedom you have, you will slowly go insane working from home if you're not careful.

Here are some work from home tips to keep your sanity and be more productive:

1) Make sure you don't work too much.

Given you will find that working from home is way more efficient than working in an office with its constant interruptions, you may end up doing way more than you should with NO commensurate financial or title benefit.

I estimate that one hour of working at home equals two hours of working in the office. That's right. You are twice as productive at home while also saving on commute time.

Initially, most work from home newbies will still put in their usual number of hours a day. Due to twice the productivity, they will initially feel great getting so much done. But within about three months, they will start burning out because they won't be used to so much output.

Unfortunately, your boss won't be doubling your pay or halving the time it takes for you to get a promotion. Old processes die hard and you will still be earning and moving at the same traditional pace, no matter how much extra value you provide to the firm. As a result, you'll eventually become bitter.

The key to a happy work from home life is to do just enough to stay on your promotion and pay schedule. Therefore, I recommend trying to see if you can do the same amount of work in half the time by the end of the first month. Once you get this routine, your happiness will blossom because you will free up so much time to do the other things you want.

2) Make sure you get out of the house every day.

Make it a point to do some work at a coffee shop or meet up with a friend for lunch once in a while. It's very easy to stay at home in your pajamas all day if you feel you must work the same number of hours as you did when you were working in the office.

The best time of day to do errands is often in the middle of the day when most people are at the office. Things like grocery shopping, going to the post office, or getting a haircut are so much easier between 10 am – 12noon and 2 pm – 3:30 pm.

Getting out of the home resets your spirits. Not only will you appreciate the fresh air, you'll also enjoy the breakup of work routine.

3) Find a physical-to-mental balance.

Part of the reason why there's an obesity epidemic in America is that many office workers sit in a chair all day without any exercise. It's four hours in the morning at a desk, followed by one hour of eating, and then another four hours at the desk before driving 30+ minutes home. No wonder why our guts continue to grow!

The opportunity to work from home means a terrific opportunity to exercise daily. Try exercising for 5-10 minutes for every hour worked. For example, if you work for four hours in the morning, go for a 20 – 40-minute walk/jog around your neighborhood before getting a light lunch.

You should also try and do walking conference calls if you can. For example, if you know you have an internal call or a client call for 30 minutes, you can use that time to talk and walk. It feels great to do both at once.

4) Try napping after lunch.

My other favorite thing about working from home is the ability to take afternoon siestas. Yes, you're not supposed to be sleeping on the job, but why fight biology?

Your circadian rhythm causes your level of wakefulness to rise and dip throughout the day. Most people feel the strongest desire to sleep between 1 pm and 3 pm and then again between 2:00 am and 4:00 am, but this can vary from person to person.

Therefore, instead of drinking coffee, try scheduling a 15-30 minute nap between 1 pm – 3 pm every day. Not only will you feel great sleeping, but you'll also feel reenergized to tackle your remaining tasks before calling it a day.

Circadian Rhythm

5) Post your hours of operation to your family members. 

Unless you have a mansion, working from home can get very tricky if you also have a work from home spouse or a stay at home spouse. Because working from home tends to come with an assumption that you have a lot of free time, your spouse/partner may interrupt your work more than necessary.

If you get interrupted while you are being twice as productive, it can feel very jolting. It's much less pleasant to fall out of a car going at 40 mph than at 20 mph! Therefore, make it clear every day which hours of the day you plan to be working the hardest. Close the door and write your hours of operation on a whiteboard if you have to.

Clearly communicating your work hours and when you have free time will save you from a lot of frustration. Further, if your spouse is used to having the entire home to his or herself all day, it will take them time to get used to your work from home presence as well.

Here's a great example from the movie, The Shining, the shows what could happen in isolation. Poor Wendy. All she wanted to do was hang out!

6) Keep your manager abreast of what you are doing.

Millions of jobs are not coming back once the pandemic ends folks. You ned to be very visible to your bosses, especially if you are working from home. If your firm suddenly goes to a work from home protocol due to a health pandemic, you've got to earn your boss's trust. Her default assumption is that you won't be working as much or as hard as you would in an office.

It'll be worthwhile to check in with your boss every morning to tell her what you plan to be doing and provide a midday or end-of-day update on what you've done. Occasionally lob that 11 pm e-mail update as well! It will probably take 3-6 months' worth of regular updating before your boss will trust you enough to work from home.

Being out of sight makes it more difficult to get paid and promoted. Therefore, you must also view your check-ins as a type of face time. Not only should you be updating your boss on your accomplishments, but you should also be using these updates as a way to build a deeper relationship.

Being able to meet up with your bosses is why I think it's important to stay in city centers for at least the early-to-mid portions of your career.

7) Find your tribe of other work from homers.

One of the best things about working in an office is the camaraderie. It's fun to sometimes gossip at the water cooler. The occasional happy hour event where the boss pays for all drinks and snacks ain't too shabby either.

When you work from home, you can't help but feel lonely. And if you are an extrovert like me, you will struggle at home way more than an introvert. My wife can stay in the house and see nobody all week and not go crazy. After a day of being cooped at home, I start losing my mind.

You must proactively find people who have a similar lifestyle so you can commiserate with them about the ups and downs of life working from home. Make an effort to join your company's softball league or whatever social activity your company provides. This way, you get the benefits of working from home and the camaraderie of your co-workers while doing something fun.

8) Try to keep at least one weekend day off-limits.

If you happen to find yourself in a career where there is a tighter correlation between performance and pay, you may end up working every day of the week. But if you work every day of the week, you will eventually become miserable. You might become so miserable that your work quality suffers or you might burn out and quit.

The occupation that demonstrates the tightest correlation between work and reward is being a solopreneur. When you are a solopreneur, you only have yourself to depend on.

Before I started to write a weekly newsletter, I absolutely would take one weekend day off a week. Since making a commitment to publish regularly the newsletter, however, I feel this constant pressure every Saturday morning to write something unique for Sunday publication.

As my mood deteriorated, I decided to adapt my writing schedule and write portions of the newsletter throughout the week. By doing so, I freed up more time to be with my family.

9) Let your kids be kids.

First time work from home parents will feel a little perplexed how they can simultaneously work and take care of their children. Over time, they'll figure it out because they must! Their improved efficiency will make them do what at first seemed impossible.

Here's a response on Twitter when I asked what people thought were the reasons why parents still send their kids to school if parents are being forced to work from home to help contain the viral spread.

Work from home parents confused

Change is hard and I understand the financial difficulties some parents face when they can't send their kids to school. But if there is no other choice, we must find solutions!

Good Things For Kids

If you find yourself in a temporary bind, like having school shut down for months due to a health scare, don't panic. During the time you can't spend taking care of them, depending on their age, you can offer the following:

  • YouTube Kids or Khan Kids
  • Podcast lessons and stories for kids
  • Sesame Street on PBS
  • Let them practice independent play
  • Make them read a book
  • Do extra homework
  • Watch an age-appropriate movie
  • Make them do chores to build good work ethic and pay them so they can understand the value of money

Yes, too much screen time is bad. However, if you don't have a partner, an au pair, or a nanny, you've got to make do with what you have until the quarantine is over. Lots of screen time will be OK! If you must work the graveyard shift after your kids go to bed, make it so.

It helps to set a 30 minute timer as well to stop what you're doing and check in on them. Creating a routine for kids at home is huge. Create a half-day or full-day schedule comprised of work, play, snack, nap time, meals, and homework time for them.

Trying to work from home when you have a toddler is hard. You can hear the difficulty starting at the 7:45 mark in the podcast episode, The Bull Market Has Ended. However, with practice, it can be done! Below is a clip of an Israeli mom of 4 struggling. It is hilarious!

You're Going To Love Working From Home

Once you regularly experience the joy of not having to commute to work, you're never going to want to work in an office again. Not having to deal with in-person office politics is also quite a relief. It's still going on, but at least it's not as overt.

The stigma surrounding working from home will eventually fade. More employers will allow more employees to work from home, not only as a benefit for attracting and retaining employees but also a great way to increase productivity.

Parents who are constantly juggling with how to excel in their careers while taking care of their children will be the most appreciative of the increased acceptance of working from home. Having the flexibility to drop off and pick up your children without having to “escape” the office will b a nice relief. Just the increased amount of time parents can spend with their children is a huge blessing.

Finally, for those of you who are interested in making more side income, working from home gives you the perfect opportunity to do so. Just make sure you get all your work done first.

If I had been able to work from home in my 20s, I would have started Financial Samurai much sooner and grown it into a mammoth site. Alas, something is better than nothing!

Invest In Heartland Real Estate

Working from home is here to stay. Even after we achieve herd immunity, more people will want to work from home.

Therefore, you should take advantage of the multi-decade migration shift from high cost of living areas to low cost of living areas. 18-hour cities like Austin, Charleston, Denver, Phoenix, Memphis and more are cheaper and have higher net rental yields.

The best way to take advantage of this multi-decade demographic trend is through real estate crowdfunding. Here are the two best platforms.

Fundrise: A way for accredited and non-accredited investors to diversify into real estate through private eREITs. Fundrise has been around since 2012 and has consistently generated steady returns, no matter what the stock market is doing.

CrowdStreet: A way for accredited investors to invest in individual real estate opportunities mostly in 18-hour cities. 18-hour cities are secondary cities with lower valuations and higher rental yields. They also potentially higher growth due to job growth and demographic trends.

Both platforms are free to sign up and explore.

About The Author

27 thoughts on “The Work From Home Survival Guide: Because Your Sanity Is Important”

  1. hahaha on that video of the Israeli mom going off about distant learning!

    I was writing a work from home blog post for the company I work for and I was looking for a few other sources and came across yours.

    Us newbie work from home folks appreciate the tips from you veterans!

  2. WannaBeTrophyHubster

    We’re both working from home (my wife only recently sent to WFH by her company; I’ve been doing it for about 8 months as semi-retired).

    Now we also have 2 college kids sent home trying to do “remote learning” along with 2 high schoolers as well.

    The remote learning hasn’t been seamless from the standpoint of either college or the high school, but it’s getting better daily. The worst thing is the anti-cheating protocols both colleges have which view a service interruption (e.g., wifi drops, which ours does at least 1-2 times a day) as an attempt to log into an exam more than once and therefore blocks it as cheating.

    Then of course this morning the thumb-fingered dolts subcontracted by the county to lay piping along the roadway outside our neighborhood managed to dig into the fibre optic cable so now “approximately 1200 customers” or our internet provider won’t have internet until “approximately 7 pm” and it’s “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”.

    We are fortunate that our cell carrier is one of the several which have announced no data caps for the next couple of months, so at least the kids can keep working using their phones as mobile hot spots!

  3. The loneliness is the true downside, at least if one doesn’t adjust.

    This is even more true if you are abroad, somewhere you don’t speak the language! Which I have experienced in my “salary job”, indeed even when at a work site on occasion.

    The key is to realise that working from home is truly a different approach to life – and that requires effort and thought to adjust. Ultimately, I’ve found it has greatly improved my social life: I have replaced a largely random selection of colleagues with a curated group of true friends.

  4. I work for an international organization in DC, so I am not allowed to work from home except for one-off emergencies. (That’s the agreement with the US govt) Now, coronavirus has shut down my office and we are working from home. Unfortunately for me, water was shut on Friday for maintenance and I had to worki from Starbucks. I was surprised at how quickly I tuned out the busyness of the store, had an audio meeting and even attended a webex meeting. I will work from home tomorrow and will see if it will be as easy.

  5. Sam, do you think the shift to WFH will end up crashing Bay Area housing prices as people distribute themselves to cheaper COL areas?

    1. I think it’ll do the opposite.

      If you spend more time at home, more people want a home of their own, a nicer home, a larger home. That is certainly how I felt back in 2014 when I bought my first Golden Gate Heights home. I wanted to make my house like a resort. So I built a luxury master bathroom, a deck, and installed a hot tub.

      Stocks down, money rotates into bonds, cash, and real estate. Something tangible that provides utility. Rats demand, affordability for real estate and demand goes up as well.

      Are you a renter or a homeowner in the Bay Area? And for how long?

      1. Bay Area renter for 20 years, and FAANG employee with a desk in SF.

        I can only speak to what I know: If there is a sea change in the direction of WFH, I strongly suspect tech wages will be cut in the Bay Area. FAANG companies scale pay based on region, with Bay Area, Seattle, and NYC being the highest tiers. If an employee transfers from SF to Austin for example, their pay adjusts accordingly.

        In an eventuality where a bulk of higher-paying “white-collar” jobs trend WFH, what’s to keep house prices aloft if nobody’s forced to live near the metro? Startups already can’t afford to compete with FAANG for local hires in this post-unicorn environment and so have trended remote, or toward lower COL areas as you’ve commented regarding heartland migration.

        Appreciate your blog and insights!

  6. If working from home goes well for companies do you think more will adopt after this all passes? Unfortunately my wife and I work in healthcare so not really an option for us.

  7. I have been a work-from-homer for 23-1/2 years for 5 different employers. I have to disagree many of your points.

    There is no way I could have worked with the kids home. An occasional day when they were sick, yes. But not until they are older, 9-10 years old, was I able to work with them here. Full time day care is still mandatory for a full-time WFH employee. Feel free to have a nanny at home, but they have to pretend you are not there. (with the exception of the current virus predicament)

    Make sure you don’t work too much? Please don’t spread this myth – this is exactly why employers don’t let us work from home. The way I was able to sell this to management was by proving that they got MORE for their money. I always put in a solid 8 hours of writing code and they knew it. 1 hour at home = 2 hours in the office, but that doesn’t mean you have a license to work halftime.

    My logic was that I was saving 2 hours drive-time and getting ready for work, money on gas/lunch/professional clothes, was comfortable all day in my sweats, and I was available when someone needed to let the guy in to fix the washer. That was the trade off for giving them a full 8-hour work-day at home.

    Yes, I was astoundingly more productive working at home. This is exactly what allowed me to be as successful as I was. I could NOT have written the complicated code I wrote in an office where I was being continually interrupted. I became a much more skilled programmer thanks to the quiet. If I had the 2-for-1 attitude, I would be making half as much money now. This should be viewed an an opportunity to really grow. I didn’t DIRECTLY have a commensurate dollar or title benefit, but my work ethic earned me that.

    Maintain your professionalism. Take a half hour lunch, but don’t think you can blow off hours of work with this 2-for-1 attitude. Always be active on your instant messenger. Always be quick to answer emails. Always prove that you are committed. Unless you are your own boss, in that case do whatever you want.

    PS I love all your financial articles :)

    1. Ah, but have you kept your sanity? That is the real question and goal of this post!

      You are a boss’s dream WFH employee. But there are only so many of you. Must of us will definitely not work as long as we did in the office.

      You are coming from 23.5 years WFH, so WFH is like working in the office for most people. There is a huge transition shift going on. These are the people I’m addressing.

      1. Of course I have kept my sanity! WFH was what kept me sane, with the positive trade-offs of time, money, focus on my tasks. I don’t know why sanity would be difficult to achieve. I also don’t understand why I am a dream employee, or I am in limited supply. Seems like that attitude should be the default for a professional. If you want to help those newly-minted WFH-ers, you should encourage professionalism so their managers see the benefit, gradually bestow trust, and continue to allow it. Not napping, exercising, and cutting back hours. Again, I love all your other articles

  8. Hey Sam – I was checking in every day or so for your take on remote work!

    I am a partner in an outsourced IT services company of about 20 staff. Our entire company is now working from our homes, and onsite client visits are now limited to emergency outages only. We have a traditional office space in town, but everyone is able to work from home and access all of our systems, including voice calls, IM, CRM, and client systems to continue support. We did a test run early last week and we were able to function near 100% normal productivity.

    What is NOT 100% setup is our client systems for remote access for THEIR staff. Sure, the C-level folks had remote support setup long ago, but now these companies are faced with their entire staff not being able (or willing) to come into the office.

    We are expecting a deluge of requests next week, and we’ve already seen clients yesterday asking about their options.

    While remote access technologies are certainly mature and secure when deployed properly, there is more to the setup than merely flipping a switch. There are a number of considerations (especially around remote access security) that we’ll be dealing with while businesses suddenly realize the are under prepared for a sudden shift to a remote workforce.

    1. Good to know Todd. Sounds like business will be booming for you!

      Companies will figure out the setup, sooner or later, because they MUST in order to survive.

      One CEO I know spent several million to buy very single one of his employees a Chromebook to help work remote. They were all on the Google cloud, so the transition wasn’t as difficult as expected.

      I think companies should be able to figure out remote work within 2 weeks. And everybody is motivated to be productive or else they might lose their jobs.

  9. My work has now sent us home. Unfortunately, the daycare is now closed as well for 2 weeks, so we’ll see how much I get done. We pay a lot for daycare, so let’s see if they give us a credit / refund. The contract does allow for Acts of God, but in this case, it is the governor shutting it down, and I’d say the governor is not an act of God

    1. Our preschool isn’t refunding us the $1,950/month unfortunately. They even sent us a reminder to pay our April dues.

      Tough situation they are in. We are probably going to hire one of the preschool teachers to babysit for 3-4 hours next week one day as well. So that’s a triple whammy: preschool, babysitting, and less time for me to work or do my own stuff.

      It’s fine though, b/c we’re all in this together.

  10. Very timely article, Sam. For years, I have been struggling to understand why employers don’t want to move towards working from home sooner. The wasted time on the commute and distractions always baffled me. Every office I’ve ever worked in feels like nobody wants to work. And you’re right about working from home being much more productive. Anyways, I really enjoyed this post. Especially the points on getting out of the house each day and posting your hours. The posting your hours idea is brilliant. I will be using that going forward. :)

  11. Great article and perfect timing! I am about to send 80+% of my employees to work from home full time for the next 2 weeks starting Monday. Most of my staff works 1 to 2 days a week now, but this is going to be a fundamental change for our organization. I am going to miss seeing my staff every day, but I am intrigued to see how this affect productivity. I believe we are going to see a huge increase, but some of my colleagues are concerned. Let the great experiment begin!

  12. You’re right. The tablet/TV will need to work extra time over the next few weeks. You can’t get anything done if the kids are clamoring for attention all the time.
    Hopefully, the government will give some stimulus to the stay-at-home parents too. We’ll see.

    1. Yeah, now is the time to put aside the “oh no, screen time is bad” and make these bad boys work overtime if you need to have focused work.

      We held off on screen time until 2 years old, and now we let our boy watch the educational stuff. We try not to pass 1 hour a day, but I know it’s fine if so.

  13. Thank goodness for laptops and wifi!! I loved working from home when I had my full time office job. So much easier to get things done without constant meetings and interruptions. Working from home with kids in the house has its own set of interruptions and distractions of course so utilizing their nap times and educational screen time is helpful. Ideally they’re in school while you’re working of course but when there’s COVID19 going around, school isn’t an option!

  14. Frank Stalzer

    Awesome piece. I moved to FL last year and have spent a year getting used to working from home. It definitely has it’s ups and downs but I’m finally getting to the point where I actually like it and find I am more productive. I run a company based in VA and have branches in NC and AL as well so I travel to those locations periodically. That helps me get out and see others which does wonders for the mind. I think you hit every aspect of WFH.

    And the video from the shining was hysterical.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

    1. Please let us know how productivity goes and if there’s anything else that you wouldn’t expect.

      The Shining video was special b/c it was w/ Jim Carey as a deep fake of Jack Nicholson.

      I totally et what Jim/Jack was feeling during the interruption.

  15. Working from home is definitely our future. It’s what makes sense for modern families who support their family on dual-income.

    Teleworking will provide an extra 30 minutes to 2+ hours per day because there’s literally no commute. Those times can be spent preparing dinner, doing house chores, playing with kids, attending PTA meetings, etc. It will make a huge difference in every parents lives which in turn will enrich their kids lives.

    Teleworking will also increase productivity. There’s this misconception that people work less when they work from home. Partially it’s true because there will always be bad apples that take advantage of the system. However, in my experience, people work so much more efficiently at home. At work, there’s the social aspect that can be good, but how many times were you interrupted by office noise, colleagues dropping by to say hi, or surprise visits from your boss? Or just being exhausted from the commute the moment you step in? At home, those interruptions can be controlled and limited.

    Teleworking also allows you to spend more time with your pets. Yes, this is a strange one, but I always felt terrible leaving my dog at home while I was at work. Yes, dog nannies are an option. Yes, finding a dog walker was an option. But those cost money and it takes time to find a trustworthy person. Teleworking though gives you the flexibility to walk your dog multiple times (quick five minute walks or ten minute walks) that will give you time to get some fresh air while getting some steps in.

    I could list a couple of more, but I’m just glad that companies are seeing the bright side of teleworking. It sucks that the coronavirus pandemic was the catalyst, but we always have to see the good in the bad.

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