How I Work From Home, the Sequel

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Small basement home office

Lloyd Alter / CC BY 2.0

Another look at how a TreeHugger full-timer gets through the day.

A lot of freelance writers I know work out of coffee shops or some of the new co-working spaces that have opened in the area, but like Katherine, I mostly work from home. But I smiled when I read her recent post about how she works from home, because her work habits are very different from mine.

We have both been thinking about this since reading a Guardian article titled Extreme loneliness or the perfect balance? How to work from home and stay healthy, issues I have worried about. The article discusses the downsides, the isolation, the lack of exercise, the difficulty in setting boundaries, problems I often face. Katherine and I have different ways of dealing with them, but have some in common:

Have a nice spot to work:

When we downsized and renovated our house, I carved out an area in the lower level, about 7 feet by 7 feet, as my office, with a big window and a view of the backyard, a custom standing desk, and a blank wall behind for videos. I seriously dislike drywall so I left the concrete block walls exposed; looking back, I wish I had used a more architectural block or covered them in wood like the wall behind me. It feels too much like a basement.

Get the right equipment and a big monitor:

Dual monitors
 Lloyd Alter / CC BY 2.0

I do not know how people spend all day working at a notebook computer without an external monitor; it just isn't ergonomic. Even when I worked on my MacBook, I had an external monitor and keyboard.

It is also funny because for years I have been writing about how the world is moving on to smart phones, where your office is in your pants. I assumed that the computer would essentially disappear. However, as my MacBook Pro hit five years old, I thought it was time to get a new machine, and went for the 27" iMac. It so much easier to copy and paste read and write with it all up side by side in big crisp letters. It has been a huge productivity boom. Meanwhile, I have a MacBook for when I am on the road, so when I need a break from standing, I just pull it out and sit down at my old Herman Miller desk.

Some have complained that my setup, with a window right behind my monitor, is not a good idea. It's true that late in the afternoon I have the western sun in my eyes. That's often when I grab the MacBook and move somewhere else; I love just looking up at the raccoons on the fence and the clouds moving by.

If you have a standing desk, get an anti-fatigue mat or gel pad:

I am standing on a concrete floor and it makes such a difference. You can go all day at a standing desk.

On trying to set limits on work hours:

Katherine seems to be good at this, but as she says, "It helps having a busy family." She has lots of other things to keep her busy. I get up around six so that I can do the TreeHugger newsletter which goes out at 8:30 every morning, a ritual that I have not missed once in nearly ten years. Then it is a scan of the news – the websites I follow and the web editions of newspapers I subscribe to. When I worked on Chrome I used Wunderlist and Instapaper, but since I switched to Safari I have a mile-long reading list and pages of saved tweets to figure out what to write about for the day, how I will fill my quota of three posts. It really seems daunting some mornings.

Then I start writing, hoping to get a post up relatively quickly so that I can go for a run. But it often doesn't go up quickly, and I miss the run. So I just keep working until I hit my quota, often well after 3 PM. Then I have to go back to reading, adding to my lists so that I have something to write about tomorrow. I think I spend every waking hour either writing or reading about stuff to write about. It doesn't ever end. Lesson: Set work hours and stick to them.

On eliminating distractions:

Katherine turns off her phone and concentrates on her work. I have my old monitor running Tweetdeck and Skype, my phone in its stand pumping out notifications. I have let Twitter become a constant distracting obsession. Lesson: Minimize distractions and turn off Twitter.

On staying inspired and not getting depressed:

This is so hard these days, the environmental news is so bad, and the political news is even worse, since you cannot really separate the two. On TreeHugger we try not to be too dire, too negative, and it is really hard when you have a diet of news about climate change, about pollution, about the American government rolling back environmental protections, about the Canadians electing right wing demagogues who hate everything environmental (that's the Ontario Environment Minister protesting a carbon tax!), about French yellow vests rioting over gas prices, about the United Kingdom falling apart, about the inexorable rise in carbon emissions... and I should stop right now. Lesson: Turn off Twitter and look at pretty green buildings.

On getting a life:

Katherine describes how she is kept busy with the family; my kids are grown and I have few obligations that get me away from my desk. This is a problem; other than teaching once a week at Ryerson School of Interior Design for one term each year, I have few reasons ever to leave. My bossy Apple Watch makes me get 30 minutes of exercise most days, but really, I should get out more. Toronto changes so fast that when I do get out I barely recognize it. Lesson: Get a life.

 Lloyd Alter / CC BY 2.0

Lesson: Lighten up.

Get outside. Hug the dog. Listen to Kelly practicing her piano. (I love Giuseppe Concone's study in A-flat minor a lot right now.) Sign up for a lecture. Call a friend for a beer. Reading Katherine and writing this, I realize that it is time for a change or I might burn out or keel over. Right now, I am going for a nice long run and I don't know when I'll be back.