How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Working from Home

I should preface this post by noting that it has almost nothing to do with cybersecurity…

What a strange time. 2020 has been, just… a really weird year so far. First of all, it’s hard to believe that we are about one-third of the way through the year. Next week it will be May. Most of us are living in this Groundhog Day-like situation where everyday is the same house, apartment, same haircut, same pants, same leftovers. The weather in Syracuse suggests it is closer to February 2nd than April 24th.

The little things that we took for granted are often not available to us any more. Like having places to go. And I’m sorely missing my jiu-jitsu gym. Frankly, that is really just putting a light-hearted spin on things, because there are a number of us out there losing loved ones, fighting for their lives, and fighting for their sanity while they work tirelessly to help others (thanks btw!).

But this is a blog, and while it is a professional blog (i.e., about cybersecurity law) it feels a little disingenuous to ignore the personal during this crazy time. Fact is, 2020 has been especially weird for me because I’ve actually been working from home since February, more than a month before COVID-19 really hit New York hard. Last year, I made the decision that I wanted to own the means of my production, and I began working in earnest to make that happen. I explored a number of options, and promised myself that I would make something happen by the end of the year. In January, an opportunity came up that would allow me to build something from scratch, and I can honestly say it has been one of the most important decisions of my life. Everything is about to change. It is a little early to say, but it may also turn out to be one of my best decisions as well.

It’s been a bit like a pendulum being here. My first month as a law firm owner was about getting my footing. I left a firm that, while it had a lot of problems, also had a lot of people that I cared about. I had hoped my benevolent overlords would understand where I was coming from when I told them I was considering going out on my own, but they didn’t. When I finally saw that, the decision got much easier.

At home, I set up a nice office in what used to be a guest bedroom. It was a rough start during Winter break with my kids. Little did I know the kids would be a fixture in this office for months. In the first week of March, I signed a lease to open the new firm’s office in downtown Syracuse, and while I’m thrilled about my new digs, the lease doesn’t start until June, leaving me, at home, whether the state tells me to or not.

Anyway, I began this process as one of a minority of Americans who work from home, to one of millions. I had worked from home previously, before my legal career, when I freelanced as web programmer. Between those times, and all that has gone on now, I’ve come away from a number of tips, tricks, and hints at staying sane. Hopefully you find some use here.

  1. Have a dress code. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. If you get up and get dressed for the day, you are going to find that you feel more productive and more “yourself.” The temptation to sit on the couch in your jammies all day is strong, but it is a false idol.
  2. Have a routine. Apparently this is one of the first things they tell you in prison. I haven’t been to prison, but this lockdown has all of us learning a little about how to cope in confinement. I get up at the same time as I would if I was in the office. I work until “quittin time”, every weekday. Sure, I take a lunch break, sometimes talk a walk, but I keep regular office hours. Even when no one is looking.
  3. That goes for eating too. Eat three square meals, or whatever is “normal” for you. A lot of us started this thing with crazy stress eating. Understandable. But now that we are on month two of this thing, plan your meals. I’m not saying you need to diet. In fact, right now would be an extremely difficult time to start a diet. I’m just suggesting that second or third breakfast, and the dessert with lunch, is because you’re bored and stressed, not because you are hungry. Again, the reason to get into the routine is that you will feel better in short order.
  4. Get some exercise. Even if you aren’t the fit type, do something with your body. You will feel better. You don’t have to do anything crazy. Take walks. Lift something over your head. As I’m writing this, I’m in the middle of an online friendly contest to see who can do the most pushups in an 8 hour period. Even if you lose, you win. There are ton of good videos on youtube that you can get you going as well. I’m a big of Yoga with Adriene, especially if I’m feeling stressed.
  5. Find the silver lining. I designed a marketing plan on the March 21st SHIELD Act deadline in New York. But, by the time March 21st came, sure, I fresh off of some early victories in the launch of the firm, but with a brand new business, a family looking to me for financial support, the courts shutdown, and business grinding to a halt this new adventure was feeling pretty scary. I decided I could choose to look at this as a source of distress or as an opportunity. You can’t control this. All you can control is how you react. For me, the scary thing is that when you’re starting a new business, there is a lot to do, not a lot of resources to do it with and your competition can grind away and outperform you while you are just getting started. The mortgage comes due whether you make money or not. But, the opportunity here is that everyone else is kind of in the same position as me. In fact, I had an extra month to set up my home office and get into a routine. My home printer is just as good as everyone else’s. I have work to do (if this happened a month earlier, I’d probably be screwed.) Suddenly, the federal government is talking about supporting small business and help is available in a way that it wasn’t when I first launched. If anything, the system has changed to my advantage. Maybe those things don’t apply to you, but the point is to find the advantages here. Find the opportunities presenting themselves. If you are having a hard time finding the silver lining in your situation, check out this video. I go to it a lot when I’m feeling discouraged.
  6. Not every day is going to be a win. I’d be lying if I told you that I’m productive all day every day. I’m not. But the striving gets me a long way there. Could I do better? Probably. But, by staying focused on the goal, I’m getting where I need to be. Sometimes you gotta just take the “L” for the day and move on. New day, new grind. Go do it.
  7. Be compassionate. There is a lot of “together” time in a quarantined family of four. I was an only child. I like people a lot. I also like alone time. A lot. If I don’t get alone time, I get cranky. But guess what? My wife has requirements also. My kids do too. We all have little quirks. Don’t let things fester with your team. Have patience. Communicate. Be nice. Say “sorry” when you’ve been a jerk. I guarantee that in the last two months, at least once, we’ve all been jerks to someone.
  8. You have no excuses. This pandemic may be remembered as the golden age of memes. Here is one of my favorites:

The takeaway is that right now, you have no excuses not to make your dreams come true, or at least work towards them. Use this time to come out of this with a new skill, new hobby, or new experience. Think about all of things you told yourself you would do if you had time. Now go do them.

9. Productivity is good. I’m seeing a lot of articles out there talking about how expecting to be productive during this time is not reasonable. I think that is silly, and not especially helpful. First, I would note that those articles were all written by people who managed to get up out of bed and go write an article. More importantly, getting things done feels good. Sitting around and “waiting” is more likely to drive you nuts. Sure, this is a stressful time. Perhaps its not realistic to expect your productivity levels to remain the same as they were before all this. Like I said, don’t beat yourself up over it. But, finding meaning in what you do is the hallmark of a healthy life. Keep striving towards progress.

10. Your mileage may vary. Don’t compare yourself to others. The things I struggle with may come easy to you and visa-versa. Accept it, roll with it, and do your best.

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