2 Things I’ve Learned Over 20 Years of Working from Home

Well, it’s actually only been 19 years but 20 sounded better.

In 2003 I quit my job at a record company. The office was situated in Clapham Junction — known as the sweaty armpit of London. I don’t miss that commute.

With a £10,000 loan from the bank, I set up my T-shirt business. My snazzy new office was the corner of my Brixton bedroom. I’ve been working from anywhere ever since.

Later, I upgraded to a slight office space inside an advertising agency. Co-working hadn’t taken off yet but in essence, that’s what I was doing. To my right was a graphic designer, a very likable chap. To his right was a hot-tempered adman who spent most of his time drinking in the French bistro around the corner.

The main motivation to travel into central London was really the selection of food — a dynamite Italian sandwich shop, a cozy Indian comfort food, and Pret a Manger. Stylish Soho workers also added color to my day. In time I could no longer ignore that my productivity had become fake.

In the ensuing years, there were some stints working out of a showroom, warehouse, on-site with clients, WeWork before it imploded, and of course my favorite coffee shop. But for the most part, I got my best work done at home. And cultivating these two ‘skills’ is what has carried me through the years:

1. It’s A State of Mind

While the pandemic has flipped the workplace on its head, the WFH movement is at least 50 years old. We may use different terminology today than ‘telecommuting’ which was coined n 1973 but the golden nugget remains the same: great work happens anywhere.

Twenty years ago, I was embarrassed by my home office. Today the perks that come from working from home is a bragging right. To be sure the lifestyle is not for everyone. There are big problems and promises of working from home.

Segmentors are those who need to keep the psychological space between work and life separate in order to stay sane. Without firm boundaries, declining mental health and burnout lurk from every corner. But for Blenders like me, it’s natural to have work and life bleed into one another. With the right attitude and mindset, working from anywhere can be magical.

If you’ve chosen or politely asked to work from home then your responsibility is to master the dance between deep play and deep work. While it can get very tricky at times, it brings with it wholeheartedness. You get to be your wonderful and weird self all the time.

Work is an experimental practice to evolve. It now occupies a psychological space as much as a physical one. And the best office to work in isn’t actually a place — it’s a state of mind.

2. It’s A Matter of Bandwith

O.K. So I’m using the word bandwidth instead of boundaries. It’s probably because as a coach I hear the word boundaries tossed around so much. One way to look at boundaries is to think of them as mechanisms to protect your limited bandwidth.

Whether it be creative work or emotional labor — we’re limited in our energy. And being discerning with how, when, and where we exert our energy is the name of the game. Take a Sliding Doors example:

Scenario #1: You sit down for an evening work session to get stuck into a project but for some reason just aren’t feeling it. You do your best to squeeze something out that doesn’t totally suck. After an hour of stubbornly gazing at your screen (and checking Instagram every 7 seconds), you realize it’s futile. Your frustration lingers into the evening and you find yourself being short with your partner over dinner.

Scenario #2: Same session and same project but this time your awareness that this is going to be a waste of your energy leads you to pull the plug. With gumption, you head out for an evening stroll and finish listening to a podcast. Staring at the fireplace after dinner, you open up to your partner about your stuckness. He gently reminds you that boredom is the breeding ground for innovation. Early the next morning with a dynamite cup of coffee in hand, you hit your stride and whisk through the project.

Working from home lets you disperse your limited supply of energy in more discerning ways than in the typical office. Moving, not sitting, is our natural state. Matching your deskspace with your ‘workspace’ takes discipline. If you spend a lot of time on Zoom you might try switching stations around your home. Or if you take a lot of calls why not take your ‘work’ for a walk.

In fact, that’s what I’m going to do right now…

Every month I sent out a dispatch about work, life, and human development. You can sign up for that right over here ✍️

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Jonas Altman

Jonas Altman

Founder, Coach & Author of the bestseller SHAPERS → www.shapers.life/book