Like most founders, I can’t say that I consider myself completely “sane.”
By the very nature of our jobs, we’re taking big risks, and our dreams are far beyond what the data suggests we can reasonably expect.
To take that plunge, I think you have to be a little bit strange.
That’s all made worse by the fact that for most of my working hours, there’s not a single person in the physical space around me.
We’re a remote team, so it’s something that everyone at Groove deals with.
For some — including me — working solo is the best way to go. I’m still happier and more productive than I’ve ever been working from a shared office.
But still, the isolation can get to you.
Over the years, I’ve become much better at spotting when the isolation is about to get to me. And I’ve developed a number of ways to stop it in its tracks.
In 3 years of working solo, here’s what I’ve found works best to help me stay sane working from home:
I work hard. We all do.
So when I look out my window and see that the surf is looking particularly good that day, I feel no guilt about taking my board to the beach for a couple of hours.
It’s a welcome release, and doing something I love helps me get out of my “work” head. More often than not, I come back to work refreshed, relaxed and ready to tackle the next big task.
2) Walking the Dog
Working from home is absolutely NOT a good-enough reason to get a dog (or any pet). Caring for a dog takes a lot of time and effort; everything people say about dog ownership being a big commitment is true.
But I will say this: having a dog forces me to take daily breaks that I might not otherwise take, and that’s a very, very powerful benefit. It gets me out of the house, and while I don’t know if I’d call my leisurely strolls exercise, they certainly make me feel better.
3) Team Chat (Not Just for Work)
We’re on Slack all day at Groove, and more than 95% of our team’s communication takes place there (with the other 5% being Screenhero and Skype).
Team chat is a huge asset to any remote team, but what many people don’t talk about is the social aspect of it. We have the “water cooler” conversations in our Slack room that we’d otherwise use for casual social interaction in an office, and it’s a lot of fun.
It certainly helps us feel like we’re not always working.
4) Having Regular Calls (Even When You Don’t Have To)
To me, hearing another person’s voice helps me feel like I’m not the only one in the room.
And while we have weekly team calls, and I’m almost always on Skype with one or more of our employees every day, sometimes that’s not enough.
So I schedule calls to connect with other founders and startup folks. It helps me build my network and learn from others, while giving me the benefit of actually connecting with other people while I sit at home.
5) Sleeping Well
There’s been so much written about the value of sleep, and anecdotally, there’s no doubt in my mind that when I have a good night’s sleep, I’m happier and more productive than when I don’t.
I also know that when I spend all evening working, I sleep much worse than when I give myself time to wind down and relax. That’s why I disconnect around 7PM: disabling push notifications on my phone, closing my email client and stopping myself from checking Twitter “just because.”
6) Listening to Music
There’s hardly a time when I’m working that Pandora isn’t on. Like many people I know, having light background noise helps me focus, and it’s a lot more fun than working in silence.
Some of my favorite Pandora stations to work to are Van Morrison, Bob Marley, Moby, Kings of Leon, Adele, Avett Brothers, Bruce Springsteen and Bon Iver.
7) Standing Desk
About two years ago, I switched to working from a standing desk.
Aside from the health benefits — which, in fairness, there’s debate over — I find that it simply makes me move more. I’m a lot more likely to pace, or walk to the kitchen for a glass of water, than I would be if I were sitting comfortably. And moving around helps me feel less closed in.
8) Sitting Desk
As much as I love my standing desk, I also love changing things up.
Every couple of days, I move my workspace over to the kitchen table.
The change of scenery stimulates me, and keeps my environment from feeling stale.
Just like sleep, the benefits of exercise have been discussed ad nauseum.
What I’ve found to be most is to pick something you actually enjoy; if you hate running, why force yourself to run? You’ll be less likely to make it a habit if you don’t look forward to it. You’re better off playing tennis or basketball or doing something else that makes you happy.
I actually enjoy running, so that’s usually what I go with.
This is probably the simplest, easiest thing I do that helps me stay sane while working from home.
It’s also probably something that many people at offices feel less than comfortable doing.
Every hour or so, I step back from my desk and spend five minutes doing stretches. I like how it makes my body feel, but it also helps to have something that keeps you from overworking by building breaks into your day.
I also asked the Groove team for their best working-solo advice, and got some great tips:
11) Playtime With the Cats
Mo: Like Alex’s dog walking, I enjoy spending some quality cuddle time with my own two furry coworkers: Cats Domino and Gorilla. They are the best kind of coworkers in that they don’t distract from getting deep in the work zone when I need to put my head down and crank out tickets, but always remind me when it’s time to take a brain break to chase a string or play fetch with a stuffed mouse (yes, my cats fetch…)
Len: Meditation doesn’t have to be a religious thing or a spiritual thing. For me, it’s just a great way to step back and relax my brain for a few minutes. I use the Headspace app, which has been absolutely amazing; for 10 minutes a day, it teaches you how to meditate in 10 days.
13) Family Time
Jordan: With a two-year old son at home, a change of pace is never far away. My breaks usually involve big trucks, blocks, and a giant sock monkey.
14) Playing a Musical Instrument
Chris: I like to keep my saxophone or a guitar sitting close by for those times when I need to clear my head. The really hard problems require whipping out some early Metallica at full volume, more subtle issues will inspire some John Coltrane on the sax. If it’s a really happy day, the neighbors (the local moose family) [Alex note: Chris lives in the Colorado Rockies] might be tapping their hooves to Let it Go from Frozen, even in winter. After all, the cold never bothered me anyway 🙂
How to Apply This to Your Life
Not all of these tips will be interesting or useful to you.
But it doesn’t take 14 tips to make an impact. Pick 2-3 that you could see yourself doing, and work on making them regular habits.
Whether you work from home or in an office, I hope this helps you feel better and get through your day in a more productive and positive way.