I work from home full time. For those of you who haven't yet entered the full time workforce, either because you're too young or because you're pursuing a PhD in applied metaphysics, this is known as living the dream. At least this is what they tell you when you work in an office. Working from home for the entry level employee is seen as being strictly the province of consultants, phone sex operators and silicon valley types. There's also a mythology about working from home that corporate greenhorns have created. It involves things like showering every other day, wearing sweatpants all day long and having LAN parties in the middle of the day on a whim. I found out that this is, for the most part, true - the parts about showering and sweatpants anyway. But it's not as easy as you might think. Working at home, successfully, requires some careful thought and preparation. Below are some things I've learned while working at home.
Create a routine and stick to it: This is the most important aspect of working at home. Without a proper routine you won't get anything done. Having seen a documentary on nuclear submarine life, I realized I could be a lot more productive if I adjusted my body to a sunlight free 18 hour day. So I duct taped black trash bags over my windows and switched my clocks to military time. My plan was to work for alternating shifts of 6 and 12 hours with the occasional 6 hour gaming session thrown in every couple of days. You'll find it's a much more productive way to live, but you must take into account the slow shift away from real world time that occurs. I found that peak productivity times will drift all over the place. This is fine, people who work at home usually carry an air of the eccentric so no one will be surprised when you send through your genius presentation at 5 in the morning. You must also realize that going outside is out of the question. I made that mistake the first week, when going out to run a few errands I realized that seeing the bright morning sun at the end of one of my shifts threw my circadian rhythm off and I entered a state of jet lag that lasted for several days. To do it right, you have to stay inside and never leave.
The six hour gaming sessions were a curious thing as well. It turns out I normally played videogames for only a few hours each day. Playing for six hours straight meant I made a lot of progress. So I went back to my old PS1 catalog of unfinished JRPGs and went to work. 200 hours of random encounters never passed so quickly. I also became a geniune fan of WOW and not only because real people played. I realized I could finally make real progress in this game, even if my accomplishments would be forever dwarfed by John Funk and Jordan Deam's.
Proper Hygiene and Personal Care: Inevitably while working at home you will start to wonder what the point of wearing a three piece suit and tie is when nobody ever sees you. Practicality must take precedence at this point. It took me several weeks of jeans and sweatpants experimentation before I discovered the solution in the daring hybrid of blanket and apparel otherwise known as the Snuggie. When the economy crashed, the number of direct response ads during primetime television soared. And when I saw it advertised the third time one fateful evening, right after the ShamWow, I realized the sense in owning a blanket sleeves. That evening I ordered the Snuggie and some ShamWow's. It was wonderfully warm and because it was so large it doubled as a stylish robe. Goodbye pants and shirt.
Nutrition is also important. It's extremely easy to fall prey to the Chinese and Pizza delivery menus. This is neither healthy nor cost effective. I found that a diet of ramen and Coca-Cola served me well until I came down with what the doctor informed was "the most severe case of scurvy I've seen since Ishmael got bounced off the Pequod." He recommended citrus fruit; I figured vitamin C fortified fruit snacks would to the trick. Sure enough, in a few weeks my teeth were as tightly anchored as my gums were firm.
Naturally you will start to question the point of showering as well. For this, I realized a liberal application of baby powder works as a natural degreaser, especially on the hair.
Social Communication: This last point is not nearly as important as you think. I go weeks without ever talking to another person face to face. The key to this is having either an extremely tolerant roommate, who's cool with trash bag window shades and constant darkness, or finding a pet. My building doesn't allow me to keep pets so I picked up Seaman for the Dreamcast. Now I spend my eating hours speaking to a fish with the face of a middle aged Japanese man who calls me a skin puppet. The only problem is that Seamen are short lived creatures and I've now cared for and said goodbye to entire generations of them.
When you do go outside, at night only, be aware that you will probably talk to people in rapid run-on sentences. Before I started raising Seamen, I noticed I would spill out every neurosis and frustration I'd been harboring over the past month in an extremely enthusiastic fashion when I went out with a friend for a drink. It was so mentally cathartic that I was willing, for a time, to overlook the strange expressions my friends gave me.
Six months after I started this endeavor I stand before you, a successful example of a person who works from home. It's not an easy road, particularly for those with seasonal affective disorder and vitamin D deficiency. There were hurdles and lessons learned. Where I was once deeply hurt that my Seaman might never be capable of deeper emotional intimacy, I now realize that in calling me an air sucker he is also calling me his friend. After another trip to the doctor for anemia, I eat my ramen noodles with a healthy side of spinach. Will a life of snuggies, trash bagged windows and 70 cent meals always be for me? Probably not. But when 2012 arrives, at least it'll be an easy transition into the cave.
Tom Endo is a section editor who loves working a double shift.