Working From Home During a Pandemic


Fred Perrotta

This post was originally an email sent to the Tortuga newsletter and has been edited to fit this format.


Today’s newsletter is for everyone working from home during the pandemic. If you’re providing an essential service at a hospital, grocery store, or pharmacy, thank you for your work. You’re doing the real work of keeping the world running.

8:57pm. I'm sitting at my kitchen table putting the finishing touches on this post.

I've been working remotely for 10 years. But I'm struggling with it right now.

Maybe you're feeling the same way. Unfocused. Unproductive. Trying to concentrate even through your partner is working from home too, and neither of you has a proper desk. I can't imagine also having kids at home.

As I’ve seen written on Twitter, "You are not working from home; you are at home during a crisis trying to work."

Working from home during a pandemic is not normal. These are extraordinary circumstances.

WFH at the kitchen table.

Whether you're working from home for the first time or you've been doing it for years, you probably aren't at your best today. That's okay.

Give yourself permission to be unproductive right now.

You have other things to worry about like your health, your family, and your friends. Take care of those first. Then you can think about work.

I’ve been working remotely for ten years. I spent the first three years of my career in the cushy confines of Google’s San Francisco office. In 2010, I quit Google to start Tortuga while freelancing on the side.

Over the last 10 years I’ve worked from home, from offices, from coworking spaces, from coffeeshops, and from Airbnbs.

Tortuga is a remote company. Everyone on our team works remotely and some work from home. Jeremy and I have helped our ten teammates learn to work outside of a traditional office.

Despite this decade of experience, I’m struggling to focus and to be productive. Tortuga is facing its most challenging time as a company right now. I’m trying to be my best for the sake of the company and the team. But it’s not easy. I’m not operating at 100%. You can’t be expected to either.

Much of the advice that I share with people who start working from home is irrelevant right now. You can’t break up your day with a trip to the gym. You can’t replace the in-person connection of an office with meeting a friend for lunch.

Let’s focus on what is still relevant.

Create a Workspace

Create a dedicated workspace. When you’re there, you’re working. When you leave, you stop working.

Your space doesn’t have to be perfect. Just pick a place where you’re comfortable and can work for a stretch. Having good ergonomics and some privacy would be ideal but might not be practical right now.

Pick a place. Then—this is the important part—create a ritual where you leave that space to end your workday.

If you work from home, you’re always at work. But you need a way to delineate between work and leisure, even if it’s only superficial.

When I had a home office, I would leave that room, close the door, and not open it again until the next morning. If you don’t have a dedicated office, end your day by closing your computer and putting it away.

Put your computer away for the night in the Outbreaker Laptop Backpack or Outbreaker Daypack. Then put your bag under your bed or otherwise out of sight at the end of the day. Then go and enjoy your evening. I’ve found cooking to be a good distraction and stress reliever after work.

Outbreaker Laptop Backpack

Have a Routine

When you’re working from home, you can easily find yourself eating lunch without having showered or gotten dressed yet.

I don’t want to be the one to spoil your new athleisure lifestyle or to tell you to dress up to go nowhere.

However, I find that having a morning routine and changing your clothes can help to change your mindset and bring more focus to work. Like the workspace advice above, you have to create some “lines” between work and leisure even if those lines are artificial.

I’m dressed okay in the picture above but spent all of last week in the same uniform: long-sleeved t-shirt, gym shorts, and wool socks from LL Bean.

Being comfortable is more important than being stylish right now. That’s fine. The important thing is that I took a shower in the morning and changed out of my pajama pants. That’s a low bar for success but is good enough for right now. Feel free to change again when your workday ends to signal to yourself that work is over and leisure has begun.

Maximize Productivity

Despite acknowledging that these won’t be our most productive days, we must remember to focus on the most important things. Do less stuff but do the most important stuff.

With so much going on, I’ve had to force myself to focus on 1-3 tasks per day. When your to do list feels infinite, your most important task is prioritization.

Cut down your to do list to 1-3 things that will fit on a Post It note. Just doing the #1 most important thing will give you a strong feeling of accomplishment. Maintaining a sense of control and accomplishment is important right now.

To help in this process, I recommend the Pomodoro Technique, a time management technique where you work for 25 minutes then take a break. Using a timer app like Be Focused is helpful.

Remember that the break between work “sprints” is part of the technique. It’s yours. You earned it. Take it and enjoy it. Then do your next 25 minutes of work.

These limits are arbitrary. The point is to create some structure in your work day.

I hope that these suggestions were helpful to anyone working from home.

What advice do you have for those new to working from home and trying to do so under these conditions? Let me know on Twitter.

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