Do you ever struggle working from home? I absolutely love working remotely, but let’s face it, there are moments when working from home sucks. I’ve recently had just such a moment.

working from home sucks

I was working on a particularly hairy problem. The problem itself isn’t really important. Frequently when I struggle working from home is the same reason I love working from home: isolation or lack of colleagues within earshot.

I know that everyone has those (hopefully rare) moments where we are banging our heads on something or are just lost in complexity or tedium

  • How do I start this?
  • Does this make sense?
  • What’s the best way to do this?
  • I wonder if there is an easier way ….

Next thing you realize is that you’ve been at it and spinning your wheels for most of the day.

Many times an office setting opens up an opportunity to run something by others and to get the wheels moving again. Sometimes this happens when people notice you glaring at the screen for an extended period. Sometimes it’s the grumbling under your breath that draws someone in with “you doing ok?”. Ideally it’s not because you just chucked your keyboard across the room or went head first into a bout of angry shouting.

I sometimes sit alone at home and exclaim my dismay at that problem I’m stuck on. I’m sure that makes me look a bit crazy, but, hey, if someone acts a little crazy and no one is there to see it … 🙂

The real problem is that working remote makes it a little easier than the office to just keep spinning the wheels until they are very deep in the mud.

Fortunately, it’s possible to avoid wasting too much time in that way. I’ve found that there are two things that generally help me.

walk away

The first thing I normally try is to walk away. It’s something I still need to remind myself off, despite having learned that lesson back in college when I spent way too much time on a programming assignment in college. I still remember my wife waking up around 3am in surprise that I was still at the computer. “Walk away”, she told me, “it will come to you”. It did. I woke up the next morning with the, in retrospect, obvious answer. I finished the project in under five minutes.

It does not take long to “walk away”. Just 10 minutes of interrupting the broken thought process tends to do it. Next time you’re stuck, you might try one of the following activities I use to get myself unstuck

  • a power nap
  • a quick tidy around the house
  • walk around the block
  • short meditation
  • reading
  • stretching or some simple exercise like push ups or sit ups
  • listening to a podcast (sometimes I add that to one of the above)

Sometimes however that isn’t enough. What you really need is a sounding board. This is where others are useful and you just have to

talk it out

In the office the idea of talking it out is often where the dreaded “drive by” comes in. The office makes it dead easy for others to engage you and vice versa. Often those kinds of interrupts happen much faster than they would for a remote worker. When others are stuck it’s a time suck. When you are stuck it’s convenient. A classic two edged sword.

In my experience working remotely introduces an obstacle or a barrier to reaching out. That’s a different two edged sword. As remote workers we are keenly aware of “our time” and the benefits we reap by not being easily interrupted. On the other hand we also often shy away from asking for help.

There is nothing wrong with asking for help or engaging colleagues. You just have to do it wisely and with respect for their time.

The key is realizing when we need help after we’ve spent just a little too much figuring it out. We often do figure it out, which enhances self reliance and learning. When we get stuck, however, it’s ok to ask for help.

What is a sufficient amount of time to get stuck? It’s not an easy answer and will likely vary wildly based on the issue. I often try to budget some time to accomplish something. I normally reach out when

  • I’ve been stuck for 25-50% longer than I had planned or expected
  • When I learn something that promises to throw my estimate off by more than 25-50%

I generally use the Pomodoro technique and that makes it pretty easy for me to realize that I’ve started my timer too many times.

After I reach my threshold, I reach out. The method will vary depending on the urgency. For the most part I put a request out via IM or slack. Sometimes, if the problem I’m stuck on isn’t urgent and when I can switch gears to something else, I’ll go with email. That’s generally less disruptive to others.

I’ve also leaned on my family to describe a problem I’m having. It’s remarkable how talking out loud can also get the gears unstuck, even when the listener doesn’t understand many of the details.

With that approach I can keep the times when working remote sucks to a minimum. Let’s face it it’s still so much better than commuting to an office full of drive by’s.

I love working from anywhere.