Away from office, on the job

As someone who has worked from home for years, I feel qualified to write on the subject as an expert. And to offer tips and stories, which is what you may be here for. The first thing I wanted to say was that not going to office is the best thing, and almost as good a feeling as knowing that one does not have to go to school the next day. I wish more people could do it and the way things are developing it appears as if more will. I am not referring here to the present scare but the fact that corporate work is simultaneously appearing to become more disaggregated and more global. WFH is a real thing.

Now then, let’s quickly have a look at the tips. First: get dressed and look the part. This is to my mind the single-most important pointer that can be given and one that is applicable to all of us. Do not lull yourself by changing your personal rituals based on your day ahead. Stick to them, even if they seem superficial or unnecessary. I am unfamiliar with the daily rituals of women or at least I know no more than hearsay and observation allow. But for men, I recommend the full-dress treatment. Shave, shower, brush every day even if there’s absolutely nothing to be done and nobody to be met. This may seem a minor thing but is effective. I will not say why, but leave it to the reader to reflect on because it seems to me there is more than one benefit.

Another thing is to attack the hardest part of the work first and earliest. This has several advantages. The first is the obvious one: you will actually get stuff done. Putting things off is much easier at home, with all the distractions at hand than at work with no colleague or boss wondering why you’re not doing what you’re supposed to. 

The second benefit here is that only when you work from home do you realise that your body is like your phone. It is fully charged in the morning and then steadily loses power through the day. The mind is best when fully charged, clean of the random access memory that it will begin to accrue as the day goes on, wiping itself clean again almost fully while asleep.

While there is a reason the siesta happens in the middle of the day but its benefits are not equal for all and some of us cannot sleep in the daylight.

A thing related to the ones above is to set yourself a curfew. A time after which you will not work. Again this has a couple of advantages. The less important one is that you will come under some pressure to knock off stuff that is pending, half-done. And the other is that if you down your shutters at, say, 6 pm, that gives you more time to do what you want to do which would otherwise be unavailable. There’s no more effective way of wasting a day than to be at half-work all the time. 

This is what I have. Let’s turn to what famous people do when they don’t go to work. I’ve picked the rituals of a writer, an architect and a painter.

The great science fiction author 

J G Ballard was widowed in his 20s and had to raise three children. Asked what the hardest part of the day was, he replied “keeping the first drink at 6”. That is a really good tip and one that can save the day. Ballard admitted to spending too much of his adult life drinking . “It was a great sense of achievement,” he recalled, “when my first drink of the day was not at nine in the morning but at noon and then at eight.”

First tip: get dressed and look the part. This is to my mind the single-most important pointer that can be given and one that is applicable to all of us.
The architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (who called himself Le Corbusier) was unusual because he worked daily both from home and from office. His schedule, as recounted in the book Daily Rituals, ran as follows: 

“After waking at 6:00 am, he did forty-five minutes of calisthenics. Then he served his wife her morning coffee and, at 8:00, the couple ate breakfast together. The rest of Corbusier’s morning was devoted to painting, drawing, and writing. This was the most creative part of his day, and even though he often spent hours on paintings that had no direct relation to his architecture, and which he showed to no one other than his wife, he attributed his professional success to these private mornings of artistic contemplation. Le Corbusier’s office hours were brief. He arrived at the studio (a short subway or taxi ride from home) at 2:00 pm.”

I’ve saved the shocking story for the end, and this is the ritual of the painter Francis Bacon, whose retrospective I saw just a few months ago, taken from the same work. It is the wildest working ritual of anyone in history.

His biographer Michael Peppiatt said that Bacon was a creature of habit, but the habit was pure lunacy. Painting came first. Despite his late nights, Bacon always rose at dawn and worked for several hours, usually finishing around noon. He would then drink a bottle of wine, followed by a long lunch and then more drinks at a succession of private clubs. When evening arrived, there was a restaurant supper, another round of nightclubs, perhaps a visit to a casino, and often, in the early-morning hours, yet another meal at a bistro. 

“At the end of these long nights, Bacon frequently demanded that his reeling companions join him at home for one last drink — an effort, it seems, to postpone his nightly battles with insomnia. Bacon depended on pills to get to sleep, and he would read and reread classic cookbooks to relax himself before bed. He still slept only a few hours a night. Despite this, the painter’s constitution was remarkably sturdy. His only exercise was pacing in front of a canvas, and his idea of dieting was to take large quantities of garlic pills and shun egg yolks, desserts, and coffee — while continuing to guzzle a half-dozen bottles of wine and eat two or more large restaurant meals a day. His metabolism could apparently handle the excessive consumption without dimming his wits or expanding his waistline. Even the occasional hangover was, in Bacon’s mind, a boon. “I often like working with a hangover,” he said, “because my mind is crackling with energy and I can think very clearly.”

This is the paragraph that I often come back to, as an antidote to where too much WHF can bring you.

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