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10 Rules

Here it is, the post that enumerates all of the ways in which remote work has turned me into a total weirdo.

For almost a decade now I’ve been working from home, enjoying the unusual freedoms—and anxieties—that it brings. If a single theme has emerged, it’s this: by default, I’m an undisciplined mess. When given the choice between short-term distractions and long-term goals, I’ll take the passing hit of instant gratification every time. (This paragraph took me ten minutes to write because I was text messaging back-and-forth with @hone02.)

Only one thing can overcome my lack of self control: replace all my good intentions with hard and fast rules, then stick to them so rigidly that my constant fear of failure will inadvertently be put to productive use.

I’ve written about several of these before, but I’ve never tried to write down all the self-imposed rules I’ve laid down for myself over the last decade. One thing they all have in common is that they’re simple, but hard:

  1. No breakfast, no lunch. In fact, no calories at all until 5pm every day. This is the first thing I’ve found to make my weight easily manageable since I was in 4th grade. I’ve allowed myself four exceptions so far in 2017, usually due to social obligations or special occasions. More on my fasting rules
  2. Same uniform, every day. I own 12 black American Apparel shirts, 12 pairs of Darn Tough wool socks, 12 pairs of ExOfficio boxer briefs, and 2 pairs of jeans. By wearing the same thing every day, I’ve saved a ton of time (laundry is now a simple match-3 game) and money (because I don’t care how stupid I look anymore). Committing to this rule completely changed my self image, which is now much more concerned with my behavior than my appearance
  3. Travel in under 10 pounds with a 19L bag. I travel in a Tom Bihn Synapse 19 and these Accroutements, sometimes weeks on end, with only minor adjustments based on climate and whether I’m giving a conference talk (at which point I’ll swap out my 10.5" iPad for a 13" MacBook Pro). I no longer fret about whether I’ll secure overhead space or where I’ll stash my bag once I get wherever I’m going, because it’s light enough to always keep with me. When I need something, I always know exactly where it will be. Oh, and it takes me less than five minutes to pack an empty bag with my typical load-out, which is useful when you take over twenty trips each year
  4. Block known distractions from my devices. I wrote this summer about how liberating it can be to work full-time from an iPad, and a big reason for my productivity has been to keep Do Not Disturb enabled at all times (and as much as I can get away with on my iPhone). Additionally, I use 1Blocker on iOS and macOS to revoke my access to every site that I habitually reach for when I’m craving stimulation. To keep myself focused on macOS, I use the aptly named Focus app to do the same, budgeting 30 minutes’ worth of breaks each day to catch up on Twitter and iMessage (I’ve recently added Slack to my blacklist and I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner)
  5. Run 5k every day, at 8 miles per hour. If you were to drop me off at a gym in my 20s and told me to exercise, I’d flail about uselessly for an hour or two before eventually finding myself watching TV from an elliptical. Contrast that to today, where I just cleared a four year streak of never missing my daily 5k run and—when I can find a treadmill—maintaining a constant speed of 8mph. (Yes, that means I’ve had to embarrasingly run multiple 5ks in airport terminals.) Why mix metric and imperial targets? Because the alternative was no regular exercise, so I picked the first numbers that came to mind
  6. No device chargers in the bedroom. This was pretty common advice for at least a decade before I finally relented and acknowledged that setting my bedtime to “whenever my phone falls on my face” was not a winning strategy for good sleep. We now have a bay of chargers set up across the hall, and my fear of missing an important call or alarm has never been realized (we use a Sonos Play:1 for alarms)
  7. 10 minutes of meditation between work and play. When you work from home, the line between work-life and life-life blur to such an extent that having a little ceremony to switch between operating modes proved necessary. I don’t know whether meditation per se is providing these benefits, but stopping work and sitting in the dark for 10-to-15 minutes is proving much more effective than precariously unwinding over two cocktails and three hours every day
  8. No food on Wednesday. Watching Becky’s tremendous success with a keto diet combined with sporadic longer-term fasting, I wanted to get in on multi-day fasting, too, but just don’t have the self control to pull it off on my own. Halfway through a committed fast I’d find some rationalization for breaking it early. But once we agreed to consistently say “no food on Wednesdays”, it’s been much easier (but, alas, still not easy)
  9. Learn Japanese every day. Specifically, I use the vocabulary training app WaniKani (along with less structured source material). My rule is simple: clear my review backlog every day by the time I go to bed. The result is that after 13 years of attempting to learn Japanese, I’m finally learning it. I’ve attained a command of over 1000 kanji in just 11 months, which is a massive improvement on the 100-or-so I knew previously
  10. First walk, then stand, then sit. When I’m in town, I start every morning working from a rugged treadmill desk of my brother Jeremy’s design. That means I get about ten miles of walking in each day in addition to my run. By the afternoon, I’m usually pretty sick of being in the basement and migrate to my standing desk upstairs. By 4pm, I’m pretty exhausted, so I pull up my crappy drafting chair and sit down. My favorite thing about incorporating a walking desk into my day is that my body is fatigued to a an extent that’s commensurate with my brain each day, and come 5pm both feel like they’ve done a real day’s work (of course, whether either really has is usually debatable)

I’m sure I missed something, so if you catch me doing something weird, be sure to tweet at me about it (everyone else does).