Aug 2022 Issue | Sometimes the Best Rule Is Not to Follow the Rules
By Raphael Tsavkko Garcia
People are different; therefore, they behave differently and have different needs. Yes, I had to say “different” many times. When you work from home or are a freelancer, you find a plethora of tips from so-called experts that teach you that you have to wake up early, have the same routine, relax a bit a few times a day, drink I don’t know how many cups of coffee, while wearing this or that type of clothes.
I’ve clicked on the first 50 results in Google looking for “tips and practices to work from home” (that was actually the first result) and if you compare lists that range from do-able “9 Tips for Working Remotely” to are-you-kidding-me-I’d-rather-be-working “21 Tried-and-True Tips For Remote Working,” they are very similar. In fact, it’s amazing how many lists there are to pretty much state the same. An almost unforgettable tip, even before the list itself is: Be positive.
Most lists have always the same basic tips: Set goals and have a schedule; set priorities; don’t wear pajamas (or a version I particularly loved, “be a human [and] get dressed”); wake up early; set office hours; work from a comfy place and avoid distractions. It is a joke among some psychologists that such ‘listicles’ resemble more like coaching tips and a set of rules.
When you browse the many lists of how to be productive as a freelancer, as a writer, as an add-your-profession-but-remotely-working, there’s always the same positive trendy and start-fresh listicles, as if we were all the same.
Most of the “rules” are pretty common-sensical, others would force you to change habits radically. “Developing new habits and skills is always possible, of course – but never as simplistically as most of these internet lists propose,” explains clinical psychologist Leandro Barros. It is understandable that people often search for such lists as a way to find some help figuring out their lives, trying to better manage their time, but, Barros adds, “it is understandable that people look for quick and easy solutions to their problems, because the less painful and costly the change, the better. But in working with psychotherapy, we see that behavioral change processes require not only commitment and effort, but also a good dose of patience in obtaining results.”
Sometimes I just want to watch Netflix and start working around 11pm. The next day I may work the whole day drinking coffee like crazy. Sometimes the best rule is simply knowing what and how you can deliver in time, respecting your own time.
Your routine doesn’t have to be everyone else’s routine.
Some people work under a tight routine, others just won’t work that way – at all. “Each person is unique,” says psychologist Everton de Oliveira. “A high level of openness to experiences allows the living of original situations, adventures, and the use of creativity at the same time that can put the individual at risk if he or she doesn’t add elements of caution and consistency.”
Sure, many freelancers have to meet not only deadlines, but to make calls, to set hours, and have meetings, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do whatever you want in the meantime. You don’t have to go to bed at 10PM because there’s a meeting at 7am, you can just work through the night and sleep after the meeting. It’s your choice.
But even if your day is packed, you can still work in your pajamas, have as many breaks as you want, listen to whatever you want, pet you dog or beg for your cat for some love as much as you want. Speaking about breaks, Barros explains “evidence shows that work breaks have contributed to increased productivity because they improve mental performance overall.”
If Facebook has a personalized feed for everyone and we spend hours debating if algorithms are real or not because everybody gets different messages and ads on social media, why do we still waste our time with listicles that pretend to work for everyone?
Hint: They don’t.
One of the best things about working remotely is that you don’t actually have to have a fixed routine, but you can create your own routine. One of the greatest things about freelancing and remote work is that you can break the rules.
“The organization, in the sense of regulating habits, routines, [using] post-its, having everything right in a newspaper bullet, etc., is a factor of behavior linked to conscientiousness. Of course, a certain organizational capacity with schedules, rules, and discipline is a necessary skill for a healthy adult life,” explains Oliveira.
For him, one must find a balance, meaning that “a person with a high degree of conscientiousness, and therefore very rigid, when he or she is in search of more productivity, creativity, and quality of life, may not be needing of more schematization, like lists of habits, a full schedule from six to midnight with yoga class, meditation, therapy, group therapy, etc.; what he or she needs is to have a less schematized world, more flexible, living with uncertainty, unpredictability, the absence of rules, the relativization of habits.”
He also notes that, on the other hand, “the person who is already excessively relaxed, ‘aerial’, not very objective, certainly needs to add some elements of schematization in his or her daily life,” but, he notes with a warning, that this person “will have difficulties in following ready-made rules and can easily abandon a process of this type, too oppressive for his or her temperament.”
In a sense, you have to do what you have to do to, at the end of the day, deliver whatever you have agreed with your boss, editor, or manager. If you need a tight routine, go for it, but if it doesn’t work for you, that’s also fine.
What is important, says Oliveira, is that you need self-awareness – even therapy– in order to find balance, but definitely not online lists of to-dos. Barros agrees, adding that “the important thing is to seek an understanding of yourself and to understand what facilitates and also what drains your creativity, and from there determine the principles that will serve as a framework for the development of your work. Watch out for extremes.”
Routine is important to bring us markers of predictability, harmony, safety, Oliveira says, “but we are not mechanisms, and that is why we also long for adventure, diversification, and novelty. When the routine becomes restrictive and we don’t have contact with novelties, with new images, with new sensations, with ‘protocol breaks’, even without realizing it, we lose our motivation, engagement, and creativity.”
Bottom line, you have to find the right balance in your life whether you work in an office of remotely, the difference is that working remotely means having even more control of your life, of your schedule and routine. But having so much freedom can also be a burden, that’s why listicles with “commonsensical” tips are so trendy – and they can be useful, just not to everyone.