Coronavirus probably has many of you working from home today doing your part to stop the spread of this monster through “social distancing.” I bet you’re trying desperately to resist distractions like tools and car projects. Don’t bother. Take it from someone who’s been “working” from home for nearly five years: Go out there and wrench on your vehicle when you really should be working. It’ll be fine; I should know—I’m the foremost expert on the matter. Here are a few tips.
I have at least a dozen cars on my property right now, most of which are broken in some way or another. So when the sun comes out, it’s damn near impossible to resist stepping outside and bending a few wrenches on some shitboxes. I’ve embraced it, and I think you should, too.
I’m technically supposed to be blogging between 8am and 5pm everyday, but since I started at Jalopnik in mid-2015, I’ve aways had some broken automotive carcass just 5 metres away from my front door, right there in my driveway. Tempting me. I’ve spent many, many hours under those cars pretending to work, and things have worked out swimmingly.
I’d be selfish to enjoy such wrenching goodness without imparting my years worth of wisdom to you, dear readers—especially those of you who are for the first time working from home for an extended period (For those of you with service/labour jobs that don’t allow you to work from home, please stay safe!). Here’s how you can wrench without anyone being the wiser.
1. Be Active Early
Step one is a strategy I learned early on in college after arriving to discussions about books whose assigned chapters I hadn’t even thought of reading (I had engineering to do; I read my English texts the night before the exam/paper): Have your voice heard early.
Yes, I showed up to classes where the entire point was to talk about chapters in books I hadn’t read, and I was being graded on my participation in these discussions. In many ways, it was terrifying, but I had an answer: Rather than wait for the ball to get rolling, the conversation to get more complex, and the teaching assistant to possibly ask me a direct question that might expose my ignorance, I always made it a point to get the session started.
I probably read the first paragraph of each assigned chapter on my way to class, but this was enough, because most discussions usually begin broad and increase in detail over time. Starting a productive work session is a great strategy not just when you know you’re going to be useless for the rest of a college English discussion, but also when you know you’re going to be useless at “work” because you’re going to be wrenching on your car.
There’s no bigger giveaway that you’re not doing your job than you popping into the chat room (or email chain or whatever) late. Show some initiative; Get the discussion moving, and nobody will question you. Trust me on that.
2. Stretch Your Deliverables Out
But you have to do more than just kick off the work session. There’s a good chance that, throughout the day, you’re expected to deliver something to your team. In my case, it’s blogs, but in your case, it could be some study or assessment of some sort, or perhaps code for a computer program or even a lesson plan for a class.
If the timing on those deliverables is extremely strict, the key is going to be delegation—a word that basically means having someone else do your work for you. It’s a beautiful thing, really.
But if you don’t have someone hounding you all day with a stopwatch, there’s a decent chance there’s flexibility in those deliverables. If that’s the case, you’re not going to want to turn them all in at the same time. Stretch them out a bit—after all, you’re trying to give the impression that you’re working all day and definitely not wrenching on your car.
In my case, this means banging out some quick blogs early, turning one in a bit earlier, and then making it seem like I’m working on the second one, even though it’s already done, and what I’m actually doing is replacing the water pump on an AMC V8.
3. Always Be Reachable
It’s so easy to stay “online” these days thanks to strides made in smartphone and laptop technology. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been flat on my back covered in grease under one of my Jeeps when I received an urgent message from my boss.
“BREAKING NEWS!” my notification read. I sat up, bumped my noggin on the jagged, brown underside of one of my Jeeps, then frantically crawled out from under the machine and ran to my laptop. From notification to me starting my article was probably a total of 30 seconds—less than the time it takes the average person to evacuate their bowels.
One of my friends, who also sometimes works from home, likes to keep his laptop in his garage with the volume up. This is also a good method, especially if your phone app is a bit wonky, or if there’s a way for your coworkers to tell that you’re communicating on your phone and not on a laptop. The downside to a laptop is that it’s hard to bring with you under your car, or to place under-hood.
In any case, just have some way of staying in touch with your team at all times.
4. Call Instead Of Text
The beautiful thing about phone calls is that they not only free up your hands to wrench, but they also seem more personal, and they give off a more committed, hard-working vibe than just a private message or email.
You’re going to want to use this to your advantage, because when you’re under a car, with one hand on a starter motor that you don’t want to fall on your face, and the other cranking a ratchet to remove that final bolt holding the heavy cylinder to your transmission bell housing, sending text messages or emails just isn’t an option.
Just call, use the speaker function, and if anyone asks what that loud bang was, don’t tell them that the bolt you were trying to loosen broke free, sending your hand into a sharp flex plate shield, saddling you with excruciating pain and tremendous blood loss. Just calmly bite your tongue, maybe mouth some curse words, take a few deep breaths, and say you’re working hard. Like, really hard.
5. If You Have To, Justify In Your Head Why This Is OK
It’s going to be hard to wrench on your car during work unless you can tell yourself that it’s good for both you and your company. Whether that’s true or not isn’t important, what matters is what you believe. I, for example, tell myself that wrenching on my cars is work, since I often write about my mechanical exploits. This is accurate enough, giving me confidence in my strategy.
The last thing you want is to feel guilty. That’ll just cause you to rush your job. Instead, find some justification. Your car gets you to work, right? Well, if that’s true, and your car is broken or in any way suboptimal, it’s critical that you do some mending. If you work in the auto industry like so many of our readers do, this is just research. You’re learning all about serviceability, packaging, and clever ways that AMC engineers from the 1970s managed to solve complex problems. This is important work you’re doing, and Walter P., Henry, and Billy Durant should he happy to pay you for it.
Anyway, I’m hoping these little pointers don’t end up tanking our economy because people are now working on their cars instead of actually being productive, but let’s be honest: Many of you working from home are going to wind up wasting your time on YouTube or playing video games anyway.
May as well get some wrenching in while keeping your colleagues thinking you’re a hard-working, dedicated employee extremely focused on their job and definitely not on swapping alternators, mending blown axle seals, or banging in new driveshaft u-joints.