Working at home…If you’re reading this while you’re working from home, you’re not alone. Or, rather, you are—this isn’t a cryptic message to run for your life—but you’re also not. A recent study found that we telecommuters are one of the fastest growing segments of the American workforce, and that trend’s only likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
“One of the reports key findings is that between 2005 and 2015, the number of U.S. workers who do at least 50% of their work either at home or some location other than their office grew by 115%. As of two years ago—when the latest data were published—the number of telecommuting professionals stood at nearly 4 million nationwide,” says a Forbes analysis of the report.
Working At Home And Winning
When I was first presented with the choice to work from home several years ago, I labored over my decision. Yeah, it seems like a no-brainer at first glance, but it’s loaded with pitfalls once you begin to work through exactly how it’s going to play out. At the time, I was working for a magazine and, on deadline, the hours tended to be pretty relentless. I didn’t mind putting in the time, but I made a conscious effort to leave my work between those office walls. It was a lot easier to do that then. In removing myself from shouting distance, I was also removing those divides, and once they’re down, they’re down. If you’re responsible enough to answer a somewhat pressing email at 5 or 6 (and you should be; more on that in a minute), then you’re not likely to ignore the much more urgent-sounding one at 8 or 9. After all, if the sender’s working at that hour, shouldn’t you be?
It took some long months before I finally started to feel comfortable in my home office, a modest table and a Mac desktop pinned into a corner in the attic of our small apartment. It was the freedom that eventually converted me. If anything, I was getting more work done, but I was doing it when it suited me. As long as I didn’t miss a deadline, I realized that no one cared when the work was done. And then I realized soon after that I’m not really cut out for sitting in front of a screen for eight or nine hours straight. Is anyone?
If you’re new to this, or struggling to find your way, here are a few moves I made to relieve my guilty conscience and find some productivity among my creature comforts.
Keep a strict schedule
My wife used to laugh at me when I first started working from home and I was in and out of the shower and eating breakfast before she even hit snooze for the first time. I’m sort of OCD by nature, and I realized fairly early on in my career that when I resisted waking up, I usually dragged through the rest of my day. When I began working a couple rooms over from where I slept, it became all the more critical to stick to a morning regimen. Mentally, I was telling myself, “This is a work day,” even though, in most other ways, it bore a strong resemblance to the weekend. It’s not a guarantee that I’m going to sit down at my desk and go charging through my inbox, but I’m at least removing a lot of the temptation to crawl back into bed. Plus, when a desktop alert reminds me that I have a Google Hangout in five minutes, I won’t have to scramble to look presentable.
Know what you’re doing
Every night, before I call it a day, I write a list of what needs to be done the next day and I tuck it next to my keyboard so that it’s in plain sight. That way, I can start to mentally prepare myself for what’s coming. I try to make sure that it’s limited to a few things and that the most pressing stuff goes on top. If nothing’s all that urgent, I’ll usually set aside the morning for writing and the most labor-intensive tasks. Once the coffee wears off, I’ll be left with the quick-hit work (theoretically), which helps me feel like I’m accomplishing more than I probably am—and, in turn, keeps the temptation to go binge-watch something, anything, at bay.
A note on active procrastination: Some days I’d rather be doing nothing than anything at my desk. But much more often, I’d rather be getting caught up on my personal to-do list. Hit Walmart while the lines are likely to be short. Rake the leaves while it’s sunny and warm. Empty the dishwasher. I’ve found that it’s best to not ignore this urge. I’m not saying cave at first thought, but if the conditions are right—you’re not on deadline, you’re not scheduled to sit in on a call—go for it. When you’re not feeling it, getting something done is better than nothing. And lightening that other burden is usually a remedy for the work blockage.
Be especially communicative
One of the first things you’ll miss about not being in an office is walking a couple cubicles over to resolve a simple issue. It never really occurred to me how many little things come up during the course of a day until I was working from home and so much of my time became consumed by calling and emailing. Likewise, your absence will grow larger the longer you take to reply. Take long enough and you’ll be left out of making the decisions, which is a route that’s difficult to reverse. And, really, in this day, there’s no excuse for it. Between the likes of Slack and Google Hangouts, both of which you can download to your phone, you can chime in from pretty much anywhere. And foster the illusion that you’re working when you’re really running errands.
But not after-hours
Once you’re outside of the normal business day, the responsibility falls to you, and you alone, to determine how much further the line between home and office is blurred. If only it was that simple, I know. If you’re working remotely, chances are you’re also working with people in other time zones, which complicates the scenario. Let the context dictate the situation, as it would if you were working in an office that wasn’t within view of your living room. If you’re on a deadline and the nature of the request is time-sensitive, make an exception. Otherwise, unplug—literally, if you need to—when your workday ends. If you’re not consistent about it, you can’t expect anyone to respect your privacy.