The Fine Art of Working From Home

I’m sure some people thrive getting dressed up every day and doing the majority of their paid work for a company in an office. I’ve never really worked full-time in an office environment, so I don’t know if that’s a good fit for me. Right now I’m working part-time in a very casual office, and I have a freelance gig I adore. Both of these jobs are nearly 99.9% Internet based, which gives this former preschool teacher flexibility I’ve never known. If my kids are sick or out of school, I have the ability to work from home.

I originally had high hopes of “working from home,” that pie in the sky I heard so much about on various blogs and Facebook posts. Status updates such as, “Slow start this morning, working from home so I’m still in my pajamas,” or “Working from home today while Junior recovers from the stomach flu,” gave me the impression that working from home was desirable and easy.

I”m sure for those with a home office, a sitter or partner to provide childcare, and maybe a maid (while I’m making my dream team) find working from home an enjoyable experience. I’ve found that working from home requires more focus, more time management, and more boundary setting than I thought it would.

Part of the problem is, I’m sure, that my kids see me typing all the time — on Facebook, Twitter, or on my personal blog. They see me answering email and looking up recipes. To them, I’m sure, working for money on the Internet looks exactly the same as ordering something from Lands’ End.

How to work from home successfully with children while they are awake?

Here’s what  works for me:

1) Don’t. Seriously, if it’s a project that can be done after-hours, wait until they are asleep. Trust me on this one. My freelance gig is done solely after 8:30pm, and it’s so much easier.

2) Divide and conquer. My daughter attends school, my son a daycare. Most of my work from home days are because one is sick, or my daughter has a school holiday. Guess what? My son still goes to daycare on those days. It is much easier to work with only one child at home.

3) Use a timer or other way to measure time. My daughter is good at occupying herself, but seven hours in a row is asking a lot of a five-year-old. I’ve learned to take breaks, based on either the length of whatever movie’s she’s watching or simply to set a timer. I then take a 10-minute break or so (I think of it as a trip to my virtual water cooler, to catch up with others in the office). During the break I attend to her needs and listen to what she’s been doing. That 10 minutes of attention will often buy me another 90 minutes without interruption.

4) Go mobile. Find a place your kid likes with free Wi-Fi. I have been known to hang out at Chik-Fil-A and McDonald’s.  A girlfriend has a bounce place near her that works for her child. This works, I think, for kids who are probably four and older. Last week I got a solid two hours in before my daughter was ready to move onto something else.

How do you focus on work when you’re not in your usual work environment?

10 thoughts on “The Fine Art of Working From Home”

  1. Personally, I LOVE getting dressed and going to work and talking to my coworkers. The only time I work from home is studying (I’m a law student), and I hate it. I want to spend my time cleaning, organizing, and laying on the couch. Maybe it’s because I live in a tiny apartment and don’t have room to have a home office, but I prefer my house to be a sanctuary from work/school. In the three years of law school, I have only studied at home when the library was closed, or during the first year when I lived 30 minutes away and I didn’t have class every day. Now, if there’s something I have to work on (I’m in my last semester, so I don’t really have homework), I go somewhere else to do it, like a coffee shop, or I half-ass it while sitting on my couch (hello, Crim Pro essay for Bar Strategies that we should have done in class).

    If I am at home it is guaranteed I am not going to be productive unless I first clean my house top-to-bottom and get everything out of my system, but I was kind of the same way when I had a “real” job. I always cleaned my desk before starting any huge projects. I think it helps prepare my mind to get down to business.

    God bless everyone who has kids. I am husband and child-free, and I think about marrying my boyfriend and what it would be like IF we had kids. It fills me with fear every time, because I worry about then getting sick. I really don’t want to be a SAHM. I don’t think I’m cut out for that. Give me a courtroom any day!

  2. Wow. I don’t think I could ever work from home, as much as I like to imagine kissing the office lifestyle goodbye. You have a lot of discpline!

    What I do when I’m Persephe-working from home is to force myself to take a break from the internet. It’s my biggest distraction, which is unfortunate when you’re working on a blog. Also I reward myself with treats, TV or naps when I’ve accomplished certain goals. Granted, I don’t have any kids to deal with while I’m doing work so I think that makes it easier for me.

  3. I don’t have any kids, but a few tips from my career as a semi-freelancer:

    – set up a workspace. I was much more productive when I sat with a straight back and had table space versus when I reclined on the couch with my laptop…

    – the Pomodoro method is great for productivity. I found it too much to use all the time, but it was great when I had a deadline and/or needed to give myself a kick up the arse.

    – take breaks

    – stay away from the TV

  4. I thrive on focusing out of the office. At home is best – familiar things, rather than distracting me, help my mind to feel cocooned. Even with the dog (who is teething) yapping constantly throughout the day, I get tons more done here than at the office. The library also works really well for me – and most have wi-fi. So maybe for parents of young children, setting up to work during the library’s story hour for youngins would be helpful? I don’t have kids yet but already know that my home is where I do much of my reading, so I’m good at focusing for long periods of time here already.

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