with Mir Kamin
I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.
To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/
The most common question/complaint/comment I hear about working from home is, “I could never get anything done! I’d end up cleaning the kitchen or watching television!” The assumption seems to be that being in your own space, without the built-in accountability that comes from being surrounded by others, it will be impossible to stay on task. And for some people, I suppose that’s true.
I’m not saying that I always work efficiently or that I never find myself scrubbing grout in the middle of the day (hey, it happens), but my memories of cubicle life include a lot of things like filing into the break room to celebrate Diane From Accounting’s birthday, even though I didn’t even know Diane From Accounting. But there was cake, and so there went half an hour of my day (and probably half an inch on my waistline).
Working from home does present certain distractions, it’s true. But so does working in a shared office environment.
My husband and I were discussing a new project of mine, the other day, and I was lamenting the time it was going to take to get it done, and where was I going to find that time, and very hesitantly he said to me:
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but sometimes I wonder if you’re… well… completely efficient in your use of time during the day.”
I was not offended. I was too busy laughing to be offended.
He was referring to several things: I leave my instant messenger and Twitter programs open during the day, for one thing. That’s like having a steady stream of conversation going on around me—rather reminiscent of cubicle life, actually—all day long. (For the most part, that’s a calculated move on my part… it helps keep me from feeling too isolated.) I also spend a fair amount of time web-surfing, and although some of that is an integral part of the work I do, we all know how one click leads to another. And then, too, I am not immune to things like doing laundry or cooking during the day, you know, because I’m here and that seems to me like one of the benefits of the home office.
Just for illustration’s sake (I was not rubbing his nose in it, not at all) I then asked him how often he goes out to lunch and how long that takes; how many impromptu meetings in the hall he gets sucked into in a day; and how often his boss sticks his head into his office and says, “Hey, got a minute?” He conceded that the drains on his “purely productive” time are probably equivalent.
Bottom line: Distractions happen, whether you’re at home or in an office building. Period.
If you’re a work-at-home writer, you need to go read Cory Doctorow’s excellent article, Writing in the Age of Distraction. He gives some very practical tips for staying on task with your writing projects, the most brilliant of which I plan to start utilizing immediately (use a unique placeholder in your document for anything that needs to be looked up, and then look up everything at once, later, rather than risk being sucked into Google in the middle of a writing session). If you don’t know who Doctorow is, well, feel free to lose an hour to Google, marveling over his accomplishments. I think he knows whereof he speaks.
Part of what I’m going to be doing this year is segueing from nearly all blogging, all the time into some longer projects, and cutting down on distractions for those assignments is going to be crucial when it comes to making that transition. I may just print out Doctorow’s piece and put it on my bulletin board here at my desk. Or maybe directly over the corner of my monitor where I run Twitter.
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