Get it All

Is it better to work from home, or to have a separate office? Since the Internet liberated so many people from the geographical location of their employers, this has been a perennial conversation. The answers are likely as diverse as those that posit the question.

Recently, an interesting article cropped up on Medium, discussing the ways in which working from home can be made better for those seeking the home life. It was compelling enough an article that I thought I’d work my own two cents into the mix.

What does it take to work from home?

My wife and I are a good example of how two intelligent, hard-working people can require two vastly different environments to be productive.

My wife is a teacher. She may yet find that her job transfers to a home-work job, but for now, it is a strictly brick-and-mortar affair. For her, being needed in the workplace is a specific perk of her job.

Externally-constructed schedules and priorities are not necessary for me. In fact, I need to find time to not work. My job requires a certain level of solitary existence in the first place, and in ways, it’s pointless to try to micro-manage your work day. Inspiration and ideas come when they come, and trying to code while you’re in a rut is a fruitless way to tear your hair out.

I’m up at 5 every morning, often at the gym for the first hour or so, and at my desk actively coding by 7. I take lunch breaks like I’m working on the line in a factory. And I generally have a set weekly schedule, Mondays being “business of business” days, and Fridays being freelance writing days.

If you’re not able to reproduce a schedule like this, it seems to me, you’re in danger of not being able to account for your time. What, then, does it take to be a home office worker? Here are five key concepts that have helped me.

5. Balancing scheduling with fluidity

This is a tough one, but it’s the nut of any home office. On the one hand, as I said, you need to be able to account for your time. On the other hand, flexibility is probably one of the reasons you got into this!

Getting up in the morning should not be a surprise, and neither should your day’s work. Scheduling and maintaining some level of consistency to your day is key to not letting your skills go soft. If the need arises to prep dinner, pick up kiddos, or even have an impromptu meeting with a client, that should not send you spinning off into an unproductive day.

4. Plan an escape route

This has been a routine problem for me, but I’ve got it figured out. In the past, the home office has been my sanctuary away from the chaos of life, but now the home office is my work! I’m about as likely to voluntarily walk into my home office with no purpose as you are to walk into your employer’s office. Fat chance!

Have a plan to escape the office, on hours and off. Use that flexibility to find new places to relax and ways to unwind, so that you don’t feel trapped at work, even when you’re on down time.

3. The polar bears at the zoo aren’t the only ones that need enrichment!

I can’t begin to tell you how little I enjoyed the water cooler at my old jobs. Awkward conversations about dull topics between people I have little more in common than the building we work in do not thrill me.

But they have their place. And you’ll be without those conversations when you work from home. The good news is: you can replace those boring conversations with social networks, lunches with friends or even networking opportunities. The bad news is: if you don’t make sure to get out and talk to others, chances are good, you’re going to go a little nutty.

2. The whiteboard is your friend. Embrace the whiteboard.

This goes back to the fluidity vs. scheduling thing, but it bears mentioning in specific. If you don’t prefer whiteboards, fine. But you absolutely need a place to write down your projects and their status. It’s a lot easier to take breaks in your day when you can come back to your office and stare at something for a minute until you get your bearings.

I’m actually looking to branch out to a second whiteboard, so I may end up writing a second article about being addicted to them. I reserve the right to append and revise my advice as needed.

1. If you must have distractions, pick the good ones!

Every morning, when I start my day, I turn on my electric piano. When I’m stuck for a solution to a problem or when the tedium of a repetitive task gets me down, turning around and playing a Steely Dan tune often resets my brain. Music is a great meditative practice and one that, over the course of my career as an independent contractor, I’ve become dependent on.

Music may not be “your thing.” But if you’re planning on spending a lot of unsupervised time alone in your room, perhaps those of you inclined to distraction aught to consider which distractions are good and which are bad. If Facebook is a reason to take silly quizes and comment on someone else’s baby pictures, it may not be a good use of your spare time.

But something like Quora, which asks you to answer questions and contribute to the community’s knowledge base, might be more productive to distract your mind while not letting it go AWOL. Meditation is always good to clear the mind and eliminate anxiety, perhaps find some good meditation videos on YouTube?

Whatever your path as a work-from-home employee, I think one key to a successful career is the ability and desire to revisit exactly these kinds of questions. I hope I have given you some good advice!