How To Work At Home

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*Why, yes, I’m ignoring April 1st. I figure we’ve all had about enough of pranks right now. It’s time for 2020 to go home. It’s drunk. – SAH*

Working from home isn’t hard. You roll out of bed, take a shower, put on comfy clothes and commute to your shower. It beats the multitudes on the highway and people driving you nuts at the office, right?

And that’s true. Working from home is easy. It’s working from home productively that challenges most of us.

A friend of mine tells the story of another friend, who had a moderately successful first book. Impressed by this, his wife got a better job, and they moved across country, so the writer could stay at home and write more books, in what was certain to be a very lucrative career.

They got a perfect house and arranged his office just so. And in twenty years he hasn’t finished another book.

Now, I grant you that has the added difficulty of working at home for YOURSELF.  Though if you allow me to be honest, I think that’s where this is headed for most of us. It was always headed that way, because of the nature of the technology making it easier to be a contractor from home than to go to a vast office with cubicles and work nine to five. Easier and cheaper. And economy ultimately takes the cheaper route.

Yes, there are downsides to this — and ways around them — but it will also allow the return to an older way of living, one that, whether we’re more suited to it or not  (I think we are), was the way humans lived for millenia: the family is the place of work and unit of production.

This means that, aside from all their other connections, the husband and wife are each other’s primary influencer of aspirations and opinions, and that children get to be raised by their parents, instead of by anonymous strangers who leave their own children behind and come work 9 to 5 in the production of unimpeded work time for the parents.

More importantly — though it will take some time for the mindset to pass away — it makes those who work at home independent workers, with their stead and their own means of production, inured to the siren call of the factory manager and the more dangerous call of the Marxist agitator.

Just like the factory and coordinated hours, and having to leave your home behind to work fostered a mentality where money came from someone else and obedience and conformity were the way to success, I’m hoping this will foster a spirit of independence, novel thoughts and a wave of innovation.

But that’s all in the future. And the present is hard.

I suspect for many of you the transition from working at a work place to working at home is permanent. A lot of companies are going to figure out how much money they save by having their workers at home.

And since most of you reading this are writers, many if not most of you have the hope of eventually coming home to write full time, right?  And you don’t want to be that man who went into his perfectly designed office and never finished a book again!

Well, I’ve been doing this with varying degrees of success for 34 years, and I can tell you what has helped me, and what makes me most productive.  Perhaps some of it will help you, as well.  I am in fact, in the middle of returning to a learning phase, because (and it’s the third time this has happened in the 34 years) I lost everything I’d built up over time to allow me to work from home.

The first time was well, the first time I learned to work from home, and it was interrupted by my first pregnancy.  Because I was very ill and we had no laptops, I didn’t work for almost a year. And then we had three moves in the next year, which completely nuked both habits and ability to concentrate.  The second time was when the kids graduated from high school. Unbeknownst to me, I had set my schedule by their schedule. I dropped them off, worked at writing stuff, and then picked them up and became mommy again.  This survived homeschooling younger son (possibly my most productive year. Yes, there are tips for this) but couldn’t survive the flex schedule of college, particularly since they were both living at home and would break into my work space at any time of the day to share an insight or a joke. And you see, I LIKE them which meant them an irresistible distraction.  The third time, which I’m starting to recover from now, involved being very ill for almost ten years, moving three times and THEN going wholly indie.  You see, the second recovery was never right. I should explain I’m massive ADD and the physical issues of the last ten years made that much, much worse. Which means I was finishing books/articles when editor called and asked if I was dead, or screamed we had a cover and where was the manuscript. And then I was writing novels with less than a week.

I’ve tried to call myself and threaten doomy doom, but it’s not happening. SO–  I’ve been trying other stuff.  Weirdly, unless a paycheck is attached, I’m immune to adult supervision. I’ve tried hiring someone to “supervise” me, and getting my husband to do it. Turns out I can completely ignore them as well as I ignore myself.  So, it’s time to go back to basics, as when I established my FIRST schedule and started producing books and short stories, even though at the time no one bought them yet.

So, here is what is starting to work, and worked in the past.

1- Your work space:

It doesn’t need to be fancy. No, you actually don’t need that antique stained glass window with an angel on it (someday, if we build a house. or a reproduction of it, anyway.)  You don’t need the big, polished desk. And you probably don’t need various souvenirs and significant things (to you) all over the walls (though those help.)

You DO need a dedicated work space, one in which you work. Depending on the rest of your situation/home/roommates/children/spouse, it can be as simple as a corner of the sofa.  In this place, you work. In other places you might read for fun, or drink, or have a rousing good time, but here you work.

Now, not saying that you can’t work elsewhere now and then, like when it’s a beautiful day and you take your computer out on the porch. Or go to your coffee shop or library and work there. But that’s a treat/field trip of sorts. THIS OTOH is where you work.  Humans are creatures of habit, and this helps.

2- While you’re at it, forget your comfy clothes.

If you’ve lived most of your life with sweats being associated with relaxing on your day off, your brain is going to have trouble with “we work now.” And since 90% of your brain is a dumb beast who refuses to speak to your rational self (Okay, maybe that’s MY brain. Eh.) you need to cajole it in ways it “gets.”

So, no one is asking you to wear a suit, or be incredibly uncomfortable, but putting on clothes that mean you’re an adult, and which won’t embarrass you if you have to open the door while wearing them might convince your brain it’s not a good time to browse the net for cryptozoology news or gawk at the latest bizarrely false alien stories. (Yeah, I know, that’s just me.)

3 – Keep distractions out of the office area. Particularly distractions you like.

If you’re like me, that is really, really hard, because somehow wherever you’re working becomes the center of family socializing. Which means they love me/you. OTOH.  Yeah.

Really hard. So…. work at it.

As part of this, if your kid is at home, permanently or for the duration, and you need to work, you know the thing in airplanes, about securing your oxygen mask before helping the child? Same principle. I recommend online academies with actual hours, teacher interaction and homework.  (There’s lists floating around, and honestly I can help, if you ping me.) IF the child is older/self directed the Great Courses might also help.  Be aware they will learn everything they’d learn in an eight hour school day and “be done” with school in two to four hours. So, find something they like to do and can do unsupervised (for very small kids this can be crafts or listening to audio books. For my pre-teen, back when, it was reading pulp sf, and ASSIGN it to them. Have them give you a report of it “after school” and/or write a book report. Have a due hour/date.

Reward the kids… and occasionally spouse for leaving you alone to work. This works. It’s just hard.

4 – Set a task every day. Write them on something where you see it.

A white board works, as does a desk calendar.  More importantly if you’re a novelist, or someone else who does a piece of a larger task every day, before you knock off for the day, write what you should pick up on tomorrow on something, and put it where you’ll see it first thing in the morning.

5- Track your progress. It’s easy to look back at formless days and get a feeling that nothing matters, and who cares? But if you write what you accomplished every day, it will make it easier to stay on track.

6- Reward yourself.

Remember where 90% of your brain is dumb and won’t listen to rational argument? Give it a nice reward.

It can be anything, but when you accomplish a task give yourself something you enjoy.  I knew someone who listened to classical music when he finished a chapter.  Other people have formal tea, with scones, at the end of the work day if the writing has gone well.  Other people watch a favorite TV show.  The reward must be bigger for a bigger task. Finished that novel? Well, you get to stay in bed all day and eat bonbons or whatever you want to do (that one is NOT my dream. I hate being in bed all day, having been sick too much growing up.)

7- Remember to knock off.

When the work/writing/whatever is going well, you might be tempted to “write another ten minutes…. or hours.”
Both husband and I have a propensity to this, but you pay for it the next day, and it also nukes your schedule as effectively as goofing off for a week does. It will be harder to get back on track after that sort of thing.

It’s okay to go over an hour or two if “I’m hot on this” because you probably would have done it at an office job, but after that, please, for your schedule’s sake, draw the line. If it starts overrunning dinner and rest, the next day you won’t be able to work at all.

8 – Remember to do something outside every day, even if it’s just taking a walk.

Some people find it productive to go for a walk at the beginning and end of the work day.  “Walking to and from work.”
I’m not that organized. but trust me, no matter how much you like your little hole and imaginary play friends (is that just me?) you still need to go out. And seeing other people helps keep you sane, even if you don’t speak to them. MOST OF US don’t need to speak to them. Though “May I have a late, grande,” counts as interaction, if you need it.

9- It takes a week to establish an habit and three days to break it.

So, establish the habit of working. Help your atavistic brain work for you, not against you. Give it the clues it needs to stay on track.

10 – If you manage this, be aware it will ruin you for office work.

Working from home once you get the hang of it, becomes easy, pleasant and just feels natural.

If you need to go back to work after that, you’re on your own. It’s been 30 years since I last had an honest job, and I like it this way.

Yes, I have pants on while writing this. Okay, I lie, I’m still in my pajamas. BUT then this is not my real work. (Real work pays.) I’m now going to shower and do that.

 

 

18 comments

  1. I’m currently reading books by L.E. Modesitt, who is one of those scary prolific writers (and whose writing, on the face of it, is not what I usually like. I don’t know why it works for me, but it does.) He used to work for one of the big governmental agencies in DC, writing voluminous reports among other things, and when he started his writing career what he did was this: He went into his home office at 9AM and came out at 5PM, just like his office job.

    Personally, that’s kind of a freaky strong work ethic, but I guess after government it would seem easy.

    My trick was to have a serial 1st reader. I’d send a section, she’d read it, she’d beg me for the next bit, I had to do it. I’ve done that a couple of times (but only once for a book-length work.) External pokes are fun.

      1. Welcome to MGC, sir! Does it feel like putting in overtime, or just like you’re covering the commute home?

      2. I have yet to manage to quit by 5 pm. I also have trouble starting at 9 because I’m doing things like blogs. Sigh.
        Also nice to see you. It’s been years and we’ve missed you.

      3. Thank you for your prolific writing, then. You’re one of the authors I have stacked on top of the bookshelf (in a tall single column) because we have so many of your books.

        Someone fed you cactus once and you didn’t like it, right? 😉

  2. I’ve worked at home pretty much since I got out of the Army. I homeschooled all five kids through HS graduation. I taught myself lots of various skills, which sometimes I used to make a little pocket money. I did have my own beauty shop for a while, but I only worked there maybe 20hrs a week. (It was a tiny town). So, working from home is nothing new. But, I’ve found that each time the situation at home changed, (Moves, kids moving out or back in, health issues changing, mental health issues changing, animals changing, adding a new hobby or trying a new work thing, etc) That I have to change my schedule. And sometimes I don’t realize that I needed to change my schedule for several months! So, I’m beating myself up for not accomplishing. Then, the light clicks on and I go…Hey! I need to change the schedule because it doesn’t work right now in this situation. That usually helps. BUT, not always. I have found for me, I have to look at Who/What I am in the equation of home life. And I am and always have been the primary care worker. So, if hubby or kids or even community that I have agreed to take care of, need help, then they come first. So, I’ll likely never become a full time writer, because all those years ago I chose a different path, but with watching my schedules, I can accomplish things that I am proud of, and maybe a little writing, too.

  3. Mornings – Day Job or non-fiction (or yes). Afternoons – blog and fiction. In a home office. Evenings – no write nothing. I used to walk in the evenings, or do gym between Day Job and writing, but now it is early morning (and earlier, and earlier, and earlier . . . ) because of the time change. Six days a week.

  4. Tracking progress is very helpful. When I’m drafting, I input my daily word count into a list. It keeps me honest, and it keeps me writing. Also, I have a specific comfy chair for writing. I don’t sit it in otherwise.

  5. — A friend of mine tells the story of another friend, who had a moderately successful first book. Impressed by this, his wife got a better job, and they moved across country, so the writer could stay at home and write more books, in what was certain to be a very lucrative career. They got a perfect house and arranged his office just so. And in twenty years he hasn’t finished another book. —

    A sadly common case. It is about as cliched as any statement about this crazy business of ours, but true in the overwhelming majority of cases: Given a free choice, the typical writer will do anything BUT write.

    There is no cure…but there is HOPE. So send your tax-deductible contributions to…!

  6. …but it will also allow the return to an older way of living, one that, whether we’re more suited to it or not (I think we are), was the way humans lived for millennia: the family is the place of work and unit of production.

    …and that children get to be raised by their parents, instead of by anonymous strangers who leave their own children behind…

    Yes, please! Here in Casa Ney-Grimm, we were really lucky, because my husband started working from home when our kids were 5 or 6. I was starting my indie career, so I was home, too. Must say that I loved it. We got a ton of family time. When our kids weren’t in school (or over at a friends), they were with us. And my husband and I were together all day. Yes, we were working, but we could lunch together and call the occasional remark to one another. It was great!

  7. Alas, my primary ob requires hands-on contact with a house. And, with my usual terrific timing, I just started another company so cash reserves are lowered. That one requires hands-on, too.
    That said, there are things I can do from home. I set targets for them and kill the internet while I get to them.
    Then I exercise.
    Then I drink.
    I probably should replace the drinking with another book. It’s been a while.
    Or slip it in between exercising and drinking so I can engage in all my favorite vices every day.

  8. Alas, my primary ob requires hands-on contact with a house. And, with my usual terrific timing, I just started another company so cash reserves are lowered. That one requires hands-on, too.
    That said, there are things I can do from home. I set targets for them and kill the internet while I get to them.
    Then I exercise.
    Then I drink.
    I probably should replace the drinking with another book. It’s been a while.
    Or slip it in between exercising and drinking so I can engage in all my favorite vices every day.

  9. I’d write during wherever I ate lunch — when I went in to work. Plus at home, different stories.

  10. I’m not forgetting my comfy clothes. On the other hand, since I don’t interface with the public directly at work, my comfy clothes *are* my work clothes. Yes, we have certain minimum standards we have to meet, but…
    A coworker was once talking with her son’s daycare’s workers, when they finally asked her what she did for a living. Shocked at the answer, they replied, “Oh, we thought you were a yoga instructor!”
    You see, every day after she dropped her son off at daycare, she went to the gym, and then to work. So they never saw her in anything other than gym clothes. Erroneous conclusions were drawn…

  11. This is helpful. I work from home (pre-virus) once a week on my “research day”. That was mostly productive. But, on other days, going in to the office even on days I don’t teach was far more productive. Because that’s where I work. I do have a home office, but it’s also been used to do fun stuff (read FB, although that is a lot less fun these days).

    I’m printing this out and reading it over and starting my work habits (three weeks into my upended semester).

    My bit of organizing so far has been to deal with classes, students, and other school related stuff in the mornings, and trying (emphasis on “trying” to write in the afternoons. I’ve actually been pretty productive for classes already this morning, so I’m off to continue that and reward myself with fun writing this afternoon.

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