People paint a leisurely picture when they discover that you “work from home.” It’s a charmed life. Wake up at 10:00AM. Lounge in your pajamas all day. Maybe dabble with some light work in the afternoon after you’ve caught up with your TV shows.
Sure there are some perks when you get to be your own boss. Let’s even skip the “but you’ve got to be disciplined” talk. Let’s get right to the nuts and bolts of working from home.
You see, the picture people paint could be true. It’s possible to wake up at 10:00AM every morning, which usually means you work past 5:00PM or stay up late at night. You could lounge in your pajamas all day. After all, who are you really going to be seeing? Here the writer stereotypes are spot on. On a daily basis, I look like a hot mess. Maybe, I’ll comb my hair once a week when making a rare public appearance. Most days though, I manage to skate by the mirror, my reflection a beautiful blur. I’ve even learned to justify my behavior quite well. I figure, one less hour of primping and grooming gives me one more hour of free time, which I can use to catch up on TV shows.
The life of a work-at-home seems quite idyllic … if you live in a bubble.
Most of us co-habitate with a significant other, a child, or extended family. In my case, it’s all three. Despite what luxury magazines gloriously spread across their pages, I don’t live a privileged life that includes an immaculate suite turned office space. As a full-time mom to a very naughty two year old, my desk is a little closer to earth. One main floor serves as kitchen, dining room, play area and office. How else am I going to keep a close peripheral eye on the little human?
Continuing to prick at that bubble, let me get into why working-at-home is a challenge. While my significant other more or less leaves me alone, my two year old constantly demands my attention. Still, I’ve learned to work around his schedule, as all smart parents eventually realize they need to do. What I haven’t managed to train or skirt around is the extended family . A very loud, often obnoxious extended family who still thinks that if you’re sitting in front of your computer it must mean you’re trolling Facebook. Yet, I’ve even managed to shuffle past this Herculean obstacle by “zoning out”. I thought I had my work-at-home life pretty well sorted until something wicked this way came. You see, my aunt popped in out of town.
With a grand three days notice that allowed for no preparation, an aunt of ours popped into town for a week long stay. Here’s where the bubble pops and I introduce you to the real challenge of working at home. It’s called being polite, and society sort of expects it of us. While everyone else was frolicking off to work, my work left me in the trenches with her. My candid disclaimers letting her know I had to work with looming deadlines were received with smiles and nods, then promptly set aside as she unfurled hours of conversation.
The next seven days passed like this: I awoke uncharacteristically early (8:00AM) to get in a few undisturbed hours. Ahe awoke early (I even had to start combing my hair and wear uncrumpled clothes … additional time wasted daily). She’d start talking, first about her life story and then three days later about business ideas that she wanted my input on. Another four days passed like this. Evening attempts to push her onto extended family failed as my mother, vexed by her sister’s rather cerebral nature, hobbled upstairs as soon as dinner was over. She had discovered a sudden need to rest, shifting her bedtime from 11:00PM to 8:00PM.
After my aunt left, I started my strategic plan for all future visits from out-of-towners. Resolved to never go through this again, and curious how many other telecommuters routinely dealt with such grave challenges, I mapped out an effective battle plan.
First: Move your desk. If you want to get anything done, you simply can’t be accessible on sight. No one is going to respect your space or your time, even if they think they are. Save yourself the hassle and just move yourself. Obviously it’s not practical to ‘work’ out of Starbucks all day, especially if you have little humans to oversee … so just shift to your bedroom. Set up shop there or add a more permanent in-bedroom work station if you’re more prone to company. People are less likely to bother you in your room when the door is closed. It’s not polite.
Second: Create a public calendar. While I use my iPhone and Google calendars, next time I’ll use a white board calendar and stick it in the kitchen with my schedule. I’m going to stick it right by the tea and coffee station, ensuring it gets seen at least twice a day. This way, guests get a glimpse of your schedule without you ever having to say a word. It also is a nice reminder to everyone that you have things to do.
Third: If you have little ones to look after, bring them into your makeshift space. I make use of the TV, the iPad and always keep a couple of toy baskets upstairs. During these days, I don’t particularly care about whether too much screen time damages your children. I figure those people probably have nannies and less things to think about. Having essentials is also key. Keep drinks and snacks for the both of you, so no one needs to venture outside until absolutely necessary.
If you work from home, what strategies do you use to deal with house guests?