I work at home in a second floor apartment in a “quiet” tree-lined suburban community where apartments are the exception. My home office looks out on private homes on two sides.
Currently, I am writing to a cacophonous symphony that no amount of concentration can tune out or neutralize. There is the jackhammer which has been assaulting my eardrums and equanimity for weeks now as a crew breaks up the road every few feet to lay down some kind of piping.
Simultaneously, I am trying to tune out the lawn mower and the carpet-cleaning machine Spotless (but not noiseless) is using on my carpets. In an hour I will have to get onto a conference call to make a presentation, windows down, air on, in an effort to drown out the ceaseless racket of the jackhammer.
“Do you love working at home?” I am often asked and most of time the answer is a resounding yes, despite any of the downsides. It is a luxury to stay in PJs as long as I want (except when the exterminator or UPS or a neighbor knocks on the door at 4pm and I am still in a robe, in which case luxury downgrades immediately to humiliation.
It is a gift not to have to be somewhere every morning at the same time – hair, makeup and mood in place – and to be able to sleep in when a migraine swallows up the morning or when I feel like it. It is spectacular to make my own hours so I can yield to the lure of the golf course on gorgeous days or to the need for a hug from my grandchildren.
“I would never have the discipline,” friends tell me, and I assure them I don’t have it either. While the temptation to turn on the television is one that never visits me except for something out of the ordinary like Will and Kate’s wedding or the U.S. Open (golf or tennis) or the Olympics, I would claim the Gold in procrastination if it were an Olympic sport.
Had I a dollar for each day I broke the vow to go to sleep at a decent hour so I could wake up early, work efficiently, and take the afternoon off (over my decade working at home) I would have a lot of money. And once I am up, the urge to walk away from the computer is so great that I have been known to clean out closets, “junk” drawers or bureaus, any of those repellent activities more appealing that the project my client awaits.
The presence of the refrigerator, fewer than 10 paces from my desk, is a constant a distraction as are the telephone, a good novel, my knitting, the New York Times crossword puzzles. Not to mention that the sense of day and night, weekday and weekend seem to blend into one another so there is little distinction between being at work and being off duty. Every day as I go from bed to computer, index finger extended to turn it on before I’ve even brushed my teeth, I know something is wrong with that picture.
There is no job, however, at any salary, that would tempt me to give up the freedom of an at-home office. The tips below for “staying productive and sane while working at home” are among 30 submitted by at-home workers to a site called www.zenhabits.net. I could have written most of them, and do adhere to some of them, but based on how many I do not do, I am clearly not going to reach inner peace.
- Have a room/space dedicated for work (check).
- Close the door.
- Keep your desk and general work area tidy (for me, this really does increase focus, although cleaning it up is just another form or procrastination!)
- Turn off the telephone when you need to work without distraction (ha)
- Don’t stop working if it is a hard day. (ha ha)
- Give yourself breaks (on some days it’s more like squeeze some work in between your breaks)
- Know when to stop (a very good counterpoint to the preceding bullet
- Have a pint of water by your desk all the time (agreed)
- Set boundaries for those around you.
- Have a good lunch (how “good” is container of hummus and potato chips?)
- Be grateful you are working from home and not from a cubicle!