Working from Home
September 7, 2012 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Are there any other people here who work from home? Care to share some anecdotes or tell us about any rituals you use to keep you motivated?

I love working from home, but it gets a little dull. On the one hand, it's great not having to leave the house, especially when it's snowing or raining and the roads are a mess.

On the other hand, being cooped up in the same place all day long for days on end sometimes gives me a case of cabin fever.

And then there is always the one, big, ever constant, evil distraction: television.

I just wanted to hear from other home-workers, especially the ones who have raised their home-employment situation to an art form.

Thanks. :)
posted by rougy to Work & Money (29 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
For me, something like MetaFilter is worse than television.

The big thing that makes a difference for me is not keeping it to a 9 to 5 schedule. Or a Monday to Friday. I keep deadlines. This way I can work to my rhythm. For example, its past 3am right now where I am at.

This also frees up my time in ways that I can break up the cabin fever by stepping out or reading a book or something.

A to do list next to the keyboard and a paper calender against that helps me stay on track.

This is the reason I left "work".

Find a job you love and you never have to work a day in your life ~ Confucious
posted by infini at 12:18 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I work from home! I have done so at a couple of jobs. I have a couple of tips:

- Make a dedicated workspace out of sightlines of your most likely distractions. (TV, bookshelves, whatever.) I literally work in my closet - it keeps me out of trouble.

- Schedule social time with grownups. This could be a hobby or a club, lunches with office-working friends, trips to the gym with a buddy, anything that both gets you out of the house and gets you face time that isn't about work. Two or three times a week is my personal minimum or I start to go a little nuts.

- If you can go work on a laptop in a coffee shop, try that every now and then, even if it's only for an hour. The distraction and change of scene can help your creative mind a lot.

- Make sure you do things like eat regular meals (rather than just grazing all day) and exercise. It's easy to slip into unhealthy habits when you never have to walk further than the distance from your bed to your desk, and your entire pantry is close at hand.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:19 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. Did I say that clearly enough? As long as you're the sort of prideful person who can't bear to miss a deadline (and if you're not that sort of person, what are you doing working from home?), you're golden. To-do lists help keep all the deadlines organized. If you have to, slate time on your calendar to work on xyz project and you can even slate some time on your calendar for TV-watching. As long as you meet your deadlines, who cares?
posted by DrGail at 12:21 PM on September 7, 2012

Pomodoro keeps me on task. I recommend it to anyone.
posted by Sternmeyer at 12:26 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've been working from home for about 5 years now. I've gotten into some really bad funks where my performance really declined. When I know I'm slacking now I try to get a change of scenery. I'll go to a coffee shop and work. Set my own deadlines for things that are easy to let slip away.
posted by zephyr_words at 12:29 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Love it! Thank you all. Keep 'em coming.

posted by rougy at 12:36 PM on September 7, 2012

I second the Pomodoro technique.

Also, for each separate project I work on, I make a specific playlist of songs. As soon as I sit down to work on that project, I start a Pomodoro and start the first song on the playlist. It's a form of Pavlovian conditioning-- clicking "Start" on my timer program, and hearing the song, and sitting in my chair immediately puts me in the frame of mind to start working.

An added advantage is, if I have to return to an old project, I can just call up the playlist, and it helps put me right back in the right frame of mind.

The disadvantage is, I can never again hear that song without feeling like I should be working on that particular project.
posted by yankeefog at 12:38 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a copywriter and work about 180-200 hours a month, so I keep task lists for each day.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:56 PM on September 7, 2012

To be honest, I don't worry much about home productivity because I get so much more done there than anywhere else simply by not working anywhere else. Everywhere else, I'm trying to block out music and chatter, and I have to spend time getting to and from those places. Eliminating those timewasters and distractions has been the single greatest thing I've ever done to get more done. It's like adding 90 minutes to every work day.

But there are some things that help. No window. A big monitor fills my field of vision, drawing me back to tasks. The office is next to the house but not a part of it; I can't be easily interrupted by family, the bed is not near, and the kitchen is through three doors. The printer is right here, so I don't get distracted walking to it (another problem with working in offices or coworking spaces, all those long puddles of not-working that start with someone noticing me and then saying "Quick question...").

I also keep a task list, but I do that anywhere. Index cards right next to computer. I make new ones whenever I need to focus. Remaking the list, dropping off finished or now-irrelevant tasks, moving the important ones to the top, that's all it takes to get refocused on what's important.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:08 PM on September 7, 2012

I worked from home the last two years I was at the Death Star. Not really my cup of tea, I'm too much of a social butterfly, I like checking out what my colleagues are doing in their cubes.

Here's what kept me on track:

1. Had a desk in the basement with a clear sight to the TV. That way, when I was working on something boring, I could be amused with the antics on Maury. Keep the remote close by in case you have mute for a phone call.

2. Before I started screwing around, I'd make sure all the email was covered, the calls were answered and all of my daily tasks were accomplished. So usually by about 10:00 AM.

3. A speaker-phone, so I could keep playing Pyramid Solitaire during conference calls.

4. Go out to lunch whenever the opportunity arose. It helps to keep in touch with actual people.

5. Get up, get showered, get dressed. Sure, I was dressed in gym clothes, but I was awake, had coffee and my day began.

Here is what I experienced when I went back to an office to work.

1. I had severe neck pain as I had gotten too used to loafing on the sofa and wasn't used to being in an upright position for most of the day.

2. My feet stopped fitting into high heels. They just wouldn't bend that way any more.

3. Panty hose itched. Just as well, they're out of style anyway.

My tongue is not as firmly in my cheek as I'm copping to. Do you SEE how much time I spend here?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:19 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Television can help me. If I have tasks to do that are a bit slow and boring I turn on the tv. Nothing that is too engrossing. I usually put on Law and Order, as they sort of are all similar and I don't have to follow the plot too much. Two hours of tv and mean two hours of getting boring work done.
posted by Vaike at 1:19 PM on September 7, 2012

And then there is always the one, big, ever constant, evil distraction: television.

I don't own one. It's like not keeping cookies in the house, except cookies are far better than TV anyway. You won't miss it.

Agree with deadlines. If no one else is giving them to you, give them to yourself.

Make lists. Crossing things off is great, and even when you can't, just knowing what you have to do instead of having an amorphous blob of "argh so much to do!" floating around in your head is useful.

This might depend on what you do and why you work from home, but for me working from home means I'm doing what I want with my life and working in offices means I desperately need bill-paying money. Not having to work in an office (which are all soul-sucking and awful and boring in ways that being cooped up in your own apartment will never be) is pretty good motivation to actually work when I'm at home.

I also think you have to find what works for you. restless_nomad said regular meals, but if I did that (as opposed to light snacks) I'd be too tired to work all day. I agree completely with Mo Nickles about not working elsewhere - having to take my work to a coffee shop on a regular basis would stress me out, but I know people who always work in coffee shops, so it must be helpful for them. I find a lot of work at home suggestions (lunches out, strict schedules, dressing up) come down to "make your home as much like an office as possible." That must work for lots of people, I assume. But those office things are all what kills any desire to be productive for me. So really knowing yourself and your own habits is probably the best way to figure this out.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:20 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Pants with a waistband and a belt. No elastic waist/drawstring pants. When you wear sweats all day, every day the pounds creep up on you.
posted by 26.2 at 1:30 PM on September 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

Eat That Frog is a great book to kick-start your better habits. The Pomodoro technique is also a real winner, and so simple!

I keep to a reasonably strict schedule, and I portion out errands so that I am getting out into the world at least once every 2 days. Even if it's just a drive to the post office and back, I find it helps stave off cabin fever.

I recently took up Geocaching as a way to get me out of the house more often. And I have a roster of friends that I visit regularly, so I rarely go more than a week without a social outing.
posted by ErikaB at 1:36 PM on September 7, 2012

I work from home. The first thing I do is organize my goals for the day: what kind of work needs to be done, by what time and what mindset I need to get there.

Some work I do is very mind-heavy- I need all my concentraition for problem-solving, ordering- so I do it right away in the morning while I'm energized. No tv, just old familar music that can be compleatly ignored.

Somework is very mechanical. It is technically dificult, but it all moterfunctions so it can be incredibly tedious. I put on interesting podcasts that can occupy my thinking brain so my moterskills can have time to work without me going out of my mind.

For completely boring, simple, long tasks- I put the tv on.

I figured out a long time ago that I am most productive between 5am and 2 pm. I base my workday on that, so I'm in bed early and basically used up by three. You have to find the pattern that makes you get into the groove and then plan your day around that. Can't stand early morning? Go to breakfast with a friend and go to work at 10, energized and socially filled up.

Spend some time jotting down when you are just loving it, and figure out what it was that go you there- and make it part of your process.
posted by Blisterlips at 1:41 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I work as far from the TV as humanly possible (2 stories) and let myself take a decent 45-to-60 minute lunch break where I go for a walk, to break cabin fever. (I work at home maybe once a week.)

Having a dedicated space that isn't for anything else is very helpful. So is arranging everything I might need in that space -- in my case, extra power supply and USB cords for my laptop, coaster and coffee mug, office supplies... anything I might have to walk to another room for is a possible distraction.

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines.

Damn straight. The rest is a matter of staying on task. I use a spreadsheet with a big list of tasks, and check off individual rows. This helps me not screw around, although it's not perfect.
posted by zvs at 1:48 PM on September 7, 2012

I need the TV as a distraction. I need some kind of distraction. When stuck in an office, I have baseball game radio feeds or music streams going. At home, I have baseball games or nature documentaries on TV. It helps me focus, though I know that's me.

Anyway, my major client and I have an arrangement where at the beginning of each week, I send him a list of what I plan to work on that week and what I did last week, so I've developed a task tracking habit. It's not hard, I just keep a TXT file open and make notes as I go. I also use that list as the embryo of my to-do list. Obviously, it doesn't cover all the random crap that comes up during the week, but it's a place to start.

I also have my work email set up as an organization system, with various things I need to do flagged or starred or otherwise marked per my own system. The goal is to clear it out of all the flags and doodads by the end of the week.

I have various Skype/IRC/IM channels I hang out in so I can talk to people, some work and some friends, so I don't get too isolated. I also make a point of getting out of the house as much as possible on the weekends and at night.

Likewise, when I take lunch, that time is entirely blocked out for my screwing around, reading forums, etc. Don't get me wrong, I still do screw around, but if something's particularly interesting, I save it for lunch. That way I waste a few minutes, not hours.

When there's no games/documentaries/other things to distract me, I have some music streams I listen to. I prefer streams because there's no futzing or playing THIS song or THAT song. Someone plays all the music for me. If I really need to focus, I throw on some high energy electronica without vocals.

I'm a big fan of routine. I'm like a big baby about my routine. I wake up at the same time every morning, walk out, turn on the computer, start making breakfast while it boots, log in, finish making breakfast while it boots, then sit down and open my email and industry news sites so I can see what's going on. As I eat and sort of "boot up", I start going through my email. I do anything that's easily done immediately (like I need to say "Thanks!" or "I'll work on that ASAP!"), and start mentally prioritizing the rest. And then I just plunge into it, doing the urgent things, then the less urgent things, then the someday things. Around noon I take lunch and shut down everything, then do all my internet reading and slacking. I spin back up about 1 and then I knock off for the day around five and go right to the gym, which also helps with the crazymaking.

Having a supportive spouse or family is important. My wife knows, after some wrangling, that I'm working and can't "just help me for a second with this minor thing that will gradually turn into 'so I want to rearrange the living room right now for no apparent reason'".

Also important is make sure you are comfortable enough to work without being so comfortable you'll go to sleep or slack. So a good chair, but not a plush chair. A sturdy, reliable keyboard, but not one with a lot of distracting geegaws and whatsits, a good monitor that doesn't strain your eyes. Little annoyances tend to become big, distracting things if you're the kind of person that gets distracted.

I budget by brainpower. So, for example, it's 9am and I have 200 nearly identical emails to send OR a plan to write that's going to require some serious brainpower. I'm doing the emails first and the plan later in the day when I'm awake and fully functional.

I maintain a strict working schedule and am usually unavailable outside it. I make clear to my clients that if you call outside the hours I'm available, I'll kick you to voicemail, then check the voicemail. If it's really important, I'll hop on and do it as soon as I can. If it's not, I'll ignore it. Now, I'll work late if need be to finish a project or get my shit done, but that's a "sometimes" thing, not an "anytime" thing. If you're one of those people that exists constantly in five-alarm fire mode where everything's a now-now-now catastrophe, I won't work with you. If I wanted that, I'd be back in the office.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:59 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

The worst part about working from home is the inability to get "off the clock". If I don't adhere to a strict schedule, I find myself at the computer from sun up to sun down.
posted by thanotopsis at 3:19 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm ashamed to admit it, but the thing that gets me to sit down and actually work is to get reeeeeeaaaallly caffeinated. I get all hopped up and then I just GO!
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:36 PM on September 7, 2012

- Keep a regular schedule, or at least have regular hours where you are "on the job".
- Never, ever, ever, ever set up shop in the room that you sleep in. I had to learn this the hard way. Even if you don't live in a place where you can set up your own dedicated office, make a place that's distinct from the normal functions of "home". If that means dining room or kitchen table, get something, anything, that you can bring out that will signal that you've transformed it into the office, and put it away when you're done.
- Try occasionally changing venue. It's really easy to get stuck in a rut, especially if you don't have any kind of co-worker or customer interactions to serve the function of a beneficial interruption. Even if it's just "go from the kitchen table to the porch", or whatever.
- Do the hard stuff first.
- Make a ToDo/task/deadline/prioritizing system, or adopt one of the seven million already out there. Doesn't matter which one, and you'll inevitably wind up customizing it to your needs anyway.
- Write up process documents for everything you do, or at least a check list. Working from home means you have to hold yourself accountable all the time, which is a lot easier when you actually have something to hold yourself accountable to.
- Take regular breaks to do calisthenics and stretch, and also for generally mental health. I'll usually get up, set the timer on my phone for 15 minutes, pop in my headphones and listen to music or a podcast while taking a walk around the neighborhood.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 4:04 PM on September 7, 2012

I went from working from home 1 day a week to working from home 4-5 days a week. It was definitely an adjustment, but I've developed some little habits to keep myself productive, keep myself from working too much, and keep from going stir-crazy:

-The very first thing I do in the morning, as soon as I roll out of bed, is shower. If I don't do this, I often have a hard time finding a good place to take a break and do it later, and then suddenly it's time to stop working and go out and play and I'm still gross and in my jammies. It also just makes me feel better and more ready for the day.

-After the shower I put on clothes. They may be comfy loungey clothes, but they're still clothes and not jammies or my birthday suit, and so help put me in the "Time to work now" mindset.

-I have a separate browser session for work-related stuff. Not that I don't switch back to the other browser for LJ and Metafilter and reddit and cat pictures between tasks, but it just feels nice and neat to have everything separate.

-I try to get as many of my regular daily tasks done as early as possible so I can have the rest of the day to either deal with new things that come up or take some extra-long breaks.

-It's tempting to just eat lunch at my desk (either while working or reading Metafilter), but then I'm at my desk for 8-9 hours a day (and have a hard time justifying not answering that email during lunch if I'm at my desk and can see it) and that that is no fun, so I make myself take a real break for lunch. This means at the very least getting up from my desk and having lunch on the couch, and often means leaving the apartment and walking down the block to pick up lunch (and sometimes buy groceries for the day, too). I try to take advantage of the ability to have lunch with friends who also work from home, are stay-at-home parents, or are otherwise home during the day as often as possible. I also really like taking an extra few minutes to actually prepare food (rather than heating leftovers or throwing together a sandwich), because I enjoy cooking and it's a nice change of pace from sitting at my desk.

-The TV stays off unless I'm breaking for lunch or done with work for the day, otherwise I get distracted and 5 episodes of MLP or Supernatural later I'm behind on work. The music stays on and is generally something high-energy.

-I've learned to be very firm about my work/life boundaries. When I first started I tended to open up my work email as soon as I sat down at my desk, which could be an hour or more before my day officially starts, and of course I'd always end up losing that hour to work since I was already at my desk and engaged with whatever work tasks required my attention. Now I don't look at work email or work-related sites until it's time for work to start, and I'm happy to have the non-work time in the morning to enjoy my coffee, do some yoga stretches, say goodbye to my partner before he goes to the office, and maybe get some personal/household tasks taken care of. My coworkers know that if they need to reach me outside of business hours they must call rather than expect me to see any emails they might send.
posted by rhiannonstone at 4:43 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I get up at the crack of dawn to phone clients or vendors in the EU. Then, I either walk the dog, go to the gym or go out for coffee nearby. Then, I come home, sit down at the keyboard and work until I drop. I'm always at work, thanks to my smartphone. Metafilter is a distraction, but I'd never dream of watching TV or calling up someone else to chat. Sure, i might do laundry and dishes, but basically, I'm at work, and I'm motivated by the thought of sending out my invoices and watching all the lovely checks come in.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:43 PM on September 7, 2012

Response by poster: I hope nobody minds if I don't pick a "best answer" because I've enjoyed and appreciated all of the responses.

Working from home is kind of a dream come true for me, but there certainly are downsides to it that one doesn't anticipate. Guess it all comes down to that old adage "know thyself."

Cheers, all.

posted by rougy at 5:02 PM on September 7, 2012

SelfControl for the intertube distractions. Sriusly.
posted by lalochezia at 5:56 PM on September 7, 2012

I cheat at the whole working at home thing. I got myself a cute little office just down the street from my pad. I get the benefits of working from home(short, five minute walk commute), without all the pains. When I actually worked from home home, it was baaaad.
posted by Folk at 6:28 AM on September 8, 2012

I have a separate "home" and "work" computer - my employer provides my work laptop, and I have no personal files, bookmarks, applications, etc. on it. When I open that machine, I know I am at work. I think this machine demarcation really helps prevent me from accidentally frittering my day away.

My desk is in the guest room (which is rarely occupied, and never on workdays), so my only real association with the room is working. I can hear music playing on the household speakers in there and quickly mute it if I need to answer a call. I use the Roku to stream Pandora - so the TV is busy serving music and isn't going to accidentally start providing me with a West Wing binge or something.

My employer prefers we work regular hours - that is, I have certain times that I'm expected to be online, and if I'm not going to be available, I let the rest of the team know (we are a pretty small company). For me, that means approx. 8 to 5 M - F with an hour lunch break between 1 & 2 - on lunch I get up and take my dogs for a walk.

I am fortunate in that:

1. I love my work, so am usually excited to get to my desk.
2. I love my home, so am usually very excited that I get to hang out here all day with my pets.
3. I am pretty introverted and am happier outside of an office / social situation - I cannot envision being able to go back to an "office" job.
4. We live in a somewhat remote area - my husband spends an hour or so a day driving too and from work (not horrid, I know a lot of people have worse commutes) and I daily appreciate not having to drive anywhere.
posted by hilaryjade at 10:49 AM on September 8, 2012

I've been working full-time from home since January 1, 2007, and I love it. I fear the day the owner of my very small company retires and I have to get a real job.

My office as nice as I could make it, with a huge desk I got on Freecycle (way more space than I need, so I can spread out), multiple monitors, and all my little desk toys. That room has a window, and in my backyard outside that window I have flowering plants and a birdfeeder, so there's something to look up at. There's also a kitty sill on that window so my cat has a place to hang out. I painted the walls lavender and put up posters and photographs that fit the color scheme. It's pleasant down there, so I don't dread "commuting" to the basement.

One thing I don't see mentioned upthread is a backup system. If you've got files on your home computer(s) that don't belong to you but to your employer and/or clients, please have a redundant backup system. I'm on a Mac, so I use Time Machine, SuperDuper, Backblaze, and I keep my work files on Dropbox. I'm probably going overboard, but it really does help me sleep at night.
posted by kostia at 7:09 PM on September 9, 2012

I've been gradually moving to working from home, self-employed, over the last three years, so I had plenty of time to work into it. I've worked out rules for myself - but oddly, I had to post them on my blog in order for them to work! Here they are, anyway:

I will get out of the house every day, in daylight if humanly possible
I will speak to someone other than myself and my partner/housemate/spouse/parent/child/sibling [delete as applicable: I want to be inclusive here!] every day, even if it’s just an email conversation (but I’ll try to make it a face-to-face conversation)
On at least 4 out of 5 weekdays I will eat a proper lunch. By a “proper lunch” I mean something that has more than one food group, and some fruit and/or vegetables, and is not constituted primarily of cereal
This lunch will be consumed by 2 p.m., every day, at absolute latest (ha - I don;t manage this every day!)
I will leave the phone alone at mealtimes
I will wash up and reuse my mug. I will not use all of the mugs in the house in one or two days
I will go to an event outside the house at least once a week: networking, meeting a fellow freelancer friend for lunch etc. This does not include social occasions with friends or aforementioned partner/housemate/whatever
I will keep up with my friends’ doings
I will endeavour to stop work at 7 in the evening, and at midday at the weekends (unless I have urgent projects to complete)
I will spend more time with my aforementioned partner/spouse/whatever.
I will spend at least a little time every day doing something I love (that’s not my job, which I may well love too)

These do work. I have more tips etc. on my blog, memail me if you would like a link, as I don't want to shamelessly self-promote here.

Even though I get all my work done to deadline and achieve these aims every day, I did find, when Mr LB was away for 8 days in one go, that the dishwasher was full of bowls, spoons and knives, and the laundry basket only contained nightwear and gymwear ...
posted by LyzzyBee at 3:16 AM on September 10, 2012

I LOVE working from home. What's helped me the most is to have a dog. I walk the dog 5 times a day. Most of the time it is just a 10 minute walk around the block, but that time away from home and work relaxes me and allows me to think. Plus, the dog loves it.
posted by LittleFuzzy at 2:08 PM on September 12, 2012

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