Working from home: time management and productivity
March 2, 2017 2:03 AM   Subscribe

You run your own business from home and am paid by the output, not by the hours worked. How you fit in housework, exercise, appointments, errands and personal projects optimally into your week so everything gets done?

More info: I try to keep weekends work-free for family schedule-related reasons though sometimes I do answer emails.
Due to space/budget constraints, I do not have a office room or a separate computer.

My work requires equipment/tools and supplies which I need to be on hand so working in coffee-shops not viable for practicality/cost reasons. This part of the work is best done during daylight hours when light is good. I also need to access the internet as part of my work but that tends to lead to online procrastination when I'm doing something I find boring. I tried installing stuff like leechblock but I seem to be able to find ways around any kind of software solution.

Housework: Right now, major chores are mostly done on weekends and I also do once-a-week cooking then. Weekday meals are just reheated from frozen. I often feel like I spend the whole weekend cleaning/cooking.I also need to do some stuff for family members at certain times based on family schedules on weekdays that are mutually agreed on. That's fine but a certain family member likes to interrupt me to do things when I'm busy because I'm at home and "am free to help her".

Exercise: I hate exercising but I put on weight easily. I also tend to feel more sleepy than energized by vigorous exercise so attempts to fit in exercising before starting my work early in the morning made it even harder to get started. When I should exercise?

Appointments: I don't have full control over timing and I also need to make work-related post office runs weekly.

Errands: When I had a normal job, I would squeeze in stuff like grocery shopping after work in the evenings and weekends. I would prefer to do them on non-peak hours on weekdays when it's not crowded but how do I compensate for cutting into work hours?

Personal projects: How do I find time to fit my art-making in? I wish I can make art full-time instead of doing what I do but right now making art pays me nothing and I may never get my art to pay off financially. I am not a morning person and I live with family members who already get up around 5:30 am.

Getting up early to do it is not ideal when they are already awake because family members are critical about my art-making. I don't make any money from it so they don't take it seriously and think of it as a pretentious waste of time. I could stay up after they go to bed to do it in the evening but I would need to counter my tendency to veg out after a full day as I've asked in a previous question.

So how do I fit my work in around these constraints and get my other duties done as well?
posted by whitelotus to Work & Money (9 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I work as a self-employed creative.

Mon-Fri I work from 9am -5pm, hang out with my partner for a while, have dinner (we alternate days of cooking), then I pick up work from around 7.30pm until 11pm. My non-desk work can be done anywhere, so I take it with me wherever I go. I work outside twice a month on Saturdays, so I get up at 6am, work all day, and get back home at 7pm. Sundays are for doing everything including sleeping, relaxing, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, and going to see a film.

I've worked this routine for about seven years. I know it sounds like a lot, but it is flexible because I'm very strict on only answering emails during office hours (twice a week, 10am-4pm). I set up social media schedules which has helped a lot and I also have a giant wall planner so I don't schedule all the deadlines on top of one another.

Housework: if it's a big issue, hire a cleaner. I hate to sound strict but factor hat cost into your overall budget, so you know you need to earn X amount extra to pay for a cleaner. As for being interrupted, your working hours are your working hours and you need to set hard boundaries.

Exercise: On your lunch hour. Make room in your schedule to go out for a jog.

Appointments: You do have full control over your own working schedule, so set those boundaries. Let people know they can only contact you during set hours and don't respond outside those hours. Post-office runs need to be factored into your working hours as they are part of your work.

Errands: as you are running your own business, you can do your errands when you like - we cannot give you permission either way - but make sure you start earlier or work later if you like to run errands during the day. I do this myself, but on those days I start earlier. Keep a log of when you are working.

Personal projects: Find pockets of time. I like to read, so I sneak in twenty minutes of reading when I'm waking up or when waiting for a train. Likewise, I like to dress-make, so I schedule the occasional full day of dressmaking and make sure all my tasks for that week are done.

TL;DR - you need to set boundaries for work/non-work and start thinking about scheduling your time. Running your own business does mean you have to sacrifice some things but you'll also gain a lot of freedom.
posted by kariebookish at 2:35 AM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Having groceries delivered saves a huge amount of time.

It sounds as though you're basically doing everything for this household, while other family members see you as having "free time" and feel entitled to criticise when you spend time on anything not directly income-generating. This makes me feel quite indignant on your behalf. Could some of these household members give you a hand with the housework?

Don't let them convince you that doing art is a pretentious waste of time. If you give up, the loss will eat away at you and make you bitter and resentful.

Getting all this stuff done is a huge challenge for anyone. If you set your own work deadlines, remember to build in some slack. Otherwise, you'll drive yourself bananas.
posted by Grunyon at 3:11 AM on March 2, 2017 [11 favorites]

Best answer: This article on the Maker's v Manager's Schedule really resonated for me. Perhaps you'd work best on a Maker's Schedule (work happens in 4 -8 hour chunks and requires singleminded focus, so interruptions kill productivity) versus the Manager's schedule (meetings can happen all day on the hour and inerruptions are fine). Reframing my needs within this paradigm helped me get more done. Perhaps squishing most errands and chores into a single weekday, and leaving several uninterrupted days per week, would be helpful.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:31 AM on March 2, 2017 [9 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds a bit like you're falling for the old idea that working from home isn't really working.

When you're working from home say 40 hrs a week, you may have some flexibility about when those hours are and you may save a bit on commuting time but they don't go away. If you need to be doing your work during prime daylight hours, the idea that you can also shop at the grocery store during that time or run errands or make appointments during those times is incorrect.

With that constraint in mind, I'd recommend something like:
- start as early as you can on your work, since it sounds like that's respected and also that you have to achieve X hours
- don't allow interruptions when it's not your break time - having a "men at work" sign might help with this
- make exercise your transition from work to other things, so once you've accomplished your work goals for the day (including a lunch break, etc.), go for a run or a jog before you move to evening veg time
- shop after your exercise during the week; that should be non-peak enough (personally I like to use our late-opening or 24 hr grocery stores to shop after the day). Another alternative is just to treat it like you are working full-time, because you are, and shop when you can on weekends. Also, could someone else in the family take this on? If they have time to interrupt you, perhaps they have time to make dinner.
- appointments - how many are you talking about here? See if you can group or reduce them

For the art thing, I think this is way more of a social/family issue than anything else...why is it that the hours in your day can only be work or chores? That's ridiculous. Do it in whichever personal time works well for you. Script for your family "Please stop making fun of this; it's important to me. Not everything in life is about money, you know."
posted by warriorqueen at 6:19 AM on March 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

I also need to do some stuff for family members at certain times based on family schedules on weekdays that are mutually agreed on. That's fine but a certain family member likes to interrupt me to do things when I'm busy because I'm at home and "am free to help her".

It sounds to me like you are a woman being treated like slave labor and everyone's step and fetch because REASONS. If you have not seen it, I will suggest you go find the emotional labor thread on the blue. You have got to start carving out more protected time for your work.

I was a homemaker for a lot of years. My husband absolutely did not respect my time or even sleep schedule during those years. Then I began taking college classes and suddenly, without being asked, he stopped asking me do his laundry at midnight as he was wandering off to bed. So, he wasn't simply incapable or remembering to ask earlier. He just had zero fucking respect for me before that for some damn reason.

You do not have to put up with that. After I divorced, my sons took over the housework and cooking so I could invest my time and energy into my job. This made a big difference.

When I was growing up, my mother was a homemaker for a long time. My aunt down the street had a paid job. My aunt also had a dishwasher and an automatic ice maker. We did not. And everyone in our household was terrible about cracking ice from the ice trays and not refilling them and just expecting my mother to do it. Unfortunately, it is incredibly easy for such patterns to develop without anyone else realizing that they are basically treating you like slave labor. They are busy, it is a hassle, they know you will take care of it. And they don't think any further than that.

You need to stop just accepting that so many people in your life will simply disrespect your time, make demands on you and scoff at your art because it isn't enriching them, just you. Take it slow, but start letting people know "That will not be possible. I have other obligations."

If necessary, do like my aunt did and rearrange your life so appliances or services handle some of the petty BS that other people expect you to do for them. My mother eventually began doing that too. In addition to getting her own ice maker and dishwasher, she eventually bought a coffee maker that she could set up the night before so she could sleep in an hour and my dad could have his coffee when he got up, because dad was incapable of making coffee successfully and could have burned the house down in the process of failing to make coffee successfully. Dad had talent.
posted by Michele in California at 7:38 AM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

I work from home and my partner does too, so we had to do a lot of communication to define and differentiate work space/time from personal/hangout time. Note that there's no kids in my picture, so YMMV and respect.
First step was putting clear limits around work space. I have my desk in our bedroom, his in the living room, and sitting there means Do Not Disturb. Even though the desks are in common living areas, we try to respect that boundary regardless of what we're actually doing, so it gives us a place for unproductive me-time activities like video games or art. You need to find that space in your home and enforce its frontier ruthlessly.
Next, making the flex schedule work for you. In exchange for never being officially off the clock, I have zero guilt doing non-work stuff during regular business hours. My job is all on screens, I need to get out of the house to feel sane, so I do errands/outdoor activities when it's nice out or less crowded and schedule work bursts around those activities as much as possible.
My partner and I split chores equitably, I recommend that. Routine chores like making the bed and doing dishes are built into the daily routine (one makes coffee, the other one the bed/one cooks, the other cleans...), and big things like floors and laundry get done whenever someone has the time and inclination.
Here's my rough schedule right now, I find it balances work, responsibilities and relationships quite nicely: slow morning coffee hangout, AM work burst (catching up with news and emails, dealing with emergencies, planning), lunch hangout, errands/nice walk, PM work burst (usually a meeting), chores/dinner hangout, if nothing social is happening there's often a mini evening work burst because I can't stop looking at emails, then past 9pm nothing but personal projects and chill.
posted by Freyja at 9:53 AM on March 2, 2017

Do you have a separate phone/email for personal and business stuff? If you're getting interruptions for non-work, you can switch off the personal phone during business hours, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. I let most personal calls go to voicemail while I'm at my office job, and I don't really respond to personal email until the day is over; it's ok to set the same boundaries for a home office. Practice saying "sorry, I'm working".

I would pick one day during the week to be your "personal afternoon", take that time to get errands and household stuff done without guilt, then start work again after dinner to catch up on progress.
posted by aimedwander at 12:09 PM on March 2, 2017

is there a subset of tasks that you can do without needing special items that are only at your place? if so, i would schedule those for an after lunch session at a cafe so you can get some time outside the house.
posted by lescour at 1:21 PM on March 2, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you for all the replies. Many useful suggestions, some of which I would never have thought of. I will sit down with my schedule and see how I can incorporate them.

Warriorqueen, your suggestions are really helpful however time-wise I should probably squeeze in the exercise in the morning. Reason being that mornings tend to be less productive because the family member that tends to interrupt me doesn't leave the house until after lunch so I might as well be out exercising or at the grocery store.

Housework in this household is unfortunately allocated based on gender and size of paycheck. Since I make the least money, there is a consensus that I should make up for it housework-wise.

As for the art, I would only get respect if I won an art prize with money attached or managed to sell something but it's really hard to get things done in this atmosphere. Have been racking my brains on how to make money from my art in a more commercial way than the conventional paintings/gallery route.
posted by whitelotus at 5:29 AM on March 3, 2017

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