When I was in the military, the idea of working from home sounded like paradise. The way I saw it, I’d sleep in, work on my own schedule, and be free forever of a boss looking over my shoulder.
As much as I loved the work I did, my fellow sailors and (on most days) the Navy itself, the call to be free was strong. So, I did it. I got out, used my GI Bill, started writing and ended the practice of daily shaving.
I never did get to sleep in (which is on me for having kids), but usually I really do choose what I want to do for the day. I’m untethered from the dress codes, schedules and commutes of most civilian workers. The reality of that life is good, but certainly not perfect. I’ve met and usually overcome challenges that were both expected and surprising. It is not quite what I envisioned, but it’s been a worthwhile journey so far.
Hopefully you can learn something from my experience.
As I’m writing this, it’s very late on a Sunday night and I’m still working. I’m up against a deadline, and an unexpected illness has left my schedule in shambles, which is why I’m still working at 4 in the morning instead of sleeping. The upshot is that I don’t have to get up for work in the morning. Or, maybe I just never actually leave work. It’s hard to tell these days.
That lack of a defined work and home time has been the most common source of difficulty for me. I recognized going into this that I’d have to do my own planning, self-motivate and find another source for socialization, but I didn’t realize in the beginning how hard it would be to feel as if I never really got to leave work.
I’ve found that at times there is a tendency to devalue your work because it’s just “another thing” in your life. It might seem in the moment that mowing the lawn is just as important as getting a start on that next project, but if those choices add up and the projects aren’t getting done, the whole thing is going to fall apart and the problem will be solved by your new boss, who won’t let you leave the office to go mow on your break anyway.
It can be tough to feel like you’re doing real work when you have a daily profile of someone who is unemployed.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding creative ways to trick yourself into feeling like you’re at work. For example, I’ve found that, for whatever reason, I’m a better worker when I’m wearing shoes. Writing in socks can make me feel like I’m just messing around, but when I pop on those shoes, I’m a serious writer (full disclosure: I am not currently wearing shoes. Draw what conclusions you will about the quality of my work.).
I’ve known people who stick to exacting daily schedules, complete with a full morning routine and regimented start time just so that they don’t get complacent and let their work slip. Whatever your situation is, I think that some kind of routine is important. Even if not for time management, a schedule can at least help to promote a feeling of legitimacy. I also recommend, if at all possible, that you find a work space that is completely dedicated to your work. Not only will it feel more like a real job, but the lack of distractions will eliminate the temptation to accidentally get sucked into something more interesting, but less helpful for paying your bills at the end of the month, than doing your work.
Above all, I recommend that you try your best to plan and anticipate challenges, but stay relaxed when things don’t work out. Being at home exposes you to a host of potential distractions that are unique to your life. Getting bent out of shape because your dog threw up on the kitchen floor is just going to make your day that much less enjoyable.
To that end, while I think that a schedule is important, just be aware that it is frequently going to get blown out of the water. Whether you’re a freelancer, a small business owner, or on a flex schedule, the work you do is probably going to be more variable and reliant on personal initiative than the average job.
If you can cobble together a working routine, but still leave in some room for unexpected changes or the needed diversion, you’re probably going to have a much better experience than if you wing it or go all-in for mega-anxiety obsessiveness.
So if you’re thinking about working from home, remember you’ll be working without a net. The rules and requirements of a traditional workplace might be annoying, but they can certainly help to keep you on task. Without them, it will be up to you to find a system that keeps you focused and motivated. I’ll bet whatever you come up with is going to be a heck of a lot more pleasant than going back to having a micromanaging boss standing behind you, breathing hot coffee breath down your neck.