I believe in telecommuting. I love the freedom, the space, the solitude and the comfort of working from home—and I certainly don’t miss the commute. I especially value that I am saving twenty pounds of carbon emissions a day by not driving to work.
There are diverse advantages to working from home, not the least of which is repurposing the time normally sacrificed for the daily commute. I realize I’ve got it better than most: Austin, Texas, is not an outrageously large metroplex, and I live fairly close to downtown (just over seven miles from PGi headquarters). However—because Austin is a progressive, growing city—the twice-per-day 35-minute rush hour ordeal frays this girl’s nerves.
When I began telecommuting, I set the bar high. I told myself that I would wake up at the same time every morning and use the hour-plus that I typically spend getting ready for work (taking a shower, drying and styling my hair, applying makeup, selecting the day’s wardrobe) to my advantage. I would meditate. Relax on the porch with my husband and a cup of coffee. Catch up with my reading. I would donate the time saved to a few of those countless promises we all make to ourselves—if we only had more time.
Nevertheless, what we do with time saved by telecommuting is secondary to the work we accomplish as an out-of-office worker. Whether working at the office or at home, employees are bound by their personal honor code to maintain expected productivity levels. When we work from home, we have to develop an exceptionally strong internal discipline, focus on the work and compartmentalize our time and tasks effectively. The key habits below here can help you create necessary boundaries and maintain optimal productivity when working from home.
The Power of Powering Down
“Just one more minute. . . .”How many times have you said these words only to work another thirty minutes or an hour? How often do you get caught up in personal email dialogs or social media tasks? If you leave your computer open, you’ll remain a slave to it. Try to consciously make the choice to power down your computer, close your laptop and put your smart phone on vibrate after a specified hour so you aren’t tempted to return to your work and noodle on projects. Of course, we sometimes realize that we’ve forgotten an important task and must re-engage, but at least reopening the laptop is significantly less painful than having to drive back to the office to do the work.
Take the Time to Transition
Once you’ve turned off your computer and disengaged from your work life, re-engage with your personal life. When I drove back and forth to work, the commute was my time to shift gears mentally, and music was a large part of how I would vent and not bring my work stress home. Cranking up the stereo and blasting tunes can be immensely therapeutic—it was mindless, energetic and positive, and as long as I watched my speed (which is hardly an issue in rush hour traffic). Music got me to the place I needed to be in my head, as well as to my front door, with less residual stress and few of the racing thoughts that plaque us all during a hectic work day.
But what are our options for achieving the necessary transition when we are already at home? After a bit of brainstorming and creative workarounds, I determined that working out provided the stress-reducing transition I needed. I was able to satisfy my desire for an energetic and positive experience and, with the time saved by not having to commute, I was able to finish my workout and still enjoy a full evening of leisure. There are other options, of course: spending time with your family, having a glass of wine or a cup of tea in your favorite relaxation spot or working in the garden and enjoying nature. Telecommuting allows us to reconnect to those activities that we sometimes neglect, aspects of our lives that are equally important to us.
Compartmentalize to Create
Even when we work from home, we will still leave undone those things really we want to do. We are human, after all. Last night, for instance, I quit my yoga session midway to make notes about this article. Inspiration often comes unbidden, and we ought not to push them away. In fact, one of the benefits of working from home is that you can often be more in touch with your creative cycles and energy.
As a rule, periods of deep thinking need alternating cycles of rest. Give yourself a break and don’t burn out. By compartmentalizing your worlds and creating a specific work space, whether it’s a full blown home office or a nook in your bedroom, make sure that it is devoted entirely to your work. Remove piles of laundry, your kid’s homework and any other indications that you are not taking your home work life seriously. Also, formalize your routine by establishing specific wake times, stick to your start and stop work times, and keep your commitments to yourself. For myself, whether I’m in the office or working from home, the first and last task of my day before I power down my computer is to straighten up all my papers, check my “to do” list for the week to ensure that I’ve completed my necessary work, prioritize what’s important and note any tasks I’ve overlooked for the week. By having established rituals that I perform whether I’m in PGi’s office or my home office, I tether myself to my professional identity and ground myself to my work, my goals and what I’m passionate about.
Putting in longer hours while working from home is a slippery slope. It happens in increments, and it’s an easy trap to fall into. Teleworkers should recognize that we as much a part of the problem as we are the cure. The 9-to-5 grind is not necessarily our reality in today’s New Economy, but achieving a healthy work-life balance is still a goal worth striving for and is perhaps the most distinct and lasting benefit of telecommuting. Finding your personal balance and discovering your passion for your work is what it’s all about.