Staying Sane When You Work From Home
August 28, 2006
What advice would you offer to those individuals who work at home? They have to *force* themselves out of the house. And they sometimes report it to me as thought it were a personal short-coming. Might they consider this it a “good mental health habit” like “brushing your teeth”. There’s no judgment there. You have to do it or you get cavities. You have to go out regularly if you work at home to keep things in balance?
Working from home is an interesting one…On one hand you can work all day in your pyjamas – and as someone who has occasionally done that – there’s definite merit in a dress down Monday to Friday 🙂 Apart from everything that’s been written about the lack of commuting time, reduction in expenses etc etc the main challenge is managing boundaries.
I discovered this for myself when writing up my Masters’ dissertation and now that I’m writing up a paper to send to my PhD supervisor – I get very creative about distraction and procrastination strategies. Because I don’t have a group of peers or colleagues around me to chat with the day sometimes disappears and before I know it I have written 4 blog posts, done the laundry and have no word count worth talking about when it comes to my main task. So far so normal eh?
The real issue comes when it’s past 6 O’Clock and technically personal time. The guilt kicks in “I should have more done”; “I can’t go out and meet friends because I’ve wasted the day” and the inner dialogue proceeds. (I’m not assuming that everyone’s boundary is 6pm, but I do think there needs to be a defined time between work and play!)
This entire conversation in my head can turn quite pathological – and I have also seen it with clients. The inability to manage the boundary between work and personal time means they blend together with neither being productive. We need the water cooler conversations, the trips for a coffee in our work lives as social encounters that get us out of our own self referring worlds. Sometimes our pathological chat can lead to a self perpetuating perfectionism that never gets addressed – comparing what we’re doing to what someone else is struggling with builds camaraderie and can be sustaining in the tough times – those who work from home need to develop a system for sustenece in the absence of those casual work rituals.
So in answer to Mark’s question I would say:
- Strategically Socialise: Working from home, particularly if you work alone can drive you crazy – we all need social interation so you are going to have to deliberately and strategically manufacture that for yourself if you are a home worker. Pick up the phone, make an arrangement to meet a friend for coffee or lunch.
- Prioritise the Personal: It’s never “if” you go out of the house if you are working from home it’s always “when” – you’d never stay tied to your chair in the office at work? Why would you do that if your office happens to be in your home? Schedule a workout at the gym or the pool into your diary directly before or after your work day and don’t negotiate on that unless it’s a world war 3 emergency.
- Creatively Rejuvenate: If the work is not flowing give yourself permission to take a guilt free hour/day off. Unproductive time off is simply guilt time and leads to more pathologising and no creative rejuvenation.
- Ritualise: Create rituals around the beginning and ending of your work day – this is particularly pertinent if you don’t have an official work space in your home. I sometimes burn different aromatherapy oils to transition from one space to another. Clients of mine dress in a particular way if they are in work mode and another when they are not – simply to create a boundary.
There’s also a great post on this topic over at Escape from Cubicle Nation.