What It’s Really Like to Work From Home comments

By Wendy Mihm | Wednesday February 2, 2011

I work from home. More specifically, I work from a somewhat chilly, 400 square foot, finished basement of a 98-year-old Craftsman house in Pasadena, California.

I know, it’s not as glamorous as a mid-town Manhattan address, but it’s more frugal.  And if you’re going to write a finance blog for a living, you might as well practice what you preach, right?

When people ask me about what I do, two questions come up immediately.

    1.  How do you get along with your husband?!  (He works from home too.  About 21 feet away from me.)
    2.  What’s it really like to work from home?

The answer to number 1, is, well, pretty good actually!

The answer to number 2 is the subject of this post.  I tell people that I have a love/hate relationship with working from home, which has motivated me to synthesize what I’ve learned from the experience.  This, in-turn, I hope will save you some time and headaches if you are about to set up shop in your own basement, den, office or bedroom nook.

A Dedicated Home Office Space is Crucial

This space should be clearly defined and, if possible it should have a door that you can close.  If not, try to find another way to partition it off in either a visual or symbolic way, so that you, your spouse and children know that when you are behind that barrier, you are at work and not to be trifled with.  This will matter to you and your family so you can clearly determine when you are at work and when you are at home.  A real door will also help close out the din of your household if others are often home while you are working.

Maintaining Consistent Hours Works Best

If you work from 9:30am till 10:15, then run to the grocery store, then work again from 11:20 till 1:00 and break for lunch, work again from 1:45 till 3:30 and stop to pick up the kids from school, help with their homework and eat dinner, then work again from 9:00 till 10:30, that may be ok.  But if you work the next day from 8:00 am till 5:00pm and eat lunch at your desk while your spouse takes care of kid pickup duties, and this on and off pattern repeats itself with no rhyme or reason, it’s tough to get into a groove.  Try to create a schedule and stick to it.  Even if it is a strange schedule by traditional workday standards, and even if it is not the same schedule every day.  What is important is to establish a predictable schedule over the course of each week.  That way you can plan what you hope to accomplish in any given work day, and you can be productive all week.

In contrast, if your days are haphazard and you can’t predict with any certainty whether you will have a block of time of 25 minutes or 3 hours, it’s difficult to schedule a conference call or to get a productive chunk of work done.  If you need to coordinate with your spouse to figure out pickup and drop off schedules for the week, or the month to establish your schedule, do it. 

Showering is Important

People love to glamorize the idea of working in their jammies.  I hate it.  It just makes me feel like a slob.  You may find the same to be true.  Notice how, when you’re sick and you’ve been lying around all day and haven’t showered, that when you finally gain a little strength back and you do actually take a shower, you feel so much better?  I think every day is a little like that.  Get up.  Get dressed like you’re going to work.  Take yourself seriously.  I’m not saying you have to get into a suit or even into business casual clothes.  I’m wearing jeans, a sweater and boots as I write this.  But I would never wear sweats and slippers.  I have showered, put on makeup and done my hair, like I do every day.  This is my job, I take it seriously, because I believe that the way you prepare for your day flows into your attitude and the kind of work you produce.  Did that just sound like my mother?

Mentally Separating From Home is Key

This is the hardest one for me.  It’s easy for my husband to separate work from home, but I struggle with it non-stop.  When Alex is crying, I have to fight hard not to go up and assist our nanny, even though I know she is perfectly capable and does not need my help.  The laundry calls me all the time. When I am stuck on some technical issue or something I’m trying to write, I am tempted to pull in the recycling bins or take care of that stack of bills upstairs.  My husband, however, is really good at completely delving into his work until 5:30pm, when he becomes Daddy again, 100%.  If you can pull that off, please tell me your secrets – and any other thoughts, for that matter – in the comments section.

So if you are embarking on a work-from-home career, hats off to you!  It is not easy.  It takes discipline (but if I can do it, anyone can) and practice, but the rewards of being so accessible to your family and avoiding costly and potentially dangerous and time-consuming commutes are well worth it. 

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