I’ve been working out of my new home office for almost six months, and I thought I’d share some observations about what it’s like.
1. Working alone doesn’t feel lonely when I have solo work to do. Even though I’m a socially oriented person, I love being by myself when I need to read, write, conduct interviews or do other work that is meant to be done alone. I don’t find myself wishing there were someone else nearby with these tasks. Plus, I have Bert.
2. Working alone feels extremely lonely when I’m working with others. I spent a few months still leading a team in a newsroom in another state, and I was faced with all the reasons journalism is a team sport. I missed naturally being able to participate in brainstorming, collaborative editing and the giving and getting of feedback. I also missed getting to know my team in the way that happens when you work side by side but is much harder via video chat. Next time I do significant work as part of a team, I’ll experiment more with how to feel in touch with each other.
3. I don’t work as much as I thought I did. I’m using a tool called Toggl to track my time, and it’s showing me exactly how much of my day is dedicated to completing specific tasks. (UPDATE: I wrote more about Toggl here.) I can surmise from what I’m learning that more of my newsroom workday than I realized was spent NOT completing specific work tasks … in meetings, chatting, surfing. The good news is that now that I work alone, other people don’t care how much I work, and I’m accountable only to myself for my surfing time. The other good news is that when I’ve accomplished what I need to accomplish, I can stop working.
4. I don’t mind interspersing home tasks with work ones. I can run the dog to the groomer, switch a load of laundry or empty the dishwasher without distracting myself from work. I also sometimes go to yoga or get a pedicure in the middle of the day. Except … it’s easy for days to disappear into errands, kids’ dentist appointments and getting an early start on dinner. I need to protect my time to make sure I accomplish what I most need to accomplish.
5. I’ve started blocking off a few hours at a time for my big projects, to make sure nothing else gets in the way. As part of my work, I’m conducting a lot of phone or Skype interviews, and I’m trying not to schedule those in the middle of open blocks of time because it makes it hard to get much done before or after them. I’m not always in control of that, though.
6. I need to do certain tasks at certain times of day. I’m used to spending some time in the mornings responding to email, reading the news and other links, doing accounting work, etc. But mornings are my best thinking and writing time. If I get to late morning and haven’t accomplished any meaty tasks, I’m in trouble. So instead, I’m trying to give myself about 30 minutes in the mornings to get organized and handle urgent requests, then dive into one of my big projects. I take a break for lunch, then do a couple of solid hours in the early afternoon. My younger kid gets home from school at 3 and the house becomes a bit more distracting, so I try to save things like bill paying and non-urgent email for after 3.
7. Music affects my productivity. My Pandora stations might as well be renamed as tasks. Music to write to. Music to read to. Music to stay awake to. Music to plow through email to. I know some folks listen to the news or have a TV show on in the background, but I find this derails me entirely. I’m still on the hunt for tasks I can do with NPR on.
8. Moving around the house helps. The living room sofa and the dining room table are both solid alternatives to my home office and help me enjoy my space without going stir crazy. I also have a desk that goes up and down, and moving between standing and sitting helps me change things up.
9. I don’t work as well in other places. I thought I’d want to get out of the house more, but it hasn’t been very productive for me. I hit up a public library sometimes if I’m in the area anyway. But most of the time, the distractions of finding the right seat, getting set up and finding my focus don’t seem worth the change of scenery. I’m trying out a coworking space soon, in case I want to have a predictable place to work that’s not home.
10. Taking a walk is my favorite change of scenery. I have a neighborhood made for walking, and Bert the dog and I like lunchtime strolls.
11. Speaking of lunchtime strolls, no one knows if I wear yoga pants all day. I’ve been known to throw on some lipstick and a shirt with a collar before doing a video chat or teaching a class via Skype.
12. A PB&J, an apple and a glass of milk is an absolutely fantastic lunch. Also, being able to cook a bit at lunchtime rocks.
13. I miss people. I miss have work friends, grabbing lunch or coffee, chatting about what’s going on in the world and sharing anecdotes about my life. I even miss getting interrupted. I’m getting more of that digitally these days, but I need to build in more conscious social time. In my last job, I had good friends at work, so we could spend 15 minutes talking in our offices and feel like we’d connected. Now, I can go all week without really talking on a personal level with anyone outside my immediate family. I look forward to my monthly book club like nobody’s business, and I’m going to need to be more deliberate about finding social outlets.