Yesterday I saw this lovely article about working from home, written by Refinery 29‘s Shani Silver. She gives 10 tips to making it work for you, and it really got me thinking about how I do what I do. There are as many ways of working from home as there are people in the world, and working on a dissertation at home is its own special little category therein, but this article pushed me to consider what I’m doing, and what I’ve actually been doing for several years now, on a large scale. It made me think about what works and doesn’t work for me, and how I can improve my habits. And for that, I am grateful. So I thought I’d just work my way through her 10 suggestions, adding my personal experience with them as I go, and then I will add a few more at the end that have become really important to me. I know a lot of my fellow bloggers also work from home, and I would love to hear about your practices or any tips you have too! Okay, here goes!
1. “Set aside one whole room that is business and only business.” Thankfully, Eric and I have an office, so I don’t have to work in my bedroom, like I used to. Over the course of my graduate career, I have set up HQ pretty much everywhere: couch, bed, kitchen table, you name it. But it is really nice to have work space and living space divided because it creates an actual departure when you move from one to another. I turn off the light and close the office door, and I’m off work. Our office doubles as the space where I work on my art as well, but having an office at all is such a luxury that it doesn’t bother me in the slightest!
2. “Commence operation distraction removal.” This is an interesting one for me. I have experimented with turning off my wifi while working, but then I’ll inevitably need to look something up or request a book from the library, and it takes so long for my stone age computer to get the wifi back up that I end up wasting time waiting for it. Le sigh! (I have my upgrade computer waiting for me as soon as I finish the dissertation: happiness!) My husband likes Leechblock, which seems great because it will let you block specific sites, but I have never used it. It doesn’t take me too long to check any of my sites, and I find I often need a 5-minute break. Nonetheless, I have certainly found myself refreshing my email too often while writing!
3. “Exercise!” This has become so important to me. I would actually say, in addition to having planned exercise, whatever it might be, I set a goal to leave the house at least once a day. We are lucky in that we live in a very walkable neighborhood close to a shopping district, so I walk to Peets when I am out of coffee, and I stroll through Anthropologie on the way home. On days when Eric can come home for lunch, I walk him back to the office. The visual stimulus is just as important to me as the physical activity part. There have been too many days when I’ve realized at 9pm that I didn’t leave the house all day, and I feel kind of yukky when that happens. I go to the gym with Eric about once a week, but I also have a goal to swim three times a week. We have a pool (and a hot tub and a sauna!) in our apartment complex, and I don’t want to take it for granted! Given that swimming is one of the best things I can do for my back, this seems like a no-brainer. And yet I have not come anywhere close to this goal. But now you all know and can hold me accountable!
4. “Arrange your desk so that you’re facing out a window.” My desk doesn’t do this for furniture-configuration reasons, and it doesn’t ever bother me, but perhaps it is part of the reason why I feel like I need to get out and see the world every day.
5. “Keep essentials in your office or workspace.” Well, I keep water and a sweater handy, but that’s all I really need, except at meal times.
6. “Cut yourself off.” She means that you should have a designated end to your work day, so that you don’t spend all day and all night working. That hasn’t been a problem for me since about my second or third year of grad school (ah, the zeal of youth!), but I do like to have a rhythm to my days. I work in the morning until I get hungry, and then I eat lunch. I work some more until I get tired and hungry, and then I have tea and a snack. I work a bit more, and then Eric comes from work, and I’m done for the night. Sometimes I do reading at night, but not writing, since it demands acuity that I often don’t have at the end of the day. There may be some midnight oil burned in the next month and a half as I am finishing my dissertation, but I am okay with that. Being in the zone when I am this so close to finishing a project fills me with energy and happy nostalgia (and that should tell you all you need to know about my college years!)
7. “Communicate!” This is so vital to my survival! I check in with friends and family throughout the day, and I stop my favorite blogs for quick breaks. The sense of community there is really amazing. We don’t really know very many people in Pasadena, and I am home by myself all day every day, and yet I am not lonely. Ah, the magic of the internet! (If you are in Pasadena/SGV and want to be my friend, though, I also enjoy 3-D interaction!)
8. “Put some clothes on, k?” Ha! Yes, this is also a good point! When I wake up, my coffee and breakfast and blog-reading time is always in the cozy comfort of my pjs, but when I am ready to work, I do get dressed. My first year of grad school (ah, dark and lugubrious time!), I recall one night when I realized that it was 11pm and I was not only still in my pjs, but had not had a shower all day. Getting dressed just prevents the feeling of grossness you have if you are in pjs all day, and it makes you feel, in some small way, like you are taking care of yourself.
9. “Keep things clean.” Yes, aside from my very carefully arranged piles of books and papers, I like to keep things neat. Every morning I clear the clutter off my desk before I get down to work.
10. “Take advantage of every single perk.” It’s true–there are many awesome things about working from home. I can schedule doctor’s appointments in the middle of the day, I can take walks whenever I need to, and I can get a head start on dinner on busy weeknights. I actually think, after all these years, that it is going to be hard to transition to having an actual workplace!
Now here are some extra points would add, based on my experience.
11. Take breaks. Sometimes I need a breather, and watering the plants or checking Twitter gives me just what I need. I also have to have tea and a snack around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, when I always get tired and hungry. That is part of my ritual, and I enjoy savoring that 20 minutes every afternoon without feeling like I am cheating or slacking. I think setting things up for yourself so that you feel positive about both work time and break time is really helpful. If you are dogging yourself for watching an episode of 30 Rock, you won’t be able to focus on your work when you come back to it. The mind is a powerful thing, and it’s best to get it on your side.
12. Have break activities lined up. I keep on hand a list of quick 15-minute activities I can do and feel good about: make a cup of hot chocolate, flip through a magazine, take a walk, turn on some music and dance around a bit. I think when we have a go-to list like this, it helps us reward ourselves with things that are actually good for us. When we need a break and feel aimless, that’s when we end of doing things we later feel gross about, like watching too much tv or spending too much time on Pinterest (ahem!). I try really hard (and do not always succeed) at taking breaks that make me feel good. Sometimes I’ll do some work on an art project or call my mom or research some crazy thing I’m excited about. And then I don’t have to feel like “wasted time” is actually wasted.
13. Have tasks lined up for when you don’t feel too sharp. I spend some portion of every day feeling sleepy when I’m working, and I find that it’s best if I have something productive to do that doesn’t take all of my mental capacity. For me, translating is something I can do when I’m tired, as is any kind of bibliographic work. Writing, for me, always requires what my husband calls “heavy-lifting thinking,” and my brain isn’t up to it at every minute of my work day. So I love being able to work on something when I’m sleepy or distracted and still feeling like I’ve accomplished something.
14. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a slow day. I am still working on this, and I certainly don’t ever feel good after I have a day that is less than stellar, but I have found that a bad day at work really motivates me on some deep unconscious level inside, and, most often, a bad day is followed by a great one. I have found that beating up on myself about it only impedes this process: if I come into a new day with negative feelings, it keeps me from focusing. If I can come into the new day feeling like good days and bad days are all part of the process, then I am much more free to make the day great. It’s crazy how the brain works, but once you can release that negative emotional energy, you have the capacity for positive energy. It’s magic!
15. Set goals, both professional and personal. Deadlines are the dissertator’s best friend, and I have so appreciated having them during this final semester. At the same time, I have been so inspired by the goals I see my blogging friends setting for themselves, and I have been working on fun goals as well. There’s nothing like sitting in front of a computer all day to convince you that there’s more in you than work, and I find that it actually really helps me in my work when I feel creatively fulfilled.
That’s all the wisdom I have, and I would really love to hear yours! Happy working to you, wherever your workspace may be!