11 Jul

how to have an at-home holiday when home is your office

This is the second in a series of posts on making working from home work for you.

I rarely travel for ‘play’ because I travel a bit for work, and I actually don’t like travel all that much. I’m a bit of a home body. I like my stuff. I like my house. I don’t like long flights and I seem to always pick up whatever germs are floating around on the plane. It’s no fun arriving at your destination only to get sick straight away.

So I tend to stay home for my holidays and this one is no exception.

But it is not easy to spend your holiday in your work space, because you invariably end up thinking about work all the time and the temptation to actually do some work is always there. Four years into this gig, during which I have been spending an ever increasing proportion of my work hours at home, I have finally figured out how to take time off without traveling and without giving up on relaxation and getting stuck into work.

Make plans in advance

I am not good at being bored. When faced with a few days off work without any plans, I get a bit panicky. Which is absolutely ridiculous because when I’m working, I crave uninterrupted time… Time to read, watch TV series, sew… And then I get it and I don’t know how to fill it.

I am also not good at doing one thing at a time. In fact, as I write this post I am also watching home renovation shows on TV.

When I find myself at a loose end, or I’m not fully engaged in what I’m doing, my first instinct is to check my email or do some kind of work. So if I’m holidaying at home, effectively holidaying in my office, I really need to make sure that I’m not going to find myself at a loose end too often. But I still have to make sure I have some downtime, because I generally don’t take leave until I’m absolutely, completely exhausted. There’s a fine line between keeping myself amused enough that I don’t work and getting enough down time to recharge.

So I make some plans. I don’t plan for every day, but I plan to do something every few days: to catch up with people for lunch or dinner, do a sewing class, paint a bedroom… Breaking up the stretch of time I could conceivably be sitting at home doing nothing makes it less likely I’ll work. I know there is stuff coming up, which means I have something to look forward to and encourages me to just chill out and potter on the days I don’t have plans.

Mostly, I plan to do stuff on the days I don’t see my niece and nephew – weekdays, mainly. Weekends are kid-time, and there is always something to do, even if it might be a little (dare I say it?) boring – I’m thinking particularly of watching / playing Fireman Sam. This weekend we are going to make our first Lego review video, which will be fun!

Spend some of your at-home holiday in someone else’s home

Two days ago, I packed up and drove to a friend’s house. During semester, I don’t see much of my friends at all. This particular friend has a four month old baby and I have not seen her nearly as much as I would have liked since baby came along. Actually, I haven’t seen her nearly as much as I would have liked for about the last six years, but missing baby milestones makes it feel so much worse. She’s one of those friends whose house feels like a second home. So I’m spending a couple of days at her place. Double win: I’m out of my workspace, and spending some time with a much loved friend and her beautiful, beautiful family.

Have separate devices

Until about six months ago, I had one laptop I used for both work and life. Now I have two: one supplied by work, used for work (and a little bit of personal stuff, seeing I’m on this laptop all the time); and my old faithful, which used to be my work machine as well as my life machine.

Having separate laptops has had an enormous impact on this break from work. My work machine is configured for work and launches a bunch of work applications on login. My personal laptop isn’t as well configured and that makes working a bit more difficult. But the big difference is I don’t have Outlook on this machine (it has the student version of Office installed), and that reduces the likelihood I’ll check my work email because I HATE (yes, I shouty shouty HATE) Outlook Web Access. I don’t have an alternative setup because I also really dislike all the alternative mail clients for Mac that work with an Exchange account.

When I was ready to ‘go on holidays’ (that is, stop working), I powered down my work laptop and put it away. I told myself I would check my email and do a few bits and pieces after three full days off, and my work laptop stayed packed away until then. And now it’s back in the same spot.

With a non-work laptop, I can do my online shopping, play on social media, sewing research and media consumption without the temptation of working.

Disconnect your devices

This one is probably applicable to anyone, not just work from home types. The first thing I did when I started my break was turn my work email off on all my iDevices. I left my calendar on because I have all my life stuff in there too, so I get a few notifications. But when I have a free moment and my impulse is to check my email on whatever device is to hand, I can’t (or at least I can’t without putting in effort). If I was capable of looking and then forgetting, it would be okay. But often one glimpse at my inbox will lead to several hours work. So I’m loving not having my email pushed to my devices.

Do not sit down at your desk

Ever. Under any circumstances. In fact, if you have a dedicated home office, I would suggest you don’t cross the threshold. My office is also my sewing room and my exercise room (bahahahaha! What I really mean by that is: the space in which my unused treadmill sits), so I do go in there to do interesting and relaxing things. One of my holiday to-dos is sorting out all our paperwork. I’m doing this on my sewing table and all my sewing stuff is displaced and strewn around the house. I could use the extra space my desk would offer to make more piles of papers, but I know that sitting down at my desk would put me in ‘work mode’, and I do not want to be there.

Plan to work

Another one for the workaholics, not just the work-from-home-types: If you are like me and you need to do some work while you’re on holidays, plan when you’re going to do it and give yourself a certain amount of time to get it done. Stick to the time limit and then pack up and go back to holidays. If stuff comes up that is playing on your mind, sometimes it’s just better to get it done and then you can stop thinking about it. And sometimes there is stuff you have to deal with right then and there. So deal with it, then disconnect. I had to deal with something today and I reconnected my email on my phone to follow something up, and then it snowballed into dealing with a few things that really could have waited til I was back at work. But I’d seen them in my inbox and I knew I’d think about them if I didn’t just get them done. So I got them done.

Do the things you wouldn’t normally do around the house on a work day

When I’m working I do absolutely no housework during the day. I don’t even put a load of washing on, because I know it’s a slippery slope once I start doing housey stuff. So I’ve been doing some of the things I generally don’t do, which means I’m pulling my weight a bit more around the house. That’s a nice feeling because it redresses the completely inequitable division of house duties we normally have.

I’m also working on a bunch if housey projects over this break. I’m finishing up redecorating my office, hanging all pictures that have been leaning on the walls for forevity, cleaning out files and culling my wardrobe. So I’m in the house but I’ve got projects to focus on.

Don’t go back to work wishing you’d had more of a break

It’s your holiday. Don’t work more than you want to. Don’t make it action packed to stave off boredom and then go back to work exhausted. If you are bored and tempted to work, get out of the house or find a project. But definitely don’t blow your holiday by getting distracted by work.