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.

28 Jun

your work from home wardrobe

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

The number one rule of working from home is you must not wear your pyjamas all day. Or at least, you must not wear the pyjamas you woke up in. I actually think it’s perfectly acceptable to wear pyjamas, but I recommend you make it part of your morning routine (more on that in a future post) to get out of the pyjamas you slept in and put on some clean ones.

Having said that, over time, I have learned that I need to wear clothes, not pyjamas, and in my experience, having a work from home wardrobe is really important. You can’t just wear whatever you happen to grab out of the wardrobe first. There are rules, dude. And here they are:

  1. Your work from home wardrobe must be purposefully curated. Your work from home wardrobe is not a retirement home for all your ‘normal’ clothes that are pilled, ripped, faded, don’t fit right, or you just don’t like. This wardrobe doesn’t need to be rock star glam, but you also have to not hate it, so starting out with clothing rejects is just a bad idea.
  2. Similarly, your work from home wardrobe must not be your exercise wardrobe. I do not have positive feelings about exercise so putting on my gym gear does not put me in a good frame of mind. I also find that gym clothes are really not as comfortable as work from home clothes should be.
  3. You must have enough outfits in your work from home wardrobe to last you a whole work week, because you are not going to do the washing during work hours (more on that in a future post too) and who the hell can be bothered doing it at night. If you work five days a week at home, you need five sets of clothes.
  4. Build your wardrobe from the skin up. You need comfortable underwear. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I have a sneaking suspicion that most women don’t wear a bra under their PJs. Girls, you cannot extend this practice to your work from home atire. You need work from home bras. They don’t have to be the full underwire job – in fact I recommend you avoid underwire because it’s really not all that comfortable – but you do need something. A crop top. A singlet with built in support. Something. (I debated whether to share this point. I phoned a friend and she said it was totally sharable. So it’s her fault if it’s TMI.)
  5. Get yourself some super comfy pants. My preference is yoga pants because they are light enough to wear all year round. You know the type? Wide legged, stretchy, often with a rolled over top. You need a pair for every day of the week. I also like to have leggings on hand – three quarter length for hot days, full length for cold days (when I put them on under my yoga pants).
  6. You need an assortment of tshirts: short sleeves, three quarter sleeves, and long sleeves. I advise going for tshirts with stretch in them because it’s much easier to work in fabric that moves with you.
  7. You need jumpers and zip through hoodies, although I prefer the latter. Don’t get fleecy lined if you live in Queensland. Just cotton with a bit of stretch. I suggest going for a range of light and warm hoodies. You should also invest in decent jumpers, because you don’t want to be wearing something pilled, and cheap ones pill fast.
  8. Slippers are acceptable footwear. My preference is my ankle height ugg boots.
  9. Everything needs to go with everything, and your wardrobe needs to be arranged for ease of outfit selection. Make it easy to get dressed and you’re more likely to get out of your PJs and put on something fit for public viewing.

But the fundamental, underpinning principle of the work from home wardrobe is this: you’ve got to be able to leave the house in it, even if only to get milk or go to the post office (but you must change your slippers for Birkenstocks before you walk out the door). You don’t want a delivery guy turning up at your door and finding you in your dressing gown at 3pm. You also need to be able to turn on your web cam (more on this later too) and have some vague confidence that you don’t look like you just rolled out of bed.

And that there is my first gem of a post on how to make working at home work for you. Go forth and buy yoga pants.

30 posts in June: 23/30

27 Jun

debunking the myths about working from home

When I tell people I work from home most days, they say one of two things:

Oh, you’re so lucky!

or

Oh, I’d never get any work done.

The first one is true, at least in part. The second couldn’t be any further from the truth (most days).

I’m so lucky!

Let’s start with luck.

I’m lucky to work from home because it saves me a lot of commuting time.

This is the number one reason I work from home. All the other benefits of working from home are great, but it’s the time I save that made me make a shift from spending a majority of time in the office to a majority of time at home.

The single biggest time saver is forgoing my commute, which takes anywhere between two and four hours a day, depending on what time I’m going to and from the office. If I have a 9am meeting, I have to give myself two hours to get to work. I left the office at 3.30pm the other day to ‘beat the traffic’ and it took me two hours to get home.

Downsides:

  • No commute means I’m not in the office, and sometimes it is actually nice to be in the office.
  • No commute means no time to decompress. I can’t sing out my shit day in a concert on the way home, or take out my rage by banging out drum and base beats on the steering wheel. I just get up from my desk, push in my chair, and walk into the kitchen.
  • No commute means I work stupidly long days, because I can.

I’m lucky to work from home because I save lots of little bits of time.

These little time savings might sound petty, but they add up quickly. I’d say I save about an hour or two a day on these little time savers.

  • I don’t need to put makeup on or blow dry and straighten my hair if I’m working at home. That’s a half an hour saving.
  • There are less interruptions at home (on weekdays at least – weekends are a bit different). When my niece and nephew were living here, people often asked me how I could get any work done with a couple of three year olds in the house. The reality, though, is that I’ve worked from home for as long as they can remember, and they actually interrupt me less than the adults do.
  • There are no hallway conversations when you aren’t in the hallways. I save a lot of time by missing all the incidental conversations that happen in an open plan office.
  • Meetings are more efficient on Skype. For one-on-one or small group meetings, Skype is a big time saver. You don’t have to factor in time to get from your desk to wherever the meeting is, and no one ever bothers with all the niceties you get in face-to-face meetings.
  • If I ever ironed anything, I’d also save time on that too, because yoga pants (my work at home uniform) don’t need ironing.

Downsides:

  • I rarely have to bother with my appearance and never putting any effort in invariably impacts on how you feel about yourself.
  • I miss out on hallway conversations. I like the people I work with and I value my interactions with them. We run a great ‘virtual office’, but I still miss out on serendipitous encounters. It’s the encounters with the people I don’t work closely with that I miss – my immediate team is highly connected online.

I’m lucky to work from home because I save a lot of money by commuting less.

Parking costs me at best $25 a day and at worst $70. Last year I spent $2000 to rent a car park for 6 months, and it was bliss. For a whole six months, I didn’t sit in morning traffic stressing about making it in time for the early bird parking. Now there’s a new car park at work right next to my building that has reasonably priced parking (for the city at least), but it’s still $40 a day.

Then there’s petrol, which, if I had to go to work five days a week, would cost me well over $200 a fortnight.

Downsides:

  • Ummmm… Yeah. I can’t think of any either.

I’m lucky to work from home because I save money by not buying lunch and coffee.

There’s a bunch of temptations on campus, including the irresistible Guzman y Gomez and delicious Campos coffee. And we won’t talk about the pineapple lollies at the corner store. When I’m on campus, I spend at least $20 a day on coffee and lunch without even thinking about it.

Downsides:

  • At home, I forget to have lunch or I skip it because I don’t want to ‘waste time’ making it (because you never prepare lunch the night before when you’re working at home).
  • I drink waaaaay too much coffee because my Nespresso machine makes delicious coffee, fast. And relatively cheaply.

I’m lucky to work from home because I do good work here.

I think best when I’m wearing yoga pants, a hoody and my slippers. Have you ever tried to write a thesis chapter in heels and a suit jacket? I don’t recommend it. When I’m comfortable I’m more creative, more productive, and smarter. It’s true. Hoodies make you smarter.

Music helps me focus, but not if it’s pumping into my ears via headphones. I need music to be around me, not inside my head. I can work longer and concentrate better if I’ve got music playing, particularly when I’m doing repetitive or bitsy work, like marking. But firing up my sound dock in an open plan office is really not an option.

Downsides:

  • I find it hard to do good thinky work when I’m in the office because I’m used to the conditions at home.
  • The only shoes that come close to the comfort of slippers are Birkenstocks, so I’ve traded in my Jimmy Choo flats for a million pairs of the German sandals.

I’ll never get anything done!

Now we’ve got luck covered, let’s move on to the idea that you don’t get anything done when you work from home.

I get heaps done because housework is really not that tempting.

People tell me they think they’d be distracted by dirty washing, floors that need vacuuming, and pantries that need rearranging. Fortunately for me, I don’t do the washing, I have a cleaner to look after the floors, and PhD procrastination has already taken care of my pantry. And my spice drawer. And my fabric stash. And my stationery supplies.

Most days, my work is infinitely more interesting than the dishes. Strange, but true. In fact, I rarely do even tiny domestic jobs like washing my breakfast and lunch dishes until the evening. I generally wash my coffee cup and the Nespresso milk jug because I’ll invariably want more coffee, but that’s it. I don’t do this stuff because if I’m going to waste work time, I’d rather waste it doing something fun.

Downsides:

  • My family don’t understand why I can’t do the washing while I work. Or rather, they profess to understanding, but then I¬†occasionally¬†hear them muttering about my being home all day and not doing the dishes.

I get heaps done because I have more time.

I’ve already talked about how working from home saves me time. You might think I’m spending that extra time sleeping late and watching daytime TV, but the reality is, I spend pretty much every minute of it working. If I go into the office, it’s difficult to put in more than an eight hour day because I’ve got a commute at either end. There’s a finite amount of time in the day and something has to give. If I’m at home, I can put in ten hours, 12 in peak times, and still get to bed a decent time. Most days, I knock off for a bit around 6pm, try to sort out something for dinner, and then put in another couple of hours in front of the TV, with half an eye on whatever’s on. In short, staying home means I can work longer hours and get more done.

Downsides

  • The work day rarely ends before bed time, or to be more accurate, until I fall asleep (cause you can still process email in bed!).

I get heaps done because the conditions are perfect.

My wifi is fast. I’ve got more HD screen space than you could ever imagine needing. My stationery stash is well stocked. I get to control the temperature. My chair is super comfy. I have a huge amount of desk space. My sound dock is within reach. I’ve got several pin boards. I’ve got an awesome colour laser printer.

My home office is perfectly set up.

Downsides:

  • I’m a creature of habit and my on campus workspace is not set up the same way, so this means I feel a bit out of sorts in my office work space. This could have something to do with the fact we’ve been in transit for quite some time, but now I have my own desk things might change.
  • I don’t control the conditions at work (like temperature, light level, noise), and that can impact on my productivity.

I get heaps done because I can have a nap if I need it.

I start work early (starting with email in bed from about 7am – terrible habit – and then moving to my desk by 8am) and I finish work late (and I don’t mean 5.30-late, I mean 9pm-late). So sometimes, I am dead tired in the middle of the day. Instead of staring at my computer screen and wishing the day would end (which is what I would do if I was in the office), I have a nap. Having little kids around has taught me to sleep in 45 minute sleep cycles and to get to sleep fast. A 45 minute nap can give me literally hours more productive work time in the day.

I used to torture myself about having naps and ‘making up the time’. Then one day I realised just how much I was working, so I stopped worrying about it.

Most people have lunch breaks. I have naps. I stopped beating myself up about it because the reality is I still work fifty million hours a week even if I have a daily nap (which I don’t do all that much these days, seeing I get more sleep now the kids are older).

Downsides:

  • There are none. Everybody should nap. We should all have sleep pods built into our cubicles.

I get heaps done because when you’re always in your office, you tend to work all the time.

People tell me they wouldn’t get anything done if they worked at home. But what these people don’t realise is that when you work from home, you never leave ‘the office’. Not at the end of the work day. Not at the end of the work week. And not when you’re on leave. The reality for me is that I’m tempted to work all the time. If I want to take a weekend off, I have to plan an itinerary in advance, because if I don’t have plans and I’m sitting around idly, I’ll invariably end up working.

Downsides:

  • I work. All. The. Time.

But you know what? I really love what I do, and it is very rare that I wish I worked less.

30 posts in June: 21/30

PS. Tomorrow, I’m going to post my top tips for making working from home work for you.