For the conventional commuting worker, there is a natural transition time between being “at work” and “at home”: the commute. Time spent in the car, bus, train, on a bike, or otherwise making their way from work to home serves as a decompression period for these people. But for those of us whose commute is limited to walking out of the office door and into the living room, the lack of a transition between work and home is trickier to manage. What’s a hard-working webworker to do?
1. Engineer a transition period: Just like the start of your day when you do whatever it is that signals to your brain that sitting-in-pajamas-sipping-coffee-time is over, construct some end of day ritual to help you disconnect from the office. It might be setting your calendar application or Palm-Berry to notify you fifteen minutes before the official end of your day, so that you can wrap up your work, send all those pending emails, look at tomorrow’s schedule, and otherwise get ready to get out of Dodge. It might be that you end your day half an hour before everyone else is due home, giving you an opportunity to nap, read a book, throw the ball for the dog, or otherwise occupy yourself doing an explicitly non-work and non-family activity.
2. Set limits: Note the necessity of an “official end of your day” — by setting regular hours not only for starting but stopping, you keep work from short-changing home and allow yourself to have more energy for the important business of being reasonably cheerful for family and friends after hours. Another important limit to set is expectations for what non-work things you should be doing during and after your work day — often the load (of laundry, dirty dishes, what have you) falls on the home-based partner and that can lead to frustration on everyone’s part. Time spent negotiating that balance is time well-spent, even for the non-home-worker.
3. Make a plan for the evening: Planning your work day keeps you focused and on task, but don’t let your plan stop there. Mitigate the stress of having to feed yourself and others by having both a bit of a plan and some failsafe back-ups. If you know that you’re going to have a particularly tight evening, don’t be afraid to have the plan be “cereal and a movie”. Engage other family members in planning, too, to prevent surprises: make everyone sit down and explain what’s coming up in their week. The simple act of thinking about it makes people more aware of what they’ve got going on and helps avoid the last minute craziness of forgotten science projects and show-and-tell requirements.
4. Stop and start again: If you’re really in the middle of something, it’s tempting to keep pushing to get the work done and get back to your life. But sometimes you need to let it drop and be “at home” and not “working at home” for a little while. One of the reasons that webwork is so appealing is the flexibility. Conversely, one of the reasons we’re effective as webworkers is our self-discipline, making ourselves work even without someone looking over our shoulders. But here’s an important fact: someone is looking over your shoulder. It’s your spouse, your kid, your dog, and they’re as important as crunching that last bit of code out right this second. The work will still be there, and you can get back to it after dinner, baths, stories, and bedtime. Leave your rig on and connected, set your Palm-Berry to go off and remind you to go back and finish what you’ve left, but don’t be afraid to leave it for a while.
What do you do when the world of work and the world of home collide? How do you meet the demands of those closest to you and those who are depending on you to make their technology sing? Tell us.