When Worlds Collide: Transitioning Between Work and Home

29 Comments

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.

29 Comments

Market Leverage

I’ve been working at home for the last eight or so months. There are some things I miss about the office enviornment (heh, I actually liked the politics…), but the trade offs, like more family time, have definitely made it worth it for me.

Moore253

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girlanddog

Great post, insightful and thought-provoking. I’ve been working from home for almost 3 years (my own business), and I find that one of the best ways of setting limits is to try to plan things that I enjoy doing. If I don’t have plans for the evening, I’m likely to continue working well into the night. Therefore, I try to plan a walk, a bike ride, even plan on watching the sunset with a mug of tea. Something that cuts into the non-stop action of the day usually helps me shift into “not working” mode.

I think only highly disciplined individuals can really “make it” working from home with all the distractions and excuses available… So kudos to us all!!!

uggboots

Interesting! My husband & I have run a small business for 21years. You really have to watch yourself. We found the last year the hardest and it suddenly came to us that we were suffering “burnout”.I’d heard the word thrown around for a few years but didnt understand it?That was until we found we couldn’t get motivated we couldn’t get our work done and we were tired beyond belief. How we over came it well should I say we are still over coming it ! We decided to move our business home. This was a huge undertaking but we”ve done it.
I guess in one way we are lucky that our business is not one that you find on every street corner and we have been around a long time and have a great reputation. But it has been the best thing we have ever done. We are both feeling happier and more energized than for years.
We find that getting up early and starting work around 7am we can work for a few hours then take a break around mid day and back for awhile then finished around 2pm. I must say though that we do have the business phone linked into the house etc and so can still take calls. But we are now stress free …no more rush hour traffic no more rent and all that comes with it. We are happy happy etc etc.!!!
We live on a 50 acre property so although we may finish work at 2pm or so then we start around the place.But this is relaxing and something that before we never had the time or energy for. The place is starting to look fantastic too.
Cheers uggboots.

Stuart

I’ve just started my business 2 years ago, and this has been one of the single most challenging things I’ve had to face. Not only is building a small business challenging on a daily basis, but it’s also challenging from the viewpoint of how to relax, when work is staring you in the face even on the weekends. Recently I’ve adopted the standpoint “a healthy body builds a healthy mind” and have been trying to get out wherever possible into the great wide outdoors. During the week this sometimes means a few bike rides, some rock climbing, or some underwater hockey. In particular I’ve found rock climbing to be very soothing for the soul (and the fingers). After typing all day there’s nothing like a good hard climb, and some natter with friends (everyone is really friendly at the climbing gym) to make you forget work.

Another key for me has been starting the day early. I’ve tried to get working by 6AM, then take a break at 8:30 or 9:00am for breakfast. Then another at 12 for lunch, and then I wrap up a 8 hour day at 2:00pm. If I don’t get everything done, I sometimes put in an extra hour or two, and that still gets me done everything by 3 or 4pm and I still have plenty of time to do a few household chores, and enjoy time doing things in the evening. What killed me was starting work later in the morning, and then working until later in the evening. I just kept feeling like there wasn’t enough time in the day. Hope this helps someone.

Thanks for all your thoughts too! Very interesting.

Edster

I actually do have a tip for how I unwind on a Friday night to get out of work mode.

One thing I’ve learned is the importance of getting work off my mind to recuperate. Sometimes, the stress and worries from my job would keep me up at night. Often, during weekends, I’d keep thinking about problems at work, so by the time Monday came around, I felt like I hadn’t rested or recuperated at all. Until I learned this trick.

Friday nights, I’d go home, pick out a few favorite CDs, and sing karaoke for a couple hours (ok, so I have a cheap karaoke system at home). By the time I’d belted my favorite songs for an hour or so, my mind would be totally clear and I was amazed at how dramatic a difference this made. After I found this trick, I did it every weekend to clear my head on Fridays, and I can honestly say my weekends have been better and more relaxing ever since I started doing this.

I know karaoke isn’t for everyone, but I think the idea can be modified to suit one’s interests. When I sing, I’m doing something fun that absorbs my mind — I need to concentrate on lyrics, melody, rhythm and feeling and be mindful of my posture and breathing. I think any leisure activity or hobby that requires concentration and is fun can do the trick. I also used to go to the baseball batting cages and just whack balls for an hour.

Toby Lucich

Great tips, and I hope noted by the boomer crowd that are getting ready to make a mass exodus to the “consulting’ realm. Many colleagues have spoken lovingly of their expected semi-retirement, but I can see these very successful professionals creating full-time jobs again in their homes (not their stated goal).

I also find that running to pick up the little one from daycare also creates a “normal” leaving the office routine. Often I want to keep plugging away, but this is a clear boundary. Scheduling late afternoon meetings or errands would serve the same purpose.

Kenneth

Unfortunately the very opposite is true for me: I can’t switch from Home to Work. I’m still a college student, but I used to do a lot of freelance work on the side when I was younger. I’ve since been drowning in procrastination and apathy for a good number of years and quite frankly, I can’t see a way out.

What Rick Gregory said is true, but acting upon a decision to choose not to waste any more time is easier said than done.

rick gregory

I see several “I can’t … ” comments above. Yes, you CAN. You CHOOSE not to.

You don’t have to stay in touch every minute of every day. You don’t have to allow people to contact you 16, 18, or 20 hours a day. You don’t have to keep repeating binge and bust cycles.

I don’t mean any of this personally toward any of the above commenters. I’m sure that if another set of people had commented we’d have seen similar issues. But let’s stop pretending that we aren’t making choices about our behaviors – we are. If you’re comfortable with those choices, fine. But if they’re causing you stress, the points in the post are good starting places. Work is not life – it’s part of it. Don’t neglect the rest because of fear (that customer might email me tonight!), overcommitting (but I only have 16 projects!) or the need to be always on.

Mike E

I currently set a schedule for myself and try to stick to that as much as possible. My transition time is assisted by my dog – a two mile walk does wonders to clear up the mind. I guess you can say that is my “commute home.”

DM

I currently work a day job and maintain some freelance work when I get home. This is no easy task and quite draining. Working on a personal schedule as well as a work schedule is vital. My issues lay in being confined ‘inside’, it is important to get some fresh air in more circumstances other than the times of travel from one work space to another.

N. Payne

One of the toughest things for me to do, stick to a schedule. If I have work that needs to be done I’ll stay up late and work all the way through the night. But then I ruin my work ethic for the next two days while I try to recoup.

Amie Gillingham

Due to the nature of our business, I can’t really set office hours. I’m as likely to be providing tech support at 5am as I am at 10am. But I do see a need for me to personally pay more attention to #4, particularly when I’m not working directly with a customer and am simply working on admin stuff, email backlog or new interesting tasks. The work will still be there tomorrow, even if I were to catch up on every last item on my list today (which is bloody unlikely!). Sometimes, if I find I am really neglecting the family, I set a timer and make myself walk away from my computer and play with the toddler and the small son until that timer goes off and I can return to my virtual workspace. It’s better for them, and even if I’m not initially engaged completely, I ultimately find myself valuing that time with them, get a much needed break from the computer, and can also let go of the guilt I feel of neglecting my kids when I’m working (and work when I’m with my kids).

Willa Olivier

You are exactly right! I happened to think about it yesterday when I drove home from my job that will be replaced by my home job soon. It will require a home worker much more self discipline to maintain a healthy lifestyle with enough relaxation and exercise.
Let’s get out there for a walk on this lovely sunny day! And tomorrow is Saturday, time to take a break if possible.

Em

Hi Everyone!

After working online from home for the last 14 years, on my own business, I think the best thing to do is put your own systems in place.

For me, with children grown etc, there are less distractions, but I find it more difficult to “stop” work.

So, now I schedule break times (which are usually 20 minute naps) and try to make sure that I show-up for family time.

In the last 2 years, I began caring for my Mom. Even though it is not the same as caring for children, she still requires leaving my solitary online life, and I’m trying to adjust to having time for “companionship” during the day, and compensating some after dinner.

My husband usually cooks, so that helps get me to ‘family-time’ a little later and then I am ready to feel the day’s over.

I will do things differently when I have finished my business plan, and then I definitely will not work so hard. Being an entrepreneur is really a challenge and very different for what it would be if I was employed by someone else, but worked from home.

I really have to set boundaries, or I could work most of 24/7 and that would NOT be good, even if productive.

So, my calendar starts with daily checklists and I am paying attention to Stephanie Frank, “The Accidental Millionaire” about creating and using the systems I personally need. It’s a good strategy.

Best to all — Em

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Jonathan

>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.

Wow, you so don’t know my commute. ;D

And I’m only half kidding. Great article though.

COD

When I shut down for the day I close my work laptop and open my personal laptop. My personal laptop is not configured to check my work email account. Out-of-sight out-of-mind works for me. I don’t really have any problem decompressing. I walk downstairs and “I’m home.” If anything, the commute used to cause me a lot of stress as I thought about all the stuff I could be doing if I was home and not stuck on I-95.

Damon Billian

As I work from home a lot, I can say the hardest thing is disconnecting from things related to work. I generally spend almost the full day on work email because I don’t want to *miss* anything (even on weekends). I think the important thing to realize is that you need to disconnect sometimes, even if for a day only, simply so you can recharge your batteries.

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