Blog Post

It’s Okay to Work at the Kitchen Table

In a recent post by Chris Brogan about family balance, he says he might be perceived as someone who lacks balance between work and home. But he says, “I’m more home, more connected, and more a part of my family’s life than…ever before” thanks to what he calls “kitchen table companies.” Such companies “can operate from a kitchen table, get talked about around the kitchen table, and get [workers] home in time for dinner.”

This got me thinking about how much my beliefs about business have changed in the ten years since I started my own company. I used to agree with the common recommendation that lines should be clearly drawn between one’s business and personal space. The advice was that you shouldn’t work from your kitchen table, and that you should have a separate space for your business.

From a balance perspective, it seemed only natural to compartmentalize, and to have clearly-defined boundaries between work and home. After all, wasn’t that how it worked with “regular jobs”? So when I created a business, I attempted to maintain clear boundaries between it and my home life.

But I began to see that my life as an entrepreneur was very different from those with “regular jobs.” For me, it was a struggle to determine where my work life stopped and my home life began. I thought that something was wrong with me for a while, but then I realized that I actually liked the blurred lines. I liked ‘living’ as much within my business as outside. Since that was true, why was it so necessary to separate the different parts of my life?

I’ve come to accept that I like having a “kitchen table business.” Like Chris Brogan, I have way more time with family and friends now than I ever did before starting a business. I have flexibility to work when I’m able: around sickness, around unpredictable bouts of insomnia, and around the even more unpredictable ebbs and flows of life. So while I used to believe that having a “kitchen table business” would set me up to become a workaholic, I now see it as a way to live my life exactly as I want.

Does my business have boundaries? Yes, but they’re more like gray areas. I’m a web worker, but I also have Internet-free days. There are days when I work eighteen hours, and other days when I work three. Sometimes I work in my pajamas from the sofa, but I can crave the structure of my office. In the end, it all evens out, and for the most part, I feel I’m able to maintain a semblance of balance.

How do you balance your life and business? Do you set clearly defined boundaries, or are you able to work successfully at the kitchen table?

Photo courtesy Flickr user Muffet

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9 Responses to “It’s Okay to Work at the Kitchen Table”

  1. I don’t have my own business but work from home most of the time (90%) and probably 4 or 5 years ago really started to make use of the space and time this gives me. There are times in the day when I work better than others, times when I never work well and times when I have to do other things. Putting parts of your life into make believe boxes leads to lack of flexibility, rigid mindset and a lack of creativity.

    I also find that if you let them mix like milk and water the intensity of both is reduced, stress lowers and you enjoy both more.

    Much of what we do today revolves around thinking and communicating. The thinking part we can do anywhere, the communicating part we can almost do anywhere.

  2. I love working from home and the fact the I can get up at 6am and start work if I want too, or I can spend the mornings doing anything else that might strike my interest. My schedule is fluid and in my control and the only thing that matters to my boss is that my work gets done. If that happens at the kitchen table, the couch, or my home office, it doesn’t make a difference. In short, I love my job!

  3. It is so reassuring to see I am not the only one that feels like this, I do what I do because I enjoy it and it gives me flexiblity. When you are surrounded by people who work in an office environment you often get told you work too hard or you should take a break. I work evenings, Sundays in fact when I need to but I don’t think that makes me a workaholic. It makes work sound like a dirty word. I will soon be off to Buenos Aires for a couple of months.. if that’s what being a workaholic means I’m all for it :o)

  4. This same question of “why was it so necessary to separate the different parts of my life?” was one of the major motivations for our family to choose to homeschool our children. Why should raising your kids, of all things, be outsourced? Why should learning be restricted to the conventional, disconnected places?

    So far, though, my work has been much more conventional than “kitchen table.” I’m looking forward to changing that, and leading a more integrated life, in 2011.

  5. There’s a line between business and home life?! The only way I separate the two is by using an exercise book to keep track of the work tasks I squeeze in between washing and cooking, and how long I spend on them. That way I can keep track of the hours I work to a) not get too carried away and b) make sure I can get paid my hourly rate (though sometimes a bit of a waiting game!).

    As for working at the kitchen table – I work on any flat surface in the house that’s got space, though I do have a ‘work studio’.

  6. Being able to choose the location of where you work helps inspire creativity – and productivity – which is important as an entrepreneur or in running your own web business. Creativity is less important in a traditional workplace, which is why cube farm layouts are so popular and you have little control over your working environment. Defined boundaries can definitely help maintain a working schedule but I think you need flexibility to nurture that creative side too.

  7. AMEN. I had the opportunity to do quite a bit of freelance work this summer from my ‘home studio’ and while I ended up working more hours every week both my wife and my kids felt like I was around much, much more. The ability to get up and put a few hours in before the rest of the family was up and then have a nice lunch with them or go for a walk was amazing.

    I find it more than a little ironic that during a time when my monthly income was far from guaranteed (my projects were week to week at best) and when technically I should have been far more stressed out I was the calmest I have been in years. It was the happiest summer I have spent in a very long time.