It’s my birthday today. I’m now very many years old. 🙂 But I have come by a lot of (kind of one-sided but still) wisdom in my dotage, and as a birthday gift (to me rather than to my readers, to be honest), I want to share it. The best gift for me is to be able to dispense advice to people who haven’t asked for it, so bear with me.
The advice is for those of us who work from home. Working from home is hard, and it turns many people crabby and miserable because they end up feeling like they are at work all the time without getting much done. Feelings of guilt and a sensation that one lacks productivity are ubiquitous. So how to be super effective while working from home? Take this advice from somebody who wrote a book and 3 articles while managing a high-risk pregnancy (that would be me) from home.
To be effective, work at home should be structured to look as similar to work at the office as possible. Set up work hours that always happen at the same time and inform everybody – in as strong a manner as possible! – that between x and x hours on XXXXX days you are at work. Memorize the phrase, “No, I can’t run this errand / hang out / talk / make these phone calls for you / do anybody a teensy favor BECAUSE I’M AT WORK” and repeat them like a mantra. Prepare to repeat the sentence, “So do you know how you are at work every day between 9 and 5? Guess what? SO AM I!!!” many times.
Everything that has to be done every day should be planned in as detailed a way as possible in advance. This summer, I have to finish an article, write a chapter for an edited volume, write another article, write an MLA talk, and write a grant application. I have calculated the number of words this will entail in total. Then I have divided them by the number of working days I will have this summer. Now I know exactly what I will write every day in summer and at what time of the day. Instead of a vague “I have to work on my research”, I now have “I need to write 400 words on Russian immigrants and criminality on May 4th.”
My work at home ends at 3 pm, after which I don’t do any work, don’t look at work emails, don’t think about work, and concentrate on having summer fun. I also have 2 weeks in May and 2 weeks in July when I will not be working because I’ve scheduled them as vacation time.
Many people will balk at the idea of being so structured that they have planned in advance where they will be at 2 pm on August 10. But to me it’s comforting, which is why I work very well from home.
And the most important thing: lists of things to do are not the way to go. Forget lists and start thinking numbers instead. How many work days can you realistically have each month? How many words can you realistically write each day if the kids refuse to sleep, the weather is nuts, the spouse chooses this time to become high-maintenance, the best friend has a crisis, there is an unexpected large expense, and as a result you feel completely exhausted every day of the summer? If you don’t know, conduct an experiment. Choose a very bad day and sit down to write to see how many words you have been able to squeeze out. (For people who are not in the writing professions, it will be phone calls or whatever their measure of productivity is.)
Counting is fun, I promise. Happy Birthday to me and happy summer working to all of us.