Put Some Damn Pants On
or How I Stay Productive While Working from Home
For the last six months I have been working exclusively from home. While this isn’t the first time in my career that I have worked at home this is the first time that all of my work has been completed in my living room. In the past my home work has been sidelined to stolen moments here and there (mostly on the weekends or late at night), and always at the mercy of my impressive procrastination skill set. Once I decided to spend this period exclusively freelancing from home the cold sweats started. How was I going to stay focused? How was I going to turn out enough work without anyone looking over my shoulder? How was I going to remember to brush my teeth? Clearly I had a lot of concerns to consider before committing to this new life/work style. So I made a thorough mental list of dos and don’ts to prepare myself. I thought of everything and left no possibility uncovered. Come that fateful Sunday night in January before my new life went live I was ready. I had my list and my old reliable work ethic. There was no way I could fail.
Monday came and everything went to tepid shit.
I slept later than I wanted to. I shuffled to my desk and stared at crap on my computer for way too long. I desperately allowed myself to get distracted by any little thing that came my way. I Skyped with my mom for over an hour. In the end I did get a measure of productive work done that day but I wasn’t finished until around midnight. 14 hours at my desk yielded about 4 hours of billable work.
Since that day I’ve scrapped my original list of dos and don’ts and have over time drafted (in proverbial pencil) a new list to keep me on track. This list is always in flux and it is MINE. You are welcome to use it at your own discretion.
- Wake Up
I may not work in an office but most of my clients sure as hell do. In fact most of my clients are on the East Coast and their work day starts 3 hours before most Californians have hit the snooze for the first time. I make sure my ducks are in a row and I am ready to actually work at 7:30 each morning. But what does “ready” mean? Well, for one thing it means…
- Put Some Damn Pants On
When I tell people I work from home their initial response is invariably, “You don’t have to wear pants!” At first I thought that too. I can wear pajamas all day but I can’t wear pajamas all day. For me its crucial to create a clear line of delineation between work time and any other time. Every morning I get dressed as if I’m going into the office. I need that. Pajamas make me feel lazy. Pajamas allow me to treat everyday as a day off.
- Stay Busy (Even If There’s No Work)
At this moment one of my main clients hasn’t sent me work in a couple weeks. My other main work provider has a half-day between projects. I have no billable work at the moment. So I’m writing and illustrating this because, for me, it’s still a work day. If I don’t stay busy I’ll just put on a Netflix Original Series and zone out forever. And ever. Then if any last minute work does come my way I’ll resent it the way Larry resented Piper for calling from the pen and disturbing his new life without her.
- Take Breaks
Every article I’ve read about working from home stresses the importance of breaks. Somehow I thought I was better than those people. It turns out I’m not. A lot of people suffered and some died for the right to take breaks from work. They did that for lots of reasons but for me (aka My Own Boss) the most important reason is that breaks increase productivity. Without allowing myself sanctioned breaks my brain takes it’s own breaks when ever it wants. Since my brain is my only employee it behooves me to accommodate it with it’s own “me time” periodically. Otherwise I will have a rebellious hostage situation on my hands and I’ll forced to order pizzas and provide an escape vehicle.
- Make a Schedule and Stick to it
Ok so I know I need breaks but without a schedule I can find myself a couple hours into listless lounging telling myself, “it’s coool, this is just a break.” I have to maintain a tight schedule so that I know when I need to be working and when I can look forward to indulging in distractions. My schedule looks something like this:
7:00 Get Up 7:30 Start Working
10:00 15 minute Breakfast Break
12:00 2 Hour Break (eat, run, read a comic, spend time with my wife…)
4:00 15 minute Snack Break
5:30 Call it a Damn Day
- Establish and Maintain Days Off
I work for two reasons: I love what I do for work and I need to make money to facilitate everything else I love to do. Without a company schedule it can be easy to work everyday without realizing it. There are almost always larger slower moving projects in the background that could survive with that old sideline attention. Weekdays can be relegated to more immediate work and weekends could be spent developing comps for clients that haven’t yet committed or chipping away at projects with due-dates months down the road. OR weekends can be reserved for spending time doing all the other shit that I love doing. Without that work-life balance I heard about ad nauseam in one of my office jobs I become static, stagnant, and miserable. By establishing clear no-work days up front I can schedule a “real” life away from work and my clients aren’t surprised by me being unavailable certain days.
- Be Prepared to Break Every Damn Rule
Here is where I get totally honest with myself. What if a client gets work on Friday and needs it for a presentation on Monday? DO THE WORK. What if an unexpected revision comes in at 9 pm because the CEO says the piece isn’t quite right for tomorrow’s presentation? DO THE WORK. What if I’m under the weather and if I worked in an office I would have called in sick? WEAR THE PAJAMAS. For me these rules are strict but I’m not an asshole boss. I need me to be as productive an employee as I can be while being a good boss to myself.