I remember when I used to leave my job to go to the dentist and then make a quick Target run on the way back to the office. I totally felt like I was getting away with something.
After more than three decades of being employed, I wound up becoming a freelancer, with no one scolding me for how I spend my time on their clock. I’ve often said I went from having a job to having work.
I still have deadlines and assignments, but now I set my own pace. While I have to toe the line for the people who give me my assignments, I no longer labor under their watchful gaze. You have a lot more leeway when you don’t have a boss keeping an eye on you.
Every workplace has its unique structure and being away from yours can feel liberating, but it can also throw you off your game.
There are pleasures and pitfalls to working at home. I’ve arrived at some effective rules, rhythms and routines to keep my nose to the stone as I grind away at my dining room table. Maybe they can help you, too.
• Get dressed. It’s a plus that you don’t have to follow an office dress code when you’re in your home office. But wear the kind of clothes you would wear in public. Spending the day in pajamas or your bathrobe doesn’t help you keep your edge. Put on some armor to face the tasks at hand.
• No television during the day. I never sneak in a show during regular work hours. The temptation to click on just one more episode is too irresistible and it can fritter the day away. Early on in my freelance career, I discovered that watching movies and videos ruins my concentration, making it difficult to get back to business. I save streaming for when the workday is done.
• Beware laundry. Sure, it’s mindless work that always needs doing and being home can allow you to finally feel caught up. But sorting, loading, shifting and folding fools your subconscious. You’re left with the illusion that you’ve done something productive — and you have — but it’s not what you’re being paid to accomplish. It also interferes with how you pace yourself. If you simply must do laundry, toss in a load before you start your work for the day and stay out of the laundry room until you’ve completed your tasks for the workday.
• No day drinking. As an extrovert who now works without co-workers, I need social time, which often is a lunch date with a friend. But I never indulged in a drink. With bars and restaurants closed, this should be easier, but don’t be tempted to set up a virtual cocktail hour in the middle of the day. Sure, there’s no one to smell your breath, but you’re kidding yourself if you think a nice dry pinot doesn’t interfere with your productivity.
• Learn how to take breaks. Maybe your workplace has a coffee pot or a snack area where you can catch your breath and catch up with a co-worker. Maybe you are encouraged to take a walk or a stretch every few hours. Or maybe you have a supervisor who gives you a dirty look every time you take your eye off the ball. This is your chance to find out what works for your productivity. When you don’t have to adhere to the dictates of office culture, you can find what gives you the best quick respite. What you learn may boost your effectiveness once you’re back in the rat race.
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.