Only you know if you’re REALLY working, working from home

Inspired by a pretty fantastic webisode by one of my favorites, Marie Forleo, about sticking to your schedule when working from home in response to Jade, who wrote in for advice.  Jade was feeling overwhelmed by both household and work tasks during the day, feeling more frazzled than when she was in the office.  She was berating herself because she’s comparing to the years that worked around the inefficiencies of an office and to people who have kids or don’t have a husband as helpful as hers, and was expecting a windfall of free time.

This is a subject very close to my heart, and my uterus, as it were that my days working from home while footloose and fancy-free are numbered down to my first born’s due date.  Nothing like a growing waistline to drive that one home.

I love the schedule that Marie laid out (especially compartmentalizing email!), highlighting some of the areas that are probably taking Jade, and a lot of us, longer than they “should” like getting ready for the day and dishes.  It’s amazing how if you don’t actually have to leave, you can look up at 11:59 and still have your hair in a towel.   I love that she included working out, not only because it’s a nice healthy living nudge, but because exercise makes you less sluggish for the rest of your morning routine so it doesn’t take as long!

7am-8am wake up & work out

8-9 shower, get dressed, eat

9-12:30 work! (no email)

12:30 – 1:30 lunch

1:30 – 3:30 work! (no email)

3:30 – 4:30 break or what I like to call “BS O’Clock”

4:30 – 6:30 work!  Reply to emails and plan for tomorrow

“BS O’Clock” is the 1 hour on my schedule when I take care of annoying errands like going to the post office, meal planning, updating my voter registration.  For me, BS o’clock is at 10am, so I don’t look up at 4:30 and realize I didn’t stop to eat and these little things have magically multiplied to take up my whole day (or that my project tasks have taken the whole day and now I can’t run my errand).

Like Jade, I’ve tried tons of schedules and the real work is sticking to them.  I find that “planning my schedule” was just one more task I did instead of getting my work done.  I needed something to hold me accountable, a carrot to run for or a stick to run from.

Sometimes it helps to do the math: how much real money are you losing by sleeping in / Twitter-instead-of-project time?  Losing on real proposals?  Losing real hourly wages?  Paying someone real money to do what you don’t “have time” to do?  Add it up.  Then, divide the money you’re losing by 1 week or 1 day and that’s the real money you gain or lose when you decide if you will give in to the snooze button or distraction.

I did something like this when my husband was procrastinating on preparing for a credential that would earn him a bonus at work.  We agreed on the amount of money 1 week of studying was worth and I’d write a check to him if he hit his goal, he’d write a check to me if he didn’t.  We share finances, so it didn’t “really” matter whether I gave him money or he gave it to me, but there is an undeniable rush of adrenaline when you receive any reward and an equally strong twist of your gut when you have to hand something over, no matter how small.  This makes for a visceral sensation when your alarm goes off in the morning, like realizing that you’ll miss your flight if hit snooze.

Add to that the social pressure of having someone else know about whether you’re meeting the goal as they are giving you the reward or punishment, and you have some pretty powerful motivation.

I know, I know, there are a lot of reasons to not pull out and keep that amount liquid.  I like to look at the money I’m saving by sticking to my schedule, just to know it.  Then I set my incentive to something nominal.  Some fun incentives:

  • Loyalty card for a movie or milkshake when you stick to the schedule 15 times
  • Physically take $5 out of your wallet and put it in a clear jar or “piggy bank” where you can see it accumulate for each day you stick to the schedule

Disincentives, work better for other people, done if you don’t stick to your schedule

  • Physically take $5 out of your wallet and give it to a friend or put it in a box you can’t unlock
  • Physically take $5 out of your wallet and give it away – donate it or give it to a homeless person or street musician
  • …(some people find that this isn’t enough of a disincentive, they have to give to something they’ll not be happy about later… like donating to the political party they oppose)

I can’t stress enough how important it is to physically give or take the money (or whatever your incentive is) even if you’re just moving it from your wallet to your dresser drawer.  Compared to an office, working from home and working for yourself is so conceptual.  In the office, you have so many signs that you should be working: you’re surrounded by colleagues who are working, your boss or client is asking you for things, you only use this space for work and the work day is bookended by a commute.  None of this is true of working from home, which is why it’s so great and so hard.  If you’re lucky enough to work from home and can’t find the gobs and gobs of extra time that you thought you’d have when pined for it in the office, don’t forget to cut yourself a break.  This is its own challenge, different from everything you mastered in the office and when you master this, you’ll be even more prepared for whatever comes next.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Coachini! Fun post! I completely agree that working from home requires just as much planning/prioritizing as doing. I work from my home office daily, but my morning office is the local coffeeshop from 8AM-9:30AM. I exercise in the afternoon to keep my energy up and power through the last hours of the day. I also schedule my day in 1.5 hr increments which keeps me fresh and focused on any given project.

    I thought I would pass on a great online tool that I’ve used to help keep my motivation when goal setting. It’s called Stikk and works basically like the system you had with your husband. You can put a dollar amount onto goals and pay or donate to charity when you don’t meet milestones. It’s great!


    • Posted by mcjacobson on July 25, 2012 at 3:52 am

      Thank you, great tips all around! I love the Stikk site. I looked for an online tool exactly like that so many times after my husband and my deal for later goals that I wanted to pursue without adding the social pressure of accountability to anyone. It looks like they’ve even incorporated the “anti-charity” motivation of donating the money to a rival sport team / political party.

      That’s a really great idea to start the work-day outside the house, so that you have a self-imposed deadline for finishing getting ready and leaving the house, like we had when we worked corporate jobs. That way we don’t have the “I’ll just do one more thing before I get started” that can eat up 15-30 minutes before you know it. I had opted not to, because then I lose the time commuting to the coffee house, but I think it could be worth it to get a fresh start on the morning and being a regular fixture somewhere add a layer of accountability to the baristas who see you every day at the same time.

      I know what you mean about exercising helping you power through. I find I need the boost in morning. When I was training for my first marathon, I found that I could squeeze a 45 minute run in the morning if I got up just 15 minutes earlier (or a 30 minute run if I got up 5 minutes earlier). I made up the time because I cut out the groggy period of staring at my closet and zoning out & super-long shower to wake up. I got the sluggish grogginess out of way during my workout, then I could zip through my morning routine and not have to get up super early. I have heard a lot of people say the same about their post-lunch metabolism drop making them as groggy as I am first thing in the morning.

      Thanks again, I really enjoyed reading your comments and your blog as well.


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