I’m a work-at-home father of two and a full-time writer. I write for blogs like this one, I write books, and I write whatever print freelance assignments come along in between.
I’m not here to tell you what an unbelievable challenge working at home can be. If you’re reading this blog, I’m sure you already know. Instead, I’m going to share with you some strategies for overcoming the work-at-home obstacles.
In the many years I’ve been doing it, I’ve noticed a phenomenon that’s utterly unique to stay-at-home workers. I call it the ATOOTC Principle. We stay-at-home workers desperately long to be taken as seriously as those who work outside the home. We want to be treated and respected equally. But if you don’t work at the office, on the clock, then all of your family and friends (usually subconsciously) behave as though the work you do isn’t as important. If you work at home, then you’re treated as though the usual strictures of priorities, responsibilities, and deadlines don’t apply to you.
For example, if you’re an ATOOTC worker, your friends and family respect your work time and your office. They leave you be during your work hours, so you can do the job that you’re paid to do. If you’re at home, then no matter how hard you work, friends and family believe they can interrupt you all they want. Since you’re at home… then you can’t be doing real work, right?
Combatting this attitude can be a full time job in and of itself. But as if that’s not enough, the 21st Century is the Age of Distraction. It’s harder than ever before to maintain a singular focus while working at home. Not only do we have people calling on us constantly — both in person and on the phone — we now have the wonders of email and text messages and voice mail and smartphones and Internet outages and so much more to deal with. This problem is compounded when you work at home, with the addition of chores and household maintenance that must be dealt with. There’s always laundry, there’s always dirty dishes, there’s always something around the house that has to be fixed, and invariably these things always come up during your designated work time.
On top of this, not all home workers even have in-home offices to work out of. I used to have an office until the baby came along. Now, the living room is my office, and my end of the couch is my desk. There’s no such thing as privacy or personal work space. I’m surrounded by a three-ring circus at all times. This can be catastrophic for we writers in particular, as it can be awfully difficult to focus or maintain the simplest trains-of-thought when you’re not in an isolated environment.
If any (or all) of this sounds familiar to you, here are my best tips for getting the work done if you’re an at-home writer, regardless of what’s going on around you.
1) Be Rigid. “Flexibility” is a term that gets a lot of love these days. It’s held in high regard along with other pop buzzwords like “tolerance.” But tolerance isn’t always a good thing. Should we be tolerant of hate, for example? Freelance writers, by definition, have to be flexible. Assignments come and go, and you have to be available for whatever opportunities arise. And the modern woman and/or mother especially is expected to be capable of wearing dozens of hats at once — and make it look easy.
When it comes to writing at home, flexibility can be a killer. Being inflexible is of far greater value. Guard your writing time with righteous fervor, determined to let nothing interrupt it. This is, of course, an unrealistic goal; intrusions will always happen. But the more rigid you are with your designated work time, the more work you’ll get done.
2) Remember That “No” Is Not a Bad Word. We all want to be everything to everyone: responsible parents and siblings, good friends who are always there. But if you say “yes” to every lunch date or play date with the kids or what have you, you’ll never get anything written. Sometimes — in fact, a whole lot of the time — you just have to say no. During whatever time of the day you’ve set aside as your work hours, treat it as though you’re in an ATOOTC office with your boss watching your every move.
As for your friends and family, if they’re worth their salt, they’ll understand and respect you for being disciplined with your work responsibilities.
3) Work Odd Hours. This isn’t for everyone, but if you can handle it, working during the hours that others are asleep or not around can be extremely conducive to getting things done. I often find that I can get a lot done late at night when my wife and kids are asleep. Others work early in the morning before everyone else wakes up. It could even be as simple as working during school hours, when the kids are out of the house.
4) Get Out of the House. As important as it is to guard your at-home work time, sometimes you just have to get away from all the around-the-house distractions in order to get anything done. So grab the laptop and head out to someplace where there’s free wifi, like Barnes & Noble or Starbucks. Find yourself a small table or a quiet corner, and get busy. I’ve often found that being around other people — but not interacting with them — can be particularly helpful when I’m writing fiction. Something about being able to observe people going about their lives, hearing the way they talk… it can help trigger those instincts for writing strong prose.
These are the strategies I’ve found that work best for me. What works for you?