During the last month, I gained a new appreciation for those of you who work from a studio in your home. Carrie and I decided that there was no good reason for us to spend the month of July in Arizona – it’s just too hot. We rented a cabin in Eden, UT, packed our four kids and 84 lb. black lab in our Durango and headed for the mountains. While it would have been great to take a month-long vacation, as a business owner, I can’t afford to take more than a day or two off at a time. Fortunately, the wonders of modern technology make it possible to run most of my business from my laptop.
The cabin where we stayed was remote enough to prevent a cell-phone connection, but had decent wi-fi (other than some outages the last week, caused by mountain thunderstorms). I was able to call into the gallery over Google Hangouts, coordinate art installations and speak with clients and artists over the internet using Google Voice. I was able to seamlessly keep up with email, and my files were synced to my work computer through Google Drive. In other words, I was able to be at work in every way other than body while I was gone.
I have worked from home before, but usually for no more than a few hours, one or two days in a row. This was a new experience, working for such a prolonged period away from the gallery. By necessity, I quickly learned some important points that I suspect many of you already know after years of working out of a home studio. I thought I would share a few of the most important things I learned through the experience.
Very quickly, I found several amazing benefits to working from home.
Even though our home in Phoenix isn’t too far away from the gallery, I spend at least thirty minutes each way in my daily commute – a little longer when I’m dropping kids off to school in the morning. Compared to the hours of commuting people do in LA, or on the East Coast, this probably doesn’t sound like much, but an hour a day of commuting, five or six days a week ends up eating away 260-312 hours a year. I try to take advantage of my commute time by listening to books on tape or classical music, but still, that’s a lot of time spent behind the wheel. It was great to instead walk twenty feet and be ready to work.
Working in Shorts
Because my internet connection was a bit too slow to do video calls, and because I wouldn’t be meeting with clients, my appearance wasn’t quite as important. Comfort became the watchword. After years and years of working in button-down and a collar, it was refreshing to relax a bit while getting stuff done.
Lunch with the Family
Instead of heading out to a restaurant for lunch – I got to enjoy great food with the best company in the world – my family!
This is going to end up in both the benefits and challenges columns. I found that I was able to get a surprising amount of work done in shorter periods because the phone wasn’t constantly ringing and I didn’t have clients walking through the door. There’s something to be said for having uninterrupted stretches of time to work on projects. Of course, the most important work I do is interacting with clients and I would never want to give that up – July is a good month for our getaway because it’s so hot in Arizona that I wouldn’t have clients walking through the door anyway.
Just as quickly as I discovered the benefits, I also discovered the challenges inherent in working from home.
While I was eliminating the distractions that occur in my office at the gallery, it turns out I was really just trading them for a new set of potential distractions. There were a number of times where I found what was happening outside my window far more interesting than the computer work I was doing at my desk. Deer were plentiful in the area – I took many a break to watch them wander across the front yard. My kids liked to ride their bikes on the long front driveway, or play frisbee on the front lawy – all right outside my window. It took every ounce of will-power to resist those distractions.
When I’m working at the gallery, I never feel tired – I can work for ten or twelve hours at a stretch without flagging. When working from home, however, 1:30 would roll around and I would feel my eyelids start to droop. I could hear the siren song drifting down the stairs from the bedroom, and I would feel an irresistible pull from my bed. I have to admit that there were a number of days where I simply couldn’t resist and gave in to the call and took a quick catnap.
In spite of being able to talk to the gallery at any time via internet call, chat or email, I could definitely feel the distance. I quickly began to feel I was drifting out of the loop of what was happening on a daily basis at the gallery. Of course, this being July, there actually wasn’t much going on in the gallery anyway, but it’s impossible to imagine working away from the gallery during our busy season.
During my month away, I learned several things that helped me be consistent and productive during my work time.
While I might have been slightly more comfortable working from the dining room table, I quickly realized that the hassle of setting up my laptop and all my other tools and files and then putting it all away again for each meal was not going to be efficient. I found, instead, a quite little room – a small sun room, with a deep ledge under the window – where I was able to set up my permanent base of operations. I was able to mark this territory as mine and get everything set up just the way I wanted it. While it lacked some of the amenities of my gallery office, I had everything I needed to get my work done.
Dedicated Time (Early!)
Another huge help was to carve out dedicated time I could spend in my little office focused on work. Because this was a working vacation, I didn’t work nearly 40 hours per week, but the time I did spend working was 100% focused on work. I disciplined myself that while I was working, I would not allow any distractions to pull me away from my task at hand. I was able to tell myself that when the time was up I would be able to get up and go outside – in other words I created my own light at the end of the tunnel.
I also learned that if I could get up early and put in a few hours of work before the rest of my family was up, I would get a tremendous amount of work done and be able to have more free time to spend doing fun stuff with the kids. You might think that this has something to do with my nap urge, but truthfully, I wasn’t getting up any earlier than I do at home, I just had the advantage that everyone else was sleeping in.
Another huge help was that I got the support of my family. I would let them know the day before what my work schedule looked like for a particular day, and also what my weekly schedule looked like. This way they didn’t have to wonder what I was up to and were less likely to try and tempt me with a distraction.
A To-Do List
In keeping with a habit I nurture at the gallery, I would always begin my day by planning out and prioritizing my tasks using www.todoist.com. ToDoist does an amazing job of keeping me on track, and it makes it so I don’t have to waste energy trying to remember remedial tasks.
Getting Up to Move
Another habit I brought from the gallery was regularly getting up to move around. This was even more important when working from home because I didn’t have as many natural reasons to get up and move around. I have found it to be critical to my productivity to get up and walk around for a minute or so, every half hour. Recent research has shown that sitting for long periods can be bad for your health (http://www.npr.org/2011/04/25/135575490/sitting-all-day-worse-for-you-than-you-might-think). Just as important as movement is to physical well-being, I find regular movement is just as helpful to my concentration and focus.
Lest you think that I’m a workaholic and all work and no play, I want to assure you we had a great time away from home. We enjoyed long walks, biking and hiking in the cooler weather. We took day trips to area museums and to Yellowstone park. We went to the rodeo! We enjoyed every moment of our time away from home, and it was great to be able to do it while keeping up with business. The month was so successful, we’re planning to repeat it next year, though we’ll probably try a different location.
What Have You Learned by Working from Home?
Compared to many of you, I’m a real amateur when it comes to working from home. Many of you have had studios in your homes for years. I would love to hear what you’ve learned about working effectively from home. What are the greatest benefits and challenges you’ve seen working from home? What tips would you give to help me and others work better from home? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments below.
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