My series on the Writing Life continues with today’s post on the good, bad, and ugly of working at home. I have to admit that I consider myself quite blessed to be able to earn a decent income working from home, especially while I still have young children at home. But there are days…oh, boy are there days…when I sort of wish I had somewhere to escape to!
After working from home for nearly 12 years now, I’ve decided that all home distractions can be corralled into 3 categories: communication distractions, family distractions, and household distractions. Let’s tackle these one at a time.
• Communication distractions. We live in a communication-overload age. No matter how we want to communicate with others, there’s a tool for it right at our fingertips. This is good, except when you’re on a writing deadline. Here’s a couple tips that may help eliminate the communication distractions.
First, allow yourself to only check email at regular intervals, such as once an hour. Also, turn off the chime that alerts you to when you get a new email. When you do check email, give yourself only 10 minutes on it, then get back to work. Same with social networking sites. Check them at regular intervals only. I would also highly recommend putting your phone in a different part of your house and turning down the ringer. Unless you’re in a situation where you have to be on emergency alert for someone, I would suggest not keeping your phone near you when you’re trying to write.
• Family distractions. I hate using this term, because your family should never be a distraction but a priority, but I think you know what I mean. If you have small kids at home with you during the day as I do, it’s helpful to block off time periodically to spend one on one with them. They may not have a real concept of time, but just to say to them, “I need to work for about one more SpongeBob, then you and I will play,” let’s them know there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Sometimes, if I know I have a long day, I’ll tell my son that he and I will have a special outing together later that day or that night if I can finish up what I’m doing. That helps him be a little more patient with me. I’m not a big TV proponent when the kids are real young, so I’ll place puzzles, coloring books, or LEGOS in the office with me or right outside the door, so my son still feels a part of being with me.
If you’re dealing with a spouse who is jealous that your work time is cutting into his or her personal time with you, talk with them about a compromise and schedule. Maybe you can agree that you will not do any writing on the weekends if you can work for one hour each evening. Or maybe instead of evenings, you will block off 4-5 hours over the weekend.
• Household distractions. By far, this is my biggest challenge when it comes to distractions. I am very organized and love a clean house, so I used to be quite distracted just knowing there were floors to clean, dishes to do, and household repairs to take care of. I have learned, however, that if I want to get any writing done, I need to block all those things out–at least temporarily. Now, for many of you, this poses no distraction at all, because housework is probably not real high on your want-to list. But even so, some things you can’t ignore forever, like laundry or grocery shopping.
My solution has been to block of a certain amount of time each day for household tasks–usually about an hour. If I do that every day, by the end of the week, just about everything has been taken care of. I also enlist the help of my family on the weekends for a thorough cleaning! I’ve also found that certain mindless tasks, like vacuuming, are great for ushering in creativity. In fact, when I get stuck on something I’m writing and need ideas or to find just the right words, I will leave my office and find something to clean. I’m not kidding! Something about doing a physical task helps me think better. In no time at all, I’ve solved my writing dilemma and head back to the computer. I must admit, some days my house ends up being really clean!
How about you? What distractions pose the biggest threat to your work, and how have you learned to overcome them?