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?
Nicole Branigan says
For the love of everything holy, thank you for this post! My husband and I are expecting our first child and our office has been turned into a nursery. I was fretting it, but this post is really making things seem doable. Thanks!
Rachel Essinger says
I recently graduated from college and while working to find a job, I’m a stay at home mom. I got lucky enough to find one local freelance editing job but that’s going to be over soon.
I just wanted to say that this article came at a really good time for me. It’s nice to hear someone else express the same concerns that I’ve been trying to deal with and provide viable solutions. I often feel like I can’t get anything done at home and since my husband works full time during the day and expects family time in the evenings, it doesn’t feel like I have time to do work or that if I leave the house to do work, I’m abandoning the only time we get to spend together anymore.
Anyway, thanks for sharing your perspective and good luck in your future work.
Carol J. Alexander says
Great words, Robin. I do all these things and more to protect my writing time and to have a little peace and quiet. Thanks for the encouragement.
I get up before everyone and try to get in a few hours of work. It’s by far my most productive time of day. Great read!
Jeremy Powers says
Noise Cancelling Headphones.
I originally purchased my headphones/headset for Skype calls. I have found them to be tremendously helpful at other times, though. It sends the message to the rest of the family that I am working. It is a like an office for the brain.
Robin Parrish says
Hi Jeremy. That’s a fantastic idea. Of course, we have a 1-year-old, so I can’t afford to be 100% oblivious to her, but there are certainly times when something like this would be useful.
Is there any particular brand of headphones you recommend?
Jeremy Powers says
I just use a set made by Plantronics. The set I have includes a good quality speaker mic, and they were less than $40 on Amazon.
Another tactic I have had some luck with is putting on a blazer or suit jacket. I know that takes some of the fun out of working from home, but it is an easy way for young kids to understand “work time” vs. “play time.”
Vidya Sury says
Brilliant tips. In fact, I’ve bookmarked the post to read it often. Not being “ATOOTC” and working “Out Of Home” is a real challenge especially as a mother. 🙂 While it feels great to have my son say “My mom can fix anything” – it isn’t always convenient especially when I need to focus on what I am doing. My favorite way to get more done is to be up early, before everyone else – and I find I can achieve in two hours – what could take as much as four hours to complete during the day, thanks to answering phone calls and doorbells. 🙂
Noemi Twigg says
I agree with being rigid in terms of plotting out your schedule. I also find that it helps to get dressed in the morning or before you start work.
Spot on post; as a work-from-home dad myself, I’m nodding along with each point, the last one in particular. Regardless of whether I’m writing fiction or editing my latest project, I try to hit the coffee shop on a regular basis. It’s amazing how much you can get done being surrounded by others but not communicating with them, especially if they’re working too. It’s almost comforting. Anyway, well done.
Rhonda Campbell says
Loved reading your article! Always good to hear from someone going through similar experiences. Helps me to know challenges of working from home are common and that they can also be overcome.
I used to work in a room just outside my living room. I had a very difficult time focusing that way. Created my own office and it’s been wonderful! I also work later hours, but want to get back to starting earlier so I finish earlier.
Thanks again for the tips and for sharing your experiences!
I realize this may not be for everyone, especially those who have kids, but I was super unproductive working from home so I signed up for a local co-working space in my town which really helped separate work from home and give me the social interaction that was missing sitting at home by myself.
Amanda J. Barke says
Thank you so much for this post. Its good to hear other people are struggling with the same problems I am. And now, I have a name for it.
Amanda J. Barke
“I can do ALL things through Christ which strengthens me.” Phil 4:13
2010 President, Springfield Writers’ Guild
Author of A DISTANT RUMBLE – Order it at http://www.publishamerica.net/product95625.html
Author of THE SLEEPY LITTLE SUN (Soon to be released)
Editor, Liberty Press
Publicist, Clarke Street Strings Band
Freelance journalist, author, songwriter, freelance editor
Freelance journalist, http://www.demandstudios.com
personally i enjoy writing from home and today it is so easy to do so. It is extremely easy to get started!