Brush your teeth and put on some real clothes: The joys and perils of working from home

During a recent conversation with a friend, who also works from home, she boasted that she stays in her pajamas until two o’clock. No, I couldn’t swing it. I need sartorial structure. In comfy pj's, how would I be able to distinguish night from day? I get up, wash my face, brush my teeth, and put on something decent enough so that if I actually have to go out, I won’t scare anyone.

Apparently, some six million Americans work from home, and I joined those ranks a few years ago as a freelance writer. I get up with the family, and the moment I finally kick everyone out of the house heralds the start of my work day. I sit at my computer, which offers a pleasant, if slightly abbreviated, view of the Hudson River, and I set out to write whatever needs writing that day. I am guided by My List, which I make diligently the night before, and nothing brings more satisfaction than checking things off.

I am a fidgety writer who needs to get up every 45 minutes or so to stroll about the apartment and contemplate the next wave of ideas, so I find that distractions are plentiful, if you look for them.  And I often find that I don’t have to look far: The remainder of the Sunday paper to go through; breakfast dishes that could really wait until later (somehow tidying up becomes so very urgent); Michelle Obama on The View; phone calls from my lovely friends; discovering that 10 strangers have repined one of my images on Pinterest (!); CNN breaking news alerts, and of course, the Five-Star Time Suck: Facebook. It’s the virtual water cooler for the stay-at-home set which can drag me down a rabbit hole, but it serves as the perfect excuse for me to check in with the outside world. I also seem to need more snacks and coffee, which, of course, is just another ploy to get up and wander the apartment...for inspiration.

But when I’m able to keep my blinders on, I like working chez moi, and I enjoy at least feeling like my own boss, as I order myself around. I love being able to squeeze in lunch with a friend or dash out to the gym when a deadline is met earlier than expected. I'm happy to be here when my kids get home, and I also relish the occasional down day between assignments when I am actually not in the midst of pitching an idea, writing it, or chasing down a contact or an editor; it’s like an impromptu vacation day.

I have worked in offices, so sometimes I do miss the bouncing around of ideas and the face-to-face connection with others working towards a common goal. On occasion, I also miss the structure of being in an office. There are clearer definitions of the beginning and the end of the business day. At home, sometimes I'm not sure when it’s quittin’ time. I do not miss dealing with the moodiness of a large office staff, or the over-sharing co-workers who use their cubicles as an arena for fights with their mothers, nor do I miss the hellish daily commutes on crowded New York subways.

If it weren’t for the dang distractions, I’d be fine. When things get really bad, I exile myself to the hallowed halls of the “Lion’s Den,” the main branch of the public library, with its delicious book smell, grand wooden tables, and shroud of silence, and I’m really able to stay focused. 

But when I’m home, I start with my mantra: clean teeth and real clothes. It usually works pretty well. What works for you? I'd love to know.

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