The Dark Side of Working From Home, Challenges They Don’t Tell You About

“You work from home? Wow! I wish I could do the same.”

If I had a quarter for every time I heard someone tell that to me, I wouldn’t be rich but I would definitely have enough rolled up quarter to buy me a stay at a Hilton hotel, maybe for a week.

Working from home is often romanticized as the best job ever.

You rarely have a boss. And if you do, you never have to face him in person.

Then you can set your own hours, work whenever you feel like it, and NOT work whenever you feel like it.

With a laptop, you can work anywhere — lying on your bed comfortable (which I do regularly), in your home office, on your kitchen table, outside on the patio, and best of all, while traveling to exotic places.

You don’t have to stay in one place! You can work anywhere. It’s complete freedom.

Or so they say…

I won’t deny that working from home, overall, is pretty awesome. I would not switch what I do for any job in a corporate office.

But one thing that is rarely talked about are the challenges of working from home. The dream of working from home is what they sell you in books and self-improvement seminars. But there’s a few things they never told you about it, that only people who experienced it will be able to nod and say “oh yeah, I know exactly what he’s talking about.”

Let’s talk about the “dark” side of working from home and how smart entrepreneurs deal with it.

The Trap of the Open Schedule

In theory, everybody loves the idea of an open schedule. You set up your own hours, work whenever you feel like, and if you want to take a day off in the middle of the week, that’s okay too.

In practice, this approach never works!

It’s just human nature. Without structure, we’re lazy and disorganized.

Start working from home and pretty soon you’ll start chasing your own tail, wasting your time in unproductive activities and have the constant feeling of not getting anything concrete done, yet never allowing yourself the freedom to take any real time off, out of guilt.

Anyone who’s worked from home long enough knows that you have to set yourself a schedule and stick to it.

Once in a while, you can change your schedule or skip it completely, but there must be a basic setup in place.

For example, my typical work day starts around 10 a.m. (I know, poor me…). In the morning before 10, I exercise and get ready for the day. Then, starting at 10, I work for a couple of hours, and then have lunch. Then I try to have a productive afternoon. In the evening, I’ll often work for two hours from 7 until 9.

I try to take at least one complete day off per week, and some days I only work 2-3 hours.

You need a schedule and a plan, otherwise you’ll start wasting your time and never get anything done.

The Cabin Fever Syndrome

One of the problems of working from home is that you’re home all the time!

After a while, cabin fever sets in.

First of all, your house is a mess, because you use it more than most people. You will stay in the house 8 to 10 hours more a day more than someone working in an office, meaning that you’ll end up needing to vacuum the floors and clean your place more often, leading you to spend even more time in the house.

When you have a job, you spend most of your day outside of your home. Then your home becomes a restful place that you associate with relaxation.

When you work from home, you start associating your house with work. It seems that there’s no place to escape. When you’re done with the day, it’s difficult to “call it a day” and relax, because work is always waiting for you under your laptop.

Sleep experts tell us that our bedrooms should only be used for sleeping and sex, but not for watching TV, and certainly not to work.

In your home, you should ideally have a dedicated office space where you work. When you close the door to that office, you leave your work behind. Don’t bring that laptop to the kitchen table or the bedroom bed, if you can.

To avoid cabin fever, you’ll need to plan more activities outside the house. Go out for a jog. Run errands yourself instead of ordering everything you need on the Internet.

That’s why I don’t start work until 10 in the morning. I need those few morning hours for myself, to read, go for a walk or a run, and enjoy the house without the thought of work.

As people who work from home grow their business, many of them end up renting a separate office space outside the house. Why? To avoid that cabin fever syndrome.

I personally rent an office in my city with the Regus.com group, through a subscription that allows me to use a private office 5 times a month. That way, at least once a week I get to spend an entire work day outside the home and alone, which keeps me productive.

Another strategy that many entrepreneurs have used, especially those with families and children, is to rent a hotel room once a month or so to conduct a “lock-in.”

This hotel room will not be used for illicit romantic encounters, but rather to work like crazy! For some reason, having a desk in a hotel room is very productive place, away from all distractions of home. I personally have used that technique successfully many time to finish projects.

The Schizophrenic Social Life

I recently met a lawyer who told me he could never work from home because he needs the stimulation of meeting people every day.

Work-at-home entrepreneurs tend to be a bit more introverted than most people. I personally am like that and that’s why I love to work at home.

But at some point, any normal person will start to go a little bit crazy from the lack of social interactions from working from home.

That’s why you need to plan more social events and get out of the house to meet people.

While it’s tempting to automate everything and never leave the house, conducting all of our business online, I find it liberating to be able to run some errands myself, go to the post office and do “normal” stuff, even though I could do many of those things on the Internet without having to leave the house.

Final Words of Advice for Work-at-Home Wannabes

The advantages of working from home outweigh the disadvantages.

You’ll never been invited to a boring christmas party.

You’ll never be molested by your boss! Or accused of sexual harassment for making a politically incorrect joke.

And you’ll never have to breathe the strong perfume of your co-workers, or the underarm smell of those who forgot to shower that morning.

And best of all, if you sleep in one day, no one will ever find out. Except you… and that may be the challenge of the work-at-home entrepreneur. You still work for someone: yourself! And you need some accountability.

Some tips:

  • Don’t think that working from home means you don’t need any discipline anymore. You need MORE discipline working from home because you have no one to keep you accountable, except yourself.
  • Try to separate “work” from “home” as much as possible. Don’t bring your work anywhere and everywhere.
  • If you start to feel cabin fever, change environment. Go work at the public library, or at your favorite coffee shop.
  • Resist the temptation to buy everything online, and sometimes actually get out of the house to run some errands
  • Plan some “play days” in your schedule. Ideally, in those days you should not touch your laptop at all.
  • Don’t forget that you need a social life. Schedule social meetings in your calendar, otherwise they will never happen!

Remember that the best thing about working from home — the total flexibility and freedom — can also turn into your worst enemy. Avoid that from happening by putting some structure into things, and you’ll only be more productive and happier.

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