“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 quarters to buy myself a stay at a Hilton hotel for a week.
Working from home is often romanticized as the ideal working experience.
You rarely have a boss to tell you what to do and when to do it. 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, too.
With a laptop, you can work anywhere — lying on your bed in the most comfortable way you can (which I do regularly), in your home office, on your kitchen table, outside on the patio, or with you laptop popped open underneath a coconut tree on some exotic island somewhere.
You don’t have to stay in one place! You can work anywhere. It’s complete freedom.
At least it appears that way on the surface.
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 that only people who’ve experienced it will be able to nod and say, “Yep, 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 seems to work, however!
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 if you want to actually accomplish anything.
Once in a while, you can change your schedule or skip it completely, but there must be a basic setup in place where you schedule time to complete assignments.
For example, my typical workday 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 some lunch. Then I try to have a productive afternoon.
In the evening, I’ll often work for two hours from 7 until 9, depending on what needs to get done that day.
I try to take at least one complete day off per week, and some days I only work 2-3 hours in the whole day.
You need some type of a schedule or a plan; otherwise you’ll start wasting your time and never seem to 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 the home. Then your home becomes a restful place that you associate with relaxation and free-time.
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, not for watching TV, and definitely not for work!
In your home, ideally you would 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, another option and something that many entrepreneurs do is to rent an office outside of their home.
This kind of defeats the idea of working from home, but it still allows you to choose the days and hours you use the office space.
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.”
There’s something about having a hotel room with a desk away from all the distractions of home that can be an incredibly productive place. 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 and want to stretch out ever now and then.
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.
Going to the post office to do “normal” stuff can be just what you need to stretch your legs and get a bit of fresh air, 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 far outweigh the disadvantages. The freedom it provides me in my life is something that I’m not willing to trade for a desk job in an office somewhere else.
• Don’t think that working from home means you don’t need any discipline. In reality, 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 environments. 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. The fresh air is good for you!
• Plan some “play days” in your schedule. Ideally, in those days you should not touch your laptop or think about work at all. Don’t forget that you need a social life. Schedule social meetings and events in your calendar, and then go out and actually do them!
Remember that the best thing about working from home, the complete and total flexibility to work for yourself on your own time, can also be the biggest pitfall. Avoid that from happening by putting some basic structure into your schedule and you’ll be able to have your cake, and eat it, too.