Working From Home

by Randy Murray on April 22, 2013

For most of my professional life I worked in offices, commuting around the top half of the city of Columbus, but for the past three years, as a professional business writer, I’ve worked from home.

I love it.

But it’s clear that this is not for everyone. I have over twenty five years experience practicing how to work, so it’s not difficult for me to work at home.

There’s rarely anyone here, just me and the cats. That makes it ideal for my type of work: thinking and writing. And although I do, on occasion, miss the companionship and social interaction of office life, I can always meet colleagues for lunch or meetings or fire up Twitter to connect with others.

If you plan on working at home I have some recommendations, things that I find help me focus to and remain highly productive.

*You need an office.* My wife Diane and I have always made a space in our homes for me to work and write. We’ve called it a den or an office, but from very early on we made a joint decision that I needed a space to work. For many years it was mainly for my creative work, a place for the typewriter and then the computer, a few hundred of my books (the others, hundreds more, are located throughout the house), but most of all a place for me to think, write, and work.

For the past three years this space has truly become my office. I don’t feel like I’m “working from home.” I’m in my office. When there’s work to do, that’s where I work, mostly. I have everything I need here, but I also have a window that I can open when the weather is good. I can step away, but I work in this office, and this space and this mindset help to keep me on task, to limit the distractions.

It also helps for me to make sure that my office doesn’t become an overflow space for storage or for other people’s activities and projects. I try to help them have their own spaces. My space, my office, is where I work. If I had to, I could work in a corner of a small apartment. I can and have worked in cafes and airports. But my office helps me to put on my mental work clothes and get things done. It’s a valuable part of my productivity plan.

*You need a schedule.* Every weekday morning I get up, make breakfast for myself and my wife, hers packed for her to take with her as she leaves for work. After breakfast I dress and pour myself a first cup of coffee and head upstairs to my office. I’m typically seated at my desk no later than 7:15 A.M. And after checking email and a few things, it’s time to work.

This predicable, regular schedule helps me get a lot of work done. It’s something that I control. I also schedule client meetings for later in the mornings or during afternoons so I can have this early time to work.

Usually by 11 I’m ready to stop my morning work, go down to our home gym, and work out, followed by lunch and some reading. By 1 I’m ready to head back up, and typically finish my work no later than 4 P.M. I know that I’m lucky and that I don’t put in 8-12 hour days any longer, but 4-6 hours of solid writing is a lot of work. I can write more really good copy in that time than many people, even other professional writers, can produce in a week.

At 4 it’s time for chores, maybe some more reading, and when my wife returns from her work I’m ready to cook dinner and relax. If there’s more work to do, I’m back to the desk at 7, but I’m free to decide about that.

*You need to take breaks.* There are dangers specific to working at home. While many managers fear that remote employees won’t work enough, there’s a greater danger that they will work too much.

I’ve recently had to go to physical therapy for pain and problems with my shoulders and back, all from sitting and writing too much. I hear similar problems from others. I’ve had to work hard to force myself to take breaks, to move about, and to change how I sit and work (I’m considering a standing desk, too). I plan on breaks. I take not only bathroom breaks, but also a break to walk around, to use the yoga ball and help my aching back, and just to look out the window or visit the cats.

The things that I dislike about working in an office with others are some of the things that make it healthier. The distractions, the need to move about, are actually good for you to some degree. When you work at home you need to give yourself permission to take breaks, go outside, do a chore or two, even run errands. Your breaks will keep you healthier and improve your mental alertness.

I have a lot of potential distractions here at home, including a lovely sunroom and a full movie theater. But I rarely watch a move by myself and I limit my time in the sunroom to my after lunch reading or at the end of the day. I should do more of both. I think I’d do better work if I permitted myself more breaks, longer ones, and better recognition of when I don’t need to be working at all.

*You need to protect your time.* When others learn that you work from home there’s a strong temptation for them to ask you to do things for them. It’s like owning a pickup truck and finding that you now are everyone’s private mover. You need to make this clear to everyone: there’s a big difference between working from home and being retired. I sometimes joke that I’m retired, but the fact of the matter is that I’m very busy and have a lot of client demands on my time. I make more money working from home than I could working an office job. It’s OK for others to ask for your help and it’s OK for you to say you’ll provide that help, but you need to make it clear that you work and that your time is important to your ability to make a living.

*You need to establish clear boundaries with clients.* Clients can sometime come to think of freelance consultants like myself as being unlimited resources at their beck and call all hours of the day or night. I’ve found the best way to work with clients is to keep your hourly rate very high, high enough that they don’t abuse your time, but not so high that they don’t send you work. Think of it like working with a lawyer. You don’t do small talk with your lawyer. They’re billing you for every minute on the phone. I’m the same way. I’m happy to talk about your summer vacation, but I’m billing you for it.

*You need to know when to go outside.* One of the great pleasures of working at home is the ability for you to leave your office and go outside. I have a shaded, private back yard and there’s a park across the street. I don’t get over there enough. Nature, for me, is rejuvenating. I started my life growing up on a farm and I came to greatly dislike the hard, dirty work of farm life. I committed myself to going to college and getting a job indoors. But now I find myself looking forward to the time I can spend outdoors, even if it’s just to water the plants and pull a few weeds. When I look up to find I’ve spent that whole day inside the house, not even taking the time to fetch the mail, I know I’ve been working too hard and it’s time to stop and go outside.

*You need to stop working when the work is done.* It’s 2 P.M. on a Wednesday afternoon and you’ve finished your projects planned for the day. What should you do? I look ahead to make sure everything coming up soon is on track, then I call it day. That’s part of the reward of working from home. When my work is done, so am I. Back it up, shut things down, and get on with living. When you do that for the first time there’s such a relaxing realization that it’s hard to see how you ever worked any other way.

You don’t need to feel guilty about not working. Your work is done, so stop and enjoy yourself. This may be difficult to imagine, especially for those who are just starting a freelance career, but for those who work remotely or for those of us who have busy freelance businesses, knowing when to stop working, even taking a few days off, is an essential benefit. I recently took two days off to help my daughter move and I’m taking off the bulk of three weeks for family vacations and travel starting at the end of this month. It’s a great benefit to be able to do this.

Here’s the key question to ask yourself: is working from home better than working in an office? You’ll have to try it to find out. I get more done working from home that I ever did working in a business office, even when working many more hours. It’s a great way for me to work. If you’ve not tried it, take the steps to set up an office and negotiate with your work or yourself to work just a few hours a week this way. I find it not only a remarkable freedom, but also the most productive way for me to work. Perhaps you’ll discover the same things.

Originally published in the Read & Trust newsletter.

The Working From Home by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Leslie April 23, 2013 at 1:22 am

My whole life family and friends all worked in business settings. I’ve never personally known anyone who worked from home. As I read your article, I realized I’ve never felt as though working from home was a legitimate choice and had no idea how to do it well.

I often felt like a caged animal in the conventional office setting. I’m realizing that it’s not that I don’t like to work and be productive, because I do, but I want it to be on my terms. To be able to open a window, feel the breeze, hear the sounds outside. I want to be able to take a mid-day break some days and go for a run or work until late at night should I get a second wind on other days. I don’t want to be constantly interrupted by ringing phones and distracted by and drawn into office politics. I just want to do my job and do it well. I’m good at getting out and staying connected with people, so I don’t need the structure of the typical office setting to get that.

Your recommendations make working from home seem so easy and doable and practical, too. Thank you for the framework I’m going to use to make working at home be successful for me going forward. I really appreciate you sharing this information.

I have to say if I had a “lovely sunroom” in my home, that would definitely become my office. I guess in your case your wife might have thing or two to say about that.


Randy Murray April 23, 2013 at 7:17 am

It’s a great room, but it’s definitely a family area and I respect that.

Good luck to you. I find my home office to be the most productive that I’ve ever had.


Dave Rutledge April 23, 2013 at 3:24 pm

It’s interesting to read your recommendations separate from the home vs work discussion and consider what people at (any relatively progressive) workplace can do.

We all work on laptops, and there are plenty of terraces, coffee shops, and couches around. Even if you’re not home, you can take breaks, schedule meetings in interesting places, and even go home early the odd day or two you’ve finished up the tasks and meetings before it’s technically “end of day.”


Randy Murray April 24, 2013 at 8:45 am

All good. Except for the “going in and going home” bit. For me, my commute is going up one flight of stairs.

And the “relatively progressive” part. Looking around I find very few of those. It remains, for the most part, cubical farms as far as the eye can see.


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