Getting the Right Things Done (Part 2)

The thing about working from home, is that you’re available. Or you seem available.

I’ve found this has massive advantages:

Packages can actually get delivered, rather than picked up at the depot.

I can arrange my monday morning schedule so that all the food shopping gets done in one go, at a quiet time of day, when the shelves are well stocked. And I’ll be in when they are delivered to our door.

I can take a friday off (to go to the Quilting Festival for example), and I don’t have to convince anyone to approve of me being allowed to do it.

This are huge things. Privilaged things, and I try hard to not take them for granted.

However there are also downsides:

I don’t make a huge amount of money.

I don’t have an actual boss looking over my shoulder, making me work harder to make sure I still have a job. (I construct my own bosses though – my clients for the web design side of things, and my customers and potential customers for Oxford Kitchen Yarns.)

I have to be self motivated to have a hope of getting anything done.

I have to do the jobs that I don’t like doing, or aren’t very good at, as well as the jobs that got me into these lines of work in the first place, since there is only me.

I am at home, and it’s hard convincing various people in my life that that doesn’t mean i’m just sitting in front of the tv, thinking about what bit of the house could do with a good vac. This means turning people down when they want to visit during the day, (though obviously it’s also nice to be able to have the flexibility to re-arrange things so that I *can* see some people occassionally.)

And turning people down, means saying no to people I really like, which I find really, really hard.

I mean, what if they need me?

So this bit in ‘One Clear Line‘ – part 3 of Making Time to Make really struck a nerve:

I think it’s critical to set reasonable expectations about how, when, and where people can expect to have authentic, honest-to-God contact with us, and here’s why: if you leave every channel open to everybody and anybody, all the time and without limit, you necessarily prevent yourself from ever stepping away from the fray for long enough to focus. You’ll never make the time that it takes to produce the sort of good work that theoretically made you so appealing in the first place.

And, perhaps as importantly, you also can never devote your undivided attention to the biped mammals who are breathing air in the room with you. Here. People. With faces and hands. Not “friends,” but friends. Real people. Because, if total focus on the known important stuff in your life has to battle with a never-ending doorbell attached to your brain, it’s hard for me to imagine how your work, or your family, or your sense of who you are, alone in a room without the ringing, can possibly thrive.

For me that means cutting corners, sometimes in the middle (even though that doesn’t make sense!) – external stuff takes up time, and life stuff takes up time (since I make sure to finish work at around the same time W does – we’ve spent far too many years commuting, and being ships that pass in the night as it is), and the thing that gives in the middle is how much work I (can) get done.

Which means there has been a gulf between ‘what I actually do’ and ‘what I want to do’.

And that is the thing I’m really addressing right now with all of this.

What I need is to learn skills that allow me to get into my ‘work head-space’ far more quickly, and efficiently. If I’m only going to get odd snatches of time with children around for the next few years, and I still want to continue these businesses (which I really, really do), then I have to work out how to make the most of the short periods of time when they appear.

(I already manage to do this with my knitting. Waiting for something to load/boil/finish/someone to be ready to leave the house – knit. Even if it’s for 2 minutes. That’s probably a row or two and it all adds up. Stuck on a bus – knit. etc etc. Of course knit is made for that. Work isn’t. But planning what needs doing – breaking down the elephant – might be. And armed with a list of manageable tasks at least I’d have a good reference of ‘things that need doing’ to work from.)

I still don’t have answers to the questions in this next quote. I’m not sure I will have the answers until after the baby is born. But I’m thinking about them now:

Decide what it means to be “available” versus “not available” at a given time. How long can your world tolerate your absence, and what does it look like when you re-surface? What needs to change in order to minimize stress and drama?

Mann suggests the working equivalent of a safe word, and the need to give at least someone the ability to punch through your ‘i’m working now’ space when they really need you. Obviously, for me that’s primarily going to be W. In my head it’s W with a hungry baby in his arms.  So flexibility is obviously going to play a huge part in this.

But that also encourages me not to take over everything – not to ‘show W how it’s done’ –  (Right, like I know any more than he does right now.) If we’re equally confident with the baby, then we can each take charge some of the time, and let the other person have a bit of space to pursue non-baby things.

So what does this mean for everyone else?

Well weirdly, I think it’s going to mean that some people actually hear more from me. If I set a small amount of time to – for example – read a handful of blog posts via googlereader, I’m more likely to comment on those posts then I ever was when I gave myself constant access to them.

If I give myself the last half hour of the day to deal with the emails that have come in, then responses will actually get written, rather than dithered and thought about, and put off till the next day because something else needs doing.  So I might actually seem far more around, and reach out far more often than I did before.

Which is a good thing. Obviously.

But I’m also going to have to say no to some people I really like.  Or rather I’m going to have to make phonecalls shorter, and re-arrange some of them entirely because I’m in the middle of something. I’m going to have to resist dropping everything the moment the external world asks me too, in the way I would if I were in an office, and couldn’t just take off for a hour in the middle of the afternoon.

And that’s going to be really hard, because I find it really hard, and I can’t blame it on my boss, or the way the company I work for opperates, because I’m the boss, and I’m the one who has to set the rules.

I’m going to have to have faith that I won’t just flat out piss people off. That actually they can cope just fine, and that they’ll understand.

And i’m going to have let go of the need to apologise for all of the hours I kept my friends on the phone, when I worked stupid hours at my old job, and was miserable, and just needed someone to complain to.

(I am really sorry though.)

And of course, when I’ve done all this, and given myself this extra work space, then I have to actually keep regularly throwing myself into that ‘work head-space’ and get a ton of work done. When you clear the decks, you’ve got to actually do something with them!

And that is both scary, and exciting. Let’s see what I can do…

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7 thoughts on “Getting the Right Things Done (Part 2)

  1. This post ‘series’ (well, series of two) and the articles you’ve linked to really resonate with me. I don’t work from home in the way you do, but I do find my time being sucked away by little computer-related tasks that somehow spread themselves over the whole day. I think I need to make some changes too! Thank you for posting about your experiences – it’s giving me much food for thought.

    1. Hi Rhian,

      thank you. i’m glad it was helpful. i feel like working through the ideas, and making the changes i talked about having made a difference. i mean – it’s not like everything is perfect it’s taken me a week to reply to your comment, for example! – but i don’t feel like i’m drowning in as much information, and the space for actual work has got bigger. (now i just need to get better at using it!)

  2. That is very interesting. I actually think that I work like you knit. And lots of things suffer (my knitting, sewing, cleaning my flat are the main ones) as a result. And as you know I’m continually trying to work out how I can achieve more with the time I have and with being as messy as I am and as interested in so many different things!

    I find myself using my commuting time a lot for working through work issues in my head and also planning blog posts etc. I actually think that a lot of the issues you mention are common problems even in office environments, I continually have to negotiate interuptions from my team, from friends (at work and from outside) wanting to meet for a cup of tea, from things I need to leave the office for (e.g. usually seeing J) and I similarly sometimes procrastinate over things that need some thought or I’m worried about. And sometimes I do get into a blocked phase which is all about procrastinating and worrying rather than actively tackling problems. I’m trying to have the confidence to sort things out, to take decisions even if they are wrong ones and not be an ostrich. (I have many big bird tendencies…) Not faffing is hard to achieve.

    I’m all about the breaking things down and planning and have quite good routines where i limit how much blog reading and ravelry to discreet times (first thing in morning mainly and around my lunchtimes) and I’ll about trying to get a work head space together otherwise its impossible to keep up.

    One thing I did when I changed jobs was to keep work email for work and personal email for personal. It means I do respond less frequently but actually has made it easier for working that is! Alloting clear time for work and for personal emails etc does really work. As you know I would rather not answer my mobile than speak to people if I don’t really have time to talk – it does mean that I do end up phoning lots of people back but I just feel more comfortable speaking to people when I have time to talk. This does mean that you are making yourself available and not available and sometimes turning your phone off!

    But I think the best thing to do is basically cut yourself some slack and not give yourself such a hard time as well. You do really well at managing your time, achieving things and moving things forward in a positive way – everyone can do things better. And I don’t think *anyone* would think that you were going to sit and watch TV – that is just bollocks. And I think you really really shouldn’t feel that anyone does think that – you run two businesses from home, on your own and that needs lots of motivation, time and confidence. I think your time management is excellent and it will always be difficult to balance work and home demands. Obviously this is always heightened when you have children but I think you’ll be just fine.

    (Apologies if this drivel comment doesn’t make any sense at all…)

  3. I think that after the baby comes things will kind of just happen as they will. I don’t think that you can plan until you know how the little one is!! I find that I have to have a routine … get up rush around as if I am getting ready for a normal job, make sure there is nothing to distract and work from a certain time to another. I am inherently lazy though and won’t work unless I really have too!!
    Remember to take care of yourself too. x

    1. Lin – Yeah, I think you’re totally right. I’m trying to prepare for something i’ve never done before, and with the unpredictability of the fact that this baby is a person, with their own personality, and likes and dislikes.

      which means there is only so much i can control.

      i think the removing of distractions when you *have* to work is what i’m trying to sort out. 🙂

      thanks. *hug*

  4. I can certainly sympathize with your situation–I’ve been through the same things, though in a different order. I started working from home after my sons were a little older (3 and 5). When my boys were born, I was working in an office–but I still had to struggle with trying to minimize the interruptions from coworkers and phone calls and emails. Now they’re a little older and I’m working from home, and I still struggle to get everything done I want to, but I’m definitely getting better at it!

    It’s a natural thing to worry about how it’s all going to change once the baby comes, and to be concerned about how on earth you’ll get everything done. But somehow, you do. Once the baby comes and you learn about his/her personality and habits–and how your schedule and the baby’s interact–you’ll develop your own rhythm. You won’t get everything done–but you’ll learn what’s really essential and what can drop by the wayside. It won’t be easy at times, but you’ll find your path.

    1. Tracy – thank you so much! that’s incredibly reassuring.

      i’m trying to set things up now (both physically in my life, and in my head), to be as flexible as possible.

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