/ home office

Reflections on one week out of the home office

It's been almost two years that I've worked out of my house, and I've just recently moved back out into an office.  "Why?", you may well ask.  Sites like Zen Habits and Lifehacker extol the virtues of telecommuting.  And, indeed, I am one of the rare and privileged few who can do my job entirely from home.

Why then, would I want to move out?  I have a few reasons, but the main thing is that it's been a positive change to my daily routine.  I am not, by nature, an extremely disciplined person (still learning) and, with the main office on the West Coast and me three hours ahead on the East, it became far too easy to slip into a pattern of sleeping in until 10, working through the afternoon, taking a little time for dinner with the family, and then staying up late to finish the day's work.  Kinda sloppy, in my opinion -- I ignored the sage advice to set a schedule for my work, set definite office hours and stick to them.  For one thing, I have a hard thing getting up early if all I have to do is go across the hall and sit down at my computer to get to work.

I have been, and am growing out of, a habit of intense procrastination.  Procrastination served me well in high school, because I knew that no matter how much I slacked off, I could always get everything done at the last minute.  In college, this didn't work so well, and in real life, it works not at all.  In fact, when working from home, the ease of going to work became another way to procrastinate: well, I can take a few more minutes for breakfast, do a couple more chores, then I'll be really ready to sit down and work.  At least, that's what I told myself.

Also, I have three small children and a wife at home, so there's a whole cabin fever aspect going on when I  work at home every single day.

In any case, simply placing the tools that I need for my work 6 miles away has been a huge relief to my mind.  Last week, after setting up my computer at the office and going home, I felt a burden lift from my shoulders.  "Aha," I said, "I'm off work!"  I can't overstate the psychological benefits of this, especially as a system administrator who is frequently on call  and, as of late, frequently called by a miscreant server.

The second unexpected benefit I experienced was that I could suddenly get up early again.  Something about the way I'm wired makes it so that if I have to get up and travel somewhere, I can inevitably get up with plenty of time to get prepared and get there.  I've gotten up at 5 almost every day this week and been into work by 6.  The added hours to each day have done untold good for my mental health.  Five in the morning is quite early, I realize, but, as my primary mode of transportation is a sporty old road bike and the local heat hits 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity by about 10 AM this time of year, it's best that I get my rear end out the door before too late in the morning.

I noticed, also, that I have a better sense of how much time that I spend working.  Having no set hours when I worked from home, I always had a sense of, "I could go work on that right now," which, for some reason was enough for my brain to feel like it had accomplished something, when it really hadn't.  I track my time on a timesheet, which gives me a numeric/analytical sense of the time I spent each week but, being out of the house, I really get a sense of how long I've been gone, and I'm eager to get home and spend time with my wife and kids.  I'm starting to re-realize the value of time with them, not just time when we're physically proximal, but time where my mind is disengaged from work and I'm free to pay attention and express my love for them.

It struck me, at one point last week, where one of my co-workers said, during a server emergency, "sucks that you have to go into an office," the real professional value of an office.  Not that professional people don't work from home, and do an excellent job.  For me, there's something intangible that gives my work more legitimacy.  Working in an office, away from the pressures of home life, says to me, "I'm serious about what I do for a living," in a very stupid and physical way.  Staying up all night to finish the critical project that evening, and then driving home in the morning, I felt a supreme sense of accomplishment and, something I've missed for too long -- a sense of coming home for which there is no substitute.

Meanwhile, having completed my work in four days, instead of five or six as has been my habit, I can sit at home on the couch and write an early morning blog post while my daughter sits next to me and plays with my iPhone.  In a minute I'll be making us all waffles and bacon, then kicking back to enjoy them with a frosty glass of OJ and to bask in my new-found love of home.