Friday, October 26, 2007

Working From Home a Challenge

There are a lot of things I don’t know for sure in this life. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to grocery shop on the moon (my second grade teacher swore to my class that we would some day), I don’t know if I’ll ever figure out how to boogie board (I nearly drowned last time and made a lifeguard fall out of his chair he was laughing so hard), and I can’t say for sure if I’ll ever understand how Billy Mays got a job selling anything (why is he always yelling?)

But here is one thing I know for sure: As soon as my butt hits the chair in my home office, I will have visitors. And let me be clear on this: I can sneak to the office with all the stealth of a Navy SEAL on a top-secret mission, and somehow a red alert goes out: “Attention, attention: Anita Bruzzese is now in her office attempting to get something done. Stop her at all costs. Repeat: Stop her at all costs.”

So the dog and two cats appear, dumping over the trash, barfing up something they should not have eaten, and scrambling to lie on the computer keyboard, my lap or whatever papers I need, all the while drooling and shedding and panting and meowing.

But should I finally manage to contain the four-legged animals, the two-legged ones soon take up the challenge.

It begins with breathing.

They know I can hear them breathing. They don’t say anything, because I made it a rule a long time ago that unless someone was on fire or Publisher’s Clearinghouse was at the door, they are to leave me alone. So they breathe until I can’t stand it and I look up.

There stands one of the males in my family, who has lost a shoe, a school paper, a computer game, his appendix…something. Something that only a female (that would be me) can find. Like…right now.

Once I get that settled, then the technological interruptions begin. There is the e-mail from someone at a bank branch in Nigeria telling me that there is an identity theft and I need to contact them right away with all my vital information to make sure everything is secure (yeah, right). This is followed by the fundraising phone call from the Fraternal Order of Canadian Geese Police; the neighbor wanting to know if we’re having trouble with moles; and the movie rental store informing us we have five movies that are six weeks overdue (oh, crap).

The reason I’m sharing all this (other than to make you feel way better about your own situation), is that I understand how tough it is to work from home without interruptions . So far, most people I know who do it successfully work at 3 a.m. when everyone else is sleeping. Since I like to be one of those people sleeping at 3 a.m., I’ve put together a list of suggestions from experts and work-at-home warriors who swear these ideas can work. I’ll let you choose which ones might help you, and hope you’ll add some of your own to share with readers of this blog:

1. Run it up the flagpole. Turn on a certain lamp or use some other sign like a sock on the door handle (kind of different from the old college days, huh) to let others know that you’re working and you don’t want to be interrupted unless it’s that Publisher’s Clearinghouse thing, or something else really important.
2. Turn off the e-mail. Some people break out in hives if they can’t check e-mail fairly often, so tell yourself nothing earth-shattering can happen in 30 minutes, and only check it every half hour. Gradually wean yourself to checking it only once an hour. Promise yourself you will answer no personal e-mails while you’re working except after an hour’s worth of honest labor.
3. Organize your space. For some reason, home offices often are an afterthought. Instead, make it a priority. Put together an organized, dedicated space where you can work, out of the line of heavy traffic and noise. I know one man who found the solace he wanted in the basement workshop. His daughters hated the spiders that could be found down there, so they left him alone. The hum of the furnace provided some white-out noise to let him concentrate, and he was able to keep all his files in once place without fear they’d get lost in the hustle and bustle of a busy family.
4. Screen your calls. As much as you would like to chat with a friend or family member, don’t interrupt your work time. Schedule a break and use that time to return calls that are important and return the others when you have time after the work is done. If you’ve decided to work specific hours, let others know. It doesn’t always mean they’ll respect them, but it will make it easier for you to ignore the phone or the doorbell.
5. Put on blinders. This one is tough. You cannot look around too much when you’re working from home or you’ll notice the dishwasher that needs unloading or a new magazine you want to read. Many things will seem much more important than that pesky old report due for the boss tomorrow, so you’ve got to stay focused on what you need to get done.
6. Schedule breaks. I can’t stress enough that even though you’re working from home, it’s still home. That means you need to take breaks and toss the football with the kids, have coffee with your significant other or just put your feet up and read that favorite magazine for a while. It’s important that your home is a place to recharge your batteries and maintain a sense of balance.


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