Staying Balanced and Productive

It’s been a challenging stretch of time lately the past few weeks.   I have been reading plenty of articles lately by professionals, bloggers, and colleagues about how they always feel pressed for time, and finding balance in life, while staying productive is a big challenge.   Most of these folks are fortunate to work from home, and unfortunate at the same time.

I wouldn’t change my situation for a bit, so as to not give the wrong idea.  Working from home is a blessing that has allowed me to mostly do what I want professionally, and to have the flexibility to be a more “at-home” parent to my son, and to have more time for family.

That being said, my number one, most gargantuan, Godzilla-like challenge that I consistently face by working from home is defending my worktime boundaries, which is limited as is.

From the time I sit down to my desk in the morning, to the time I pick up my son from school, it is already a comparatively short work day (school lets out at 2:30).   After that after-school point, all bets are off with getting anything done.  Kid-time and work-time are like ammonia and bleach – pretty incompatible.

I am not a night or evening worker either.  I have never been one to be a late-night hunchback over my computer, screen glowing against my tired eyes.   I can’t do it, mostly because it takes a few hours for me to turn my brain off enough to be able to sleep well.   I am also one of those that if I don’t get enough “Z-time” I am an unproductive mess the next day.  It’s an unfortunate part of my personal programming.

Therefore, from 8:30 until just after 2pm, it’s a mad-dash for me to produce.  It is all I can do to answer the steady flow of emails coming in (my inbox today has over 1000 emails in it), or to look at contributions from other writers, social network with other experts, and it’s everything I can do to carve out enough quiet time to actually produce something meaningful to add to my sites.

I don’t take more than a few minutes off here and there during that time to eat a few bites, or to get a quick run in (exercise..another essential part of my productivity and programming that is non-negotiable).

I’ve been getting cranky lately with unsolicited or uninvited ‘drop-bys’ during my work time, or requests to participate in unnecessary “mandatory fun” as my wife calls it.   Door-to-door salespeople who ignore my ‘no soliciting’ signs are a disruption to my concentration equivalent to a meteorite crashing through my window.

My family, and my good friends are respectful, so I am thankful for that.   Many of my good friends work from home too, so they understand.

This is not my saying that I don’t care for other people’s company, or that I don’t appreciate spending time with others.  Quite the contrary, but there are boundaries, and my boundaries seem to be a bit more blurry than for those of someone who works a corporate job at an office building somewhere.

I would never imagine or even think about ‘dropping by’ someone else’s workplace without advance notice or invitation, so why is it different for someone who works from home?   Yes, I wear shorts and a t-shirt to ‘work’ and may present a more casual outlook to my day-to-day obligations, but really, it is as serious to me as it gets.

I am starting to learn a few things about this working-from-home gig.  I have not mastered it by any means, but some things that I am starting to do are essential.   It may make me look like a horse’s patootey to some people, but I have no choice.

Firstly, I am learning to turn off my phone’s ringer for several hours during the day.  There’s really nothing so urgent that I can’t carve out a few hours without chit-chat.  In the case of a real emergency, people know how to get a hold of me if they need to.

Secondly, if I have a project needing focus and concentration, I will close my e-mail programs and clients.  Again, it’s a distraction, and I can answer them when I am done.

Thirdly, I try to clean the house the night before as much as possible.  I have a hard time walking past a pile of dirty dishes, and saying to myself that I can do it later.   It drives me nuts, so I’d rather make it a non-issue the night before.

What I haven’t mastered is defending my boundaries when they are being crossed.  I am working on it, but I still have a ways to go.

In the meantime, from 8:30am until 2:30pm Monday through Friday, don’t have any high hopes of seeing me out in the world.   My inbox is growing faster than my available minutes.    For that, I see no solution in the near future.