Wednesday, March 31, 2010

When Your Personal Life Intrudes On Work

I work from home. Which gives me tremendous freedom--the freedom to travel and visit friends all over the world, get things done during the day, and organize my time the way I see fit. Well...kinda. The truth is that while the freelance way of life looks like it's 100% flexible all the time, those of us who are in it know that it isn't as free as it looks. Even so, friends and family members who come from the nine-to-five lifestyle see unfettered freedom in our lives--and sometimes look to take advantage.

I've had a boyfriend sign me up to drive a friend to the airport in the middle of a workday with a big deadline looming, because "I'd be home anyway." I've often been expected to pick up the slack for chores, housework and errands because I work from home.

And it can be even worse when it comes to travel or visits. I love to have visitors, and I love to travel. But when friends and relatives come to visit at a time when you can't take off, they often don't understand that you have to work and they might have to entertain themselves for some time during the day. If you had to physically go to an office, that would be one thing. But I've been in situations before where friends might have felt a little hurt because they thought I had more freedom to take time off whenever I wanted--and the timing just didn't work for me.

Full-time workers often get paid vacation time, as well--and might not fully grasp that when you take time off, you take an earnings hit. I've done many working vacations where I've had to juggle work and fun on a trip, along with others who were really on vacation. This worked out fine in some cases--especially with a bunch of late risers, where I can get up early and get most of my work done before lunch. But sometimes it's caused tension. I've learned that working vacations go much more smoothly when you're on your own and can set your own schedule.

These things have to be handled delicately. Sometimes getting out of the house--on any excuse--is a good way to draw boundaries. If friends and family see you're not home, they'll be less likely to try to distract you from work. How do you draw your boundaries?


Unknown said...

Been there, done this, will be doing it next week! I have out-of-towners coming for ten days. I have to work because the deadlines are there. That's life. I'll entertain when I can. They understand, thankfully. One of them has had a remote career for decades. That helps!

Short Poems said...

True talk :)

Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

I started at home with making sure my kids understand that I spend a lot of time, at any time of day, working. They're old enough (10 and 6) to understand that if they want something they may have to wait. Thankfully, working from home also gives me the freedom to be able to see to their needs and know that I can come back to what I need to finish with my work when their needs have been met.

One way I handle phone interruptions (particularly from a sister who calls from her work during work hours because it doesn't cost "her" to make the call), is to have an answering machine which takes the call but lets me hear the message being left. It's a good way to filter out which calls I'll take and which ones I won't.

Sometimes it's all one big juggling act. Last weekend I spent the weekend away. I expected to be able to spend some of that time away working but when I wasn't able to get a good enough internet connection I had to give myself permission to choose NOT to work. I knew I'd have to make up for that downtime at the start of the week when I was working from home again.

AnnaLisa Michalski said...

I've been lucky so far. Every time I've made vacation plans (granted, we're talking 4- or 5-day weekends here, not extended trips), I've been able to work ahead so my work is done before I leave. With houseguests, I try to schedule ahead if I can. If I can't, it's not too big a deal. I generally work very early and very early hours anyway, with the middle of the day open, so it doesn't take much shuffling to get the work done without cutting into visiting time. Having a laptop instead of a desktop helps, too--easy to slip away and lock myself out of the center of things if I need to.

I agree with Rebecca. The phone can be a bigger intruder than live people. My number is programmed only to ring during certain hours. All the rest of the time, it goes directly to voice mail.

Jennifer Williamson said...

@Lori: It definitely helps when others get your lifestyle--especially when they've worked remotely themselves. Hope the visits went smoothly!

@Rebecca--Gotta love those friends and relatives who call during the day. I have a few good friends who work nights or who are stay-at-home moms. I love to chat with them, but when it turns into hour-long conversations it can hurt productivity. Call screening helps.

@AnnaLisa: I've been known to turn my phone off when I really need the time to work--it does help.