Working from home has all sorts of benefits. You don’t have to commute, you can probably work in your pajamas (if you want to), and you have much more flexibility than someone in a traditional office job.
But those perks come with some potential traps. Simply being at home offers its own set of distractions and potential dangers. It’s easy to lose focus when all of your stuff is just a few steps away. On top of that, people who work at home can easily be taken advantage of by well-meaning family and friends who unintentionally associate workplace flexibility with the ability to do whatever you want.
To succeed as a home-based worker, you need to avoid a number of traps. This means setting rules and making it clear that just because you’re not going into an office does not mean you’re not working.
1. The “you’re home anyway” trap
Working from home makes it very easy to do things during the workday that those who commute need to take time off for. It’s great to be able to let the electrician in or schedule a visit from your plumber. It’s also not a big deal to sign for a delivery or grab a package off the porch.
There’s a fine line between something small — like opening a door to sign for a delivery — and being taken advantage of. Yes, you’re home, and that might save your family from an after-school child care expense. It does not mean, however, that your workday ends when the school day does, or that you can become a tutor/playmate/chauffeur for your children.
It’s great to be home when your kids get home from school, but that does not mean you’re free to do whatever they need. You might need to hire someone to pick kids up from a bus stop or to watch them while you keep working.
That’s not selfish or wasteful. It’s no different from what you would do if you worked in an office. The same thing applies to relatives who want a ride to the airport or who assume that you’re available during the day. Lay down the law: Explain that just because you work at home does not mean you’re not working.
2. The “distractions” trap
As a work-from-hone writer, I have near-total flexibility. I can take a break pretty much whenever I want, and that’s a potential trap.
My home/office is a short elevator ride to our building’s pool and gym. It’s also only about two miles to the beach, and on a sunny day, it’s hard to not consider putting down my laptop and heading to the ocean.
I do allow myself those sort of breaks, but only after I hit designated work goals. Instead of allowing distractions to take away from my workday, I use them as motivation, allowing myself to partake only when I finish certain tasks.
3. The “flexibility” trap
Some work-from-home jobs follow normal office hours. Mine does not. I can come and go as I please and more or less work as much or as little as I want. This, as you might imagine, can make it easy to push work down the road. I’ve certainly promised myself I’d do more tomorrow so I can go to a theme park with friends today.
This can be both a curse and a blessing. Making flexibility a positive requires discipline. It’s fine to pursue fun today if you can actually hold yourself accountable tomorrow. That’s not easy, but if you set clear work goals, you can have all the fun you want as long as you force yourself to do the work that’s needed (even if that means late nights and weekends).
It’s about discipline
To quote Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Working from home can be wonderful. Not having to commute adds time to your day. And if you’re lucky enough to have flexible hours, things get even better.
But to make that work, you need to be able to hold yourself accountable. That means setting goals, adhering to deadlines, and making sure that flexibility does not become irresponsibility.
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