When I finished college, I had a dream of doing it my own way.
It wasn’t a particularly detailed dream. I’d never worked a corporate job, and I didn’t have a family, so my vision was mostly of sitting on the couch and watching baseball while working – with ample breaks for Civilization and Mario Kart.
And it was glorious.
But things changed quickly. What started as a viable replacement for my college job in the deli, soon became a career. As my client portfolio grew and my businesses sprouted from those contracts, I took my work more seriously.
I setup a home office space, carved out dedicated hours every day in which to work, and maintained meticulous schedules. The difficulties associated with working at home are very real. It’s way too easy to get lazy and relax.
The natural next question, then, was what I should do about it.
Do I keep working at home, especially with two small children, or do I rent an office space and manufacture a commute to keep myself on task? It’s a common question for a lot of freelancers and consultants, and there’s no simple answer.
The Risk of Working at Home
Working at home is fantastic. I get to walk my kids to school, have ample flexibility in when I start working, and am done before 5 almost every day of the week.
At the same time, I have a problem very common to people who work at home – the line between work and home gets very blurry very easily. It’s truly challenging at times to turn things off, separate myself from my computer and go into “home” mode.
This is especially true when working on a side project.
I run a pair of podcasts about board games with some friends, and if I don’t leave ample buffer between work-work and work-fun, it’s hard to get excited about sitting down at my desk – the same place I spend 9 hours a day working – and record a podcast.
I have to be incredibly strict about my schedule too.
That freedom to relax and start later is a dangerous one – it’s very easy to spend an extra 20-30 minutes on the couch when eating lunch, or to watch a day-baseball game, simply because I can. Every year I struggle through the baseball playoffs and the NCAA tournament early rounds – a full block of day games that I can plop down in front of with my laptop.
And it’s stressful because I fall behind fast.
If you’re reading this from your cubicle or on a train to work, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now. First world problems, right?
But these are important things to keep in mind, and I forgot about them to be honest when I was working in an office for several years in Manhattan. At a dedicated desk 40 minutes from home, you don’t have much to do BUT work. At home, there are a hundred possible distractions. And if you don’t fight back against them, less work gets done, and revenue suffers.
It’s a real risk. One I can’t afford.
When an Office Isn’t the Right Fit
So, the answer is clearly a dedicated office space, right?
Not so fast.
The thing about an office space is that it replicates all the things you worked so hard to get away from. The structure, the sterile background, the distractions from coworkers. It’s all there.
And what I’ve found is that working in an office for 8 hours a day instead of at home shortens my day sharply. I have the same amount of work to do no matter where I do it, but adding in 30 minutes of commute, and 30+ minutes to track down lunch, plus the time spent chatting with colleagues, I lose somewhere between 1-2 hours a day of productivity.
Some days, I don’t mind. It’s nice to have people to talk to, especially after sitting at home for days or weeks working alone. But other days, those hours come out of my time with the kids or the short couple of hours of time at the end of the day relaxing.
It’s a dangerous game you play when you stretch your day out like this.
So, What’s the Answer?
If you haven’t guessed by now, I don’t have a single answer for you. This article is almost entirely anecdotal, because in my opinion, this is a very personal decision.
Some people are extremely productive when they work alone in a comfortable space. Others thrive when surrounded by people and within the structure of a daily commute. Others still find solace in the low hum of a local coffee shop.
Your work habits will dictate what makes the most sense.
What I will say, though, is this:
- Pay close attention to your productivity and adjust to match. Don’t build your day around some productivity guru’s recommendations. Do what works for you.
- Mix things up a bit. I currently pay $100/month for a flex space at a local shared office. This allows me the option to get away and spend time out of the house, with the commute built in (on my bike when the weather allows for it), but without a crazy high price that’s hard to justify when I decide I’d rather stay home.
- Socialize as much as you are comfortable. Sitting alone isn’t good for anyone, even the introverts out there. Spend a few hours a week in a space with other people working together. This might be an anonymous space like your local library or coffee shop, or something more structured like an office, but don’t sit at home all week. It’s not healthy.
What about you? What’s your favorite place to work, and what type of structure do you need in your day to stay as organized as possible?
Also published on Medium.