Last weekend, Margaret and I took our son to Sears to get family portraits. We did it last year when he was five months old and thought it would be nice to do it again this year – these family traditions have to start somehow, right?
Of course, the only thing I really remembered about last year was that the pictures turned out great:

Anthony and his son

Cute, right?

I forgot the day before hunting for appropriate clothes that would actually fit my massive child or the two hour dash to get dressed and coral everyone to the mall, or the fact that he’s now 17 months, not 5 months and is not nearly as entertained by the funny noises the photographer makes when trying to get him to smile.
The pictures turned out good, though there are a few true gems with the full blown lower lip on display. But it reminded me once more how hard it is to manage the weekend when you work at home. I spent most of Saturday wondering why I hadn’t done all of this earlier in the week and by the end of Sunday half of my chores had been forgotten or set aside – not in a bad way, but heck, I wanted to get more done.
The problem of course is that when you work at home, you’re not at home, but no matter how long you work this kind of gig, it’s nearly impossible to think of it as work. When you go to an office, you’re at work. Unless a child goes to the hospital or someone gets sick, you can’t leave work to help out. You are at work.
At home, I’m available and I find it hard to walk away from tasks that need doing or help that needs offered.

The Stuff on Your To Do List

Which brings me to the to do list. I have one that almost never seems to shrink. Any given day I have dozens of “home” tasks to complete – put in quotations because, to be perfectly honest, I’m almost always home. I take off early a couple times a week to spend the afternoon with my son, I go to doctor’s appointments when I can and I run interference if someone needs to talk to any of the other adults in the house.
So, I’ve come up with a few simple tricks to create some semblance of distance between the stuff I do on the weekend and the stuff I do while working:

  • Separate Space – The easiest strategy in my playbook is to separate where you work from where you relax. In Brooklyn we had two rooms so this was hard. I ended spending a lot of time at Starbucks and eventually paid for office space. Now I work in my office and while it’s a pretty cool space, I avoid going up there for anything but work. I also avoid working on my couch or in front of the TV, because then when I actually finish working, it’s a pain in the ass to relax.
  • Separate To Do Lists – Don’t put home tasks on the same to do list as your work tasks. The boundaries between the two start to blur too much when you do this. Keep them separate and make sure the times for doing both are separate too.
  • Separate Time at Night – If you have chores to do at night, set aside time a couple hours after you finish work. Be done working, eat dinner, spend time with your family and then do whatever household chores you have. This can be done in reverse too if it makes more sense to do those chores in the morning.
  • Grow a Garden – Find a subset of chores that is as far removed from your work as possible. For me this is the garden we started in the back yard last year. Two small plots of 4×4 gardens where we grew tomatoes, squash, basil and peppers and where I spent between 15 minutes and an hour every day very much NOT thinking about work (thank you Stuff You Should Know podcasts).

This is what works for me. For a long time, I had “rent an office” on that list but with the new house I’ve been able to stay home and enjoy the attic and basement in which I work.
If you’re having trouble separating the space and getting chores done on the weekend without thinking about your work tasks (the computer’s just upstairs, right?) then give any of the above a shot.
Any other strategies or tips you use to separate work and home life? What about obstacles that you can’t quite overcome? Share in the comments below!