I had fantasised about being able to work from home for over five years and after so many missed opportunities, finally managed to secure a home-based project for 2018. This was my dream come true (obviously shows how limited my ambitions are) and I can’t deny that it has been a wonderful one. But as all good things come to an end, I take stock of the past nine months and cobbled together these lessons learnt on how I tried to maximise my work from home experience.
A working space is vital
Whether it’s a small corner in the bedroom or a library of the family home, staking a professional territory is a must. We converted a guest room to my ‘study’ and I ensured that it was aesthetically delightful to me in every way. Vintage maps hang on the wall, an industrial type desk face the window, a bulletin board encased in pastel fabrics, quirky and colour coordinated stationery, favourite photos framed, my best rattan baskets and Ikat fabrics thrown over a mattress. It’s got to be a space that I can ‘nestle’ within, and be at peace to work on the laptop, prepare my weekly schedules, conduct Skype conference calls and generate my best ideas. It’s not possible to do a work from home scenario if you can’t orientate your work flow around a premise that pleases you.
The calendar and To Do lists are my best friends
In order to get me going, I personalised my calendar with our 2017 holiday photos for every month of the year. The risk about taking work from home projects is to let days slips past me without having fulfilled any concrete ambitions. This is easy to do if you are a dreamy personality, or prone to numbing anxiety if you don’t know what your schedule is like (as contradictory as this sounds, I possess both traits). But there must be a quarterly goal broken down into a monthly goal and further parsed into a weekly goal and it has to be visually displayed in the calendar in front of me so I always have it lingering around my consciousness. My worse months are when I’ve tried to avoid the calendar. The day has to begin with a To-Do list and conclude with evaluating how many can be ticked off. Basically, I am most effective when implementing the ‘Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan’ philosophy. If I don’t start the day with a To Do list, the chances of me achieving much by the end of the day are slim. Although it’s a rare day that I get to tick off all the goals of the day, but ticking 3 out of 6 is still preferable to not having completed any one definitive task.
These ‘props’ may seem obvious but when your ‘office’ is the comfort of your home, it somehow elevates in significance. There is neither a supervisor or a supervisee to remind you of the pressing issues on a daily basis but just your own thermometer of priorities. If you don’t keep making a conscious effort to stay focused on your long term goals and short term methods to get there, then you risk a last minute cardiac arrest when the deadlines are around the corner.
Mixing it Up
So even if my office rocks (as per Lesson 1) staying at home all day for more than 3 days can render me slightly disorientated. Most of my work from home colleagues agree – the positives of this gig is the flexibility, but the negatives is definitely the loneliness of working without a team. You don’t have someone to bounce ideas with you when you are in a mental knot, or giggle with if you’ve discovered something amusing. If you don’t have young children or a partner who is also spending 24/7 of his time home, you risk deteriorating into a junglie misfit scuffling around the home barefoot and with unkempt hair. Just to help me feel like I belong to society again, I sometimes need to work in a neighbourhood cafe where I dress up, order myself a cafe latte and work on my laptop for hours, somehow feeling protected by the chaos of a random social order. So lonely I have become that the sound of greeting waiters and strangers chattering with their friends are comforting to me.
A Reward List
And finally, this is required on a result basis. It doesn’t have to be some spectacular event or purchase but as trivial as spending more time grocery shopping, organising the pantry, taking photos of your hometown to capture daily life or buying a slightly kitsch looking piece of stationery. Then of course for the big successes you plan for bigger treats like a vacation or taking a class on a subject of your curiosity – whatever floats your boat. My enjoyable treats this year was to observe a professional Korean photographer at work, reunite with special friends around the world and explore various unseen neighbourhoods in my favourite cities simply to soak in the patina of daily life. But I guess I have to be honest and say that the biggest reward, was to be able to live in the comforts of my own home, in my home country and embrace a life of temporary stability with loved ones.