No, I Can’t Walk Your Dog: How to Overcome the Challenges of Working From Home


If I had a nickel for every time someone assumed that because I work from home I don’t have a “real” job, I could retire. Family and friends call and are surprised that I can’t drop everything and chat. Perhaps neighbors want you to walk their dog or pick their children up from school. I’ve even had people hum the Bachman Turner Overdrive song, “Taking Care of Business,” which includes this line:

“Look at me I’m self-employed, I love to work at nothing all day.”

Whether you are self-employed or you telecommute for your employer one or more days a week, working from home can be a challenge. And it’s not only that people assume you aren’t working. Absent the distractions of an office you share with others, you may be tempted to do nothing but work. Or as B.T.O. sang: “I’ve been taking care of business (it’s all mine); taking care of business and working overtime.”

1 in 5 Work from Home

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 24 percent of employed people did some or all of their work from home in 2015. Moreover, research finds that the vast majority of us—80 percent to 90 percent—would like to do so. Since 2010, when Congress passed the Telework Enhancement Act, the number of federal employees who take advantage of the opportunity to work from home continues to rise, and those who telework report being more satisfied with their job than those who don’t.

Tips for Success

Whether you are self-employed or you work from home one or two days a week, what are the keys to success? The most important thing to remember is to do what works best for you. With that in mind, here are my top five tips:

  1. Set up a dedicated work space. I work from a spare bedroom; you may use a corner of your living room. Wherever you choose to work, be certain you can leave things set up—you don’t want to waste time reorganizing the space every time you need to work. Be aware of ergonomics—have a supportive chair and a place to set your keyboard that doesn’t strain your arms and wrists. Consider a standing or treadmill desk to alleviate the strain of sitting all day.
  1. Establish a routine. Before heading into my office each morning, I shower, get dressed, and make my bed. I didn’t used to be a bed maker, but I find the little bit of extra time it takes keeps me from diving headlong into work. (Fun fact: 59 percent of adults don’t make their beds, but those who do report being happier). You might watch the morning news, have a cup of coffee, or take a walk—all things that give you time to get in a work mindset.
  1. Eliminate distractions. Working from home takes self-discipline. The only housework I allow myself to do during the day is throw a load of laundry in the wash. Since it’s largely the only domestic chore I do anyway, I have no problem walking by a sink full of dirty dishes. I have a love-hate relationship with social media (more about that in a future post), but if you know you are tempted by cute cat videos, you may want to check out apps with names like Anti-Social and Concentrate that will keep you on task.
  1. Set clear boundaries with others. When my son was young, I told him, only half-jokingly, that he should only knock on my office door if he was bleeding! When you get those “since you’re home” requests, be polite but firm in making clear when you are and aren’t available. Don’t be too hard and fast—by all means, if your neighbor’s elderly mother is just home after hip surgery, call to check on her. Remember, if you were in an office, you would stop at the water cooler to chat with your cubicle mates, which leads to my last and most important point.
  1. Set clear boundaries with yourself. Email, cellphones, virtual private networks—the world is wired for work. The good news—and bad news—is you can be connected anytime and anywhere. When you find yourself checking email during the movie you promised your kids you’d watch, or eating most meals at your desk (guilty), it’s time for a reality check. Step away from your desk! Take a walk. Unplug. Eat lunch on the back porch. You will be more productive if you give yourself a break. So maybe it won’t hurt to walk the neighbor’s dog after all—as long as it’s on your schedule.

How do you make working at home work for you?

Susan Milstrey Wells is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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