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14 September 2010

9 to 5 is dead, long live 9 to 5

By Andrew Clifford

Working from home frees you from the daily grind of 9 to 5 office life. Ironically, to cope with this freedom, you have to reinvent the daily routine.

I have been working from home for more than five years now. With broadband, email and Skype I can get on with most tasks as easily as I could in an office.

So much so, I hardly notice that I am working from home most of the time. I talk to colleagues, customers and partners. I work on designs and plans and programs. I respond to business and technical issues. Although I am working from home, I am carried along by the demands of the work much the same as if I were in a physical office.

Over the years, I have tackled most of the challenges of working from home. It is important to be organised about your work, to have a definite plan. It is important to have a good space in which to work. You have to minimise interruptions, but recognise that they are as much a part of working from home as they are of being in an office. You have to make an effort to "go home" at the end of the day.

Recently, over the holiday period, something strange happened. My colleagues were away. Our customers and partners were quiet. I had a pile of well-defined technical work to get on with.

I was really looking forward to it. I very much enjoy technical work. A whole week without interruptions. Bliss.

What I found, though, is that when the work is defined, and I have nothing urgent to respond to, and no interruptions, and a quiet house, and a tidy desk, I really struggle to be productive for the whole week. My particular problem is pacing the work. I have got into a bad habit of starting the week with very long days, and then losing my energy for the rest of the week.

Looking back when I used to work in an office, I can think of many times when I was not energetic. I would have periods of being unwell, or a bit unfit, or a bit fed-up. Although it had a big impact on my work, it was hidden by the tempo of office life. If I came into a bit tired, I could hide my tiredness to my colleagues and to myself by spending longer than I need on reading emails, and perhaps a bit of background "research", to while away the time between the inevitable meetings.

Working at home, I can not hide behind office life, and need to manage my personal energy much better. I am trying to learn to stick to office hours, to start promptly in the morning (but not too early), take regular breaks, and to finish at a reasonable time in the evening. For me, the hardest thing to learn after escaping from the 9 to 5 routine is that I need to recreate the 9 to 5 routine to work effectively.

Next: What's the point of web services?

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