Being productive when working from home

dissertation writing

I’m afraid it’s been a bit quiet around the blog for the last couple of weeks as I’ve been slogging through the latest chapter of my PhD dissertation. Everything that didn’t directly relate to writing — house stuff, cleaning, blogging, showering (haha- sort of?) — has been on the back burner.

It’s a familiar scene for the hubs who’s gamely stepped up to kid-pickups and weekend mornings out while I’ve locked myself in the office and attempted — to misquote Hemmingway — to sit at the computer and bleed words.

dissertation writing

I’m now coming to the end of the writing process, a years-long saga of research, drafting, deadlines, tears, revision, more tears and (hopefully) submission, so the hubs has become quite adept at knowing when to talk me down from chucking the laptop out of the window and when to simply sneak into a room with a cup of tea and back away slowly.

Part of the problem is finding time, space and quiet in which to write. I don’t work well with others (haha), so coffee shops, writing groups, and even libraries are not good options for me despite the allure of productive sociability. Plus, I need a fair few books to do what I do and lugging 50+ lbs of paper around isn’t feasible either.

I’ve found over the last 5, 8, 13 er too many years that when it comes down to it, I do the most work when I’m at home, in my own little space.

But therein lies the rub.

Working from home is not as easy as it sounds.

And working from home if you’re female is still misinterpreted as not really working, because women’s work is still underpaid — to the tune of 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man — and consequently, still undervalued.

So to combat the state of affairs where working at home, even when it’s on a doctoral dissertation, is still somehow eyed with suspicion, I’ve developed a few weird habits to be able to work (somewhat productively) at home:

Schedule your writing time
By putting writing into my calendar, I can see how little time I really have to get the project done. Why? Because I don’t just have a writing project to complete, I also have a tech job, a parent with a chronic illness, two elderly In-laws and two kids to look after (and a blog!) so time is always a precious commodity.  It also lets me guard that time more effectively because I’m treating it like “real” work.

If you work at home, you’ll know that many people (and even you sometimes) will assume that because you don’t have to show up at an office your schedule is flexible.

Event at school? Someone has a doctors appointment? Dog needs to go to the groomers? Someone is sick, sad, tired, stressed … What do you mean you can’t make 10 am on a Thursday–you’re *just* at home!

Well, let me check my calendar. Nope. I’m working.

Take non-chore breaks

Working in a store or office means you take breaks. People who work through breaks and lunch are always being reminded how important it is to take them because not giving your brain and body a chance to move, eat, drink and think about something else for a few minutes results in drastically lower productivity.

Working at home, we tend to forget that we also need to take a break once in a while. But if you work at home, those breaks usually turn into a chance to do chores.

You know the “I’ll just sweep the floor, put through a load of laundry, walk the dogs” kind.

Before you know it, half your writing time has been eaten up with cleaning dog paw prints off the floor, figuring out how to remove ground-in banana from fleece pants and chatting with a very nosey neighbour whilst attempting to trundle your hounds (I know, I know – corgis are not *technically* hounds-but they seem to think they might be).

So instead, I try to take standard office-job breaks only: make a cup of coffee, call the hubs and walk dogs at lunch. That way, I can legitimately tell visitors the house is a disaster and the kids have no clean clothes because I’m working

Turn off your phone

Yeah ok, I know this is hard. I can’t turn it off off in case there’s some kind of emergency with the kids. But I can set it to only ring when certain emergency numbers come through or forward the number to the hubs on weekends.

When I do this, I’m shocked to learn that despite my paranoia, very little of note actually happens when I don’t check my Facebook for a day. Usually, the only thing that does happen is my battery life seems to make a drastic, Lazarus-style recovery and the persistent ache in my neck and thumbs disappears. Funny that.

Do you work from home? What do you do to keep from letting your productivity suffer? 

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  1. I dont work from home, but I have friends who do and I am guilty of sometimes trying to entice them out of the house for a shopping/coffee trip when they are working.
    I should find out what their work schedule is. Xx #Mg

  2. Wow. I am in absolute awe of you. I wrote a PhD dissertation but when I was doing it, it was that and teaching and not much more. You’ve got so much on your plate. I can’t believe that anyone would think you had anything other than an amazing work ethic. One of my major things when working from home is making sure that the work space is somewhere that can remain separate within the home. Sometimes easier said than done! Good luck with everything! #mg

    1. Thanks Kyles! I am lucky to have a lot of support from the hubs! Great comment about a separate workspace! I learned the hard way that the kitchen table doesn’t cut it!

  3. This *really* resonates with me as I’m in the last few months of completing my Masters thesis from home… with attempting to meet the needs of my family and household. Gratefully I have a supportive husband that helps out whenever he can! However, working from home is a definite challenge. It’s definitely not as easy as it sounds. Thanks for this blog! It’s reminded me of the importance in taking some time out for myself. 🙂

  4. Hubby and I work from home, so there are loads of distractions, I especially find it hard when the kids get home from school and yet I still need to do work. I have thought about the coffee shop idea, but then I think I will spend too much on coffee or maybe eat way to many delicious muffins lol Thank you for linking #mg and it sounds like you are very busy! phd huge, well done you xx

  5. Good luck with getting it finished and submitted. Will you have to do a presentation as well? (I know there’s a correct word for this, I just don’t know how to spell it!)

  6. Thanks for the tips, I work from home for a corporate and find the same problems.the work is as such that I schedule tasks in during the day anyway. But still get the but you work from home why can’t you…. And I never take a break other than to pop a load on every now and again! Well done you for doing a PHD with everything else you have on you plate, I wish you every success in your submission xx #fartglitter

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