Working at home, with a family, is a challenge, as this nice overview piece at The Register goes over. You think you’re trading all those interruptions from co-workers talking about the sportsball or just complaining about the daily grind, but you’re actually trading in for a different set of co-workers, your family. And their requests for your attention are harder to stonewall than chatty cube-mates.
And then there’s the whole “out of site, out of mind” effect with management at work. I’ve worked at home on and off (mostly at home) over the past decade and it has it’s challenges. I lead a public enough work-life, along with remote working aware folks, that Management forgetting about me rarely comes up. However, as my kids have grown up and there’s, consequently, more going on at home, figuring out how to shut-out my family is a constant challenge. You see, that’s the taboo part! “Shut-out” – you could say “manage” or all sorts of things, but if you follow the maker/manager mentality that most individual contributor (non-managers) knowledge workers must, you have to shut people (“distractions”) out.
Achieving flow considered a luxury
What I didn’t know at the time was that this is what time is like for most women: fragmented, interrupted by child care and housework. Whatever leisure time they have is often devoted to what others want to do – particularly the kids – and making sure everyone else is happy doing it. Often women are so preoccupied by all the other stuff that needs doing – worrying about the carpool, whether there’s anything in the fridge to cook for dinner – that the time itself is what sociologists call “contaminated.”
I came to learn that women have never had a history or culture of leisure. (Unless you were a nun, one researcher later told me.) That from the dawn of humanity, high status men, removed from the drudge work of life, have enjoyed long, uninterrupted hours of leisure. And in that time, they created art, philosophy, literature, they made scientific discoveries and sank into what psychologists call the peak human experience of flow.
Women aren’t expected to flow.
It’s like there’s a maker/manager/mother time management paradigm. (Speaking of that privilege: here I am, with time to type this very post.)
Context switch like Nietzsche
What I’ve been doing is tying to reprogram my mind to think in slices of time fragments and to gorge on 60 minute time spans when they come up. I recall learning that one of the reasons Nietzsche wrote so many aphorisms was because he didn’t have time to write longer pieces; his chronic sickness conditions (whatever they were) gave him little “flow” time.
When I shifted to work at Dell and was on the road the at 451 Research, I was similarly afflicted with fragmented time (at Dell, you’d be in meetings all day because that’s how things ran). I remember one time when I was 451 Research I’d been trying to finish a piece on SUSE and was walking down a ponderously long casino hallway: I just stopped, pulled out my laptop, and started typing for about ten minutes. Finding those little slices that adds up to a full 90 to 120 minutes is hard…but, at least with non-programming knowledge work, you can get over the tax of context switcthing enough to make it worth it.
However, this is all within a large context: the computer. All of that partial attention swapping on the Internet over these years has helpfed warp my brain to work in fragments, but now I need to train my mind to swap between computer and “real life.” So far, it’s slow going.
Resisting the shut-out
All of this on the other hand, I really value working from home. I enjoy seeing my kids and wife all day long (so much more so than all those random run-ins with people in the office). I like being in my own environment, being able to eat at home, and on those rare occasions when I’m in a boring, useless, but obligatory meeting, doing something more useful with my time as I listen in. I have one of the better situations I’ve ever had at work right now: everyone on my team, including my boss, is remote. This means we all know the drill, use the tools, and coordinate.
As my wife is fond of telling me, I should just lock my office door more, which is true. The other part that you, as a remote worker, have to program your brain for is: you’re going to be interrupted while you’re in “flow” a lot. Just accept it. In the office there’s plenty of fire-alarms, going to lunch, people stopping by your desk, and so on. We can’t all be on the flat food diet. My other bit of advice is to take advantage of being at home and a flexible work schedule to do more with your family. If you’re like me, you travel a fair amount as well. So just as I have to gobble up every long span of time greedily, when I’m home and have the chance to do things with family, I try to.
(Cross-posted @ Coté.io)