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As a followup to our recent episode on remote working, we discuss the challenges and benefits of working from home.
We talk about identifying workspace problems, creating focus time, eliminating distractions, why you need silence, and how interruptions are kryptonite. It’s better to have 90 minutes of focus time than it is to have 4 hours of potential interruption time.
Though you work from home, how you dress actually has an impact on your productivity. You’ll hear us share a tip that sounds harsh on the surface but actually enables you to be more intentional with your family time.
We dive into the benefits of coworking and how it might be more of an option than you think. Not only does it require less commitment than you might imagine, but there are also digital opportunities to connect with people that are a great option for super-remote home workers or introverts.
- 11:01 Sean: A couple of episodes ago, we talked about remote working and we promised we’d do a followup episode on working from home and getting things done. There’s the challenge of creating separation between your home life and work life. This can potentially be difficult when your living space is also your working space. You’re dealing with distractions and mindset shifts. You typically run into one of two problems:
- You’re always in relax mode.
- You’re always in work mode.
- 11:37 As a result of this, I think there’s two kinds of people: people that never get any work done and people that do nothing but work. How do you balance? Ben, which are you?
- 12:05 Ben: “I’m in a place right now where I am fairly balanced between the two. It wasn’t always that way. More often, I was in relax mode when it came to working from home.”
- 12:26 Sean: What made it better?
- 12:27 Ben: “The pressure of paying the bills depending on me shifting gears and being in work mode when I needed to be in work mode. If you stay in relaxed mode all the time, you’re not going to be able to pay your mortgage. I had to decide to discipline myself to focus when it was work mode time.”
- Identifying Workspace Problems
- 13:22 Sean: If someone is working from home and wondering if they have a workspace problem, there are two signs:
- When working, you get distracted by your environment because it’s also where you do things that are not work-related.
- When you’re trying to enjoy non-work time, you find yourself unable to relax or enjoy the time off you deserve. You always feel like you need to go work on something.
- 13:58 Ben: “I know people who work for companies who have that problem. They leave the office and come home feeling like they’re still in work mode.”
- Creating Boundaries When You Work At Home
- 14:11 Sean: That’s a good point because now with technology, it’s not just a proximity issue. Previously, you would have to be near your desk at the office to get work done.
- 15:02 Ben: “Yeah, it’s a lot less about proximity and more about the things you mentioned—the ability to be contacted at any time. You have to create clear boundaries with your time and set clear expectations for the people who regularly need your time.”
- 15:45 Sean: Do you create any kind of separation or association by using certain devices for work?
- 16:41 Ben: “I don’t do a lot of recreational stuff on my work computer because I watch TV shows on my Apple TV and social media is something I do on my phone. I haven’t created intentional boundaries but the way I run my schedule helps with separating. I set aside blocks of time that are devoted to a single task and I have a default workspace set up. If I’m writing on my blog, I’ve only got that one tab open. The first thing I do before I start working is reset my workspace so that recreational browsers aren’t open and tempting me.”
- 08:21 Sean: Do you have the bookmarks bar? Does that have your fun stuff on it and does that ever tempt you when you’re in work mode?
- 18:29 Ben: “Not so much anymore, mainly because I can’t see any flashing notifications. I can see how that would be a problem though.”
- 19:01 Sean: It sounds like you’ve carved out a space for yourself, digitally. Do you also have a physical space that you’ve dedicated? Is that a separate room? Do you ever use part of that space for non-work-related stuff?
- 20:29 Ben: “My ‘office’ is basically an off-shoot of my bedroom. My bedroom is a normal size bedroom with an added open space branching off of it without separation by a wall or doorway. There’s enough room in there for a desk, a couple of bookshelves, and some wing-backed chairs. For the most part, that area is only for work-related stuff. It’s not a space for watching movies as a family or anything but I can see the office from my bed and vice versa.”
- 21:51 Sean: When you’re working you can also see your bed looking super comfy over there.
- 21:57 Ben: “Yeah, that hasn’t been as big of a temptation as I thought it would be when we initially decided to make that an office space. My office was down in the garage before, which also served as a play/multipurpose room and it was super difficult to get work done because the kids were always in there. Our bedroom is on the second floor and the kids are downstairs most of the time with the parent in charge of watching them during that time. The parent that’s working can work upstairs in the bedroom with the door shut.”
- Creating Focused Time
- 22:42 Sean: We had a question from Cory earlier:
- “If you have limited space—like a studio and a spouse or someone else that’s living there—how do you create a workspace when you don’t have a separate living area?”
- 22:58 I think we kind of preemptively answered this when we talked about dedicating a device. There’s always the option of going out and renting another place, going to a coffee shop, or finding a coworking space, but if you don’t have a separate room and you don’t want to leave but you still want to focus, I would say dedicating a device is probably the best answer to that.
- 23:29 Ben: “If you did have a kid in a studio apartment, I imagine it would be extremely difficult, even with the other person devoted to taking care of the child while you’re working. I know from having kids that instinctually, if I can hear them, my focus is immediately pulled away from what I’m doing even if there’s somebody else watching them.
- 24:30 “How Rachel and I manage that is, for certain tasks, we absolutely have to give it 100% of our focus so we put on headphones and have music playing or go to Coffitivity. That allows us to shut out the outside world. I felt nervous about doing that at first because if there’s an emergency, I can’t hear anything. Ultimately, in order for me to be able to focus I have to trust that whatever’s going on, doesn’t really require my attention because if I was working in an office, I wouldn’t have direct access to my family anyway.”
- 25:38 Sean: This goes back to creating focus time (Related: e119 How to Get an Extra Day a Week). In that episode, I said you have to have absolute silence. You have to have not only no interruptions, but no chance of interruptions. If there’s a chance of interruption, that’s taking a part of your mental capacity. You’re thinking about the fact that at any second someone could come through your door.
- 26:11 Even working at home by myself where it’s quiet and focused, before Laci quit her job and started working for me, it was different when she came home. Even with the door closed. I know this doesn’t even compare to having kids but on a tiny level, I knew someone else was here and I knew she could come through the door and interrupt my thought process. Eventually, we tried to arrange it where she knows if the door is closed that I’m trying to focus. Now, she knows not to just barge in and start talking about whatever is on her mind because I could be in the middle of something and lose a train of thought.
- 26:59 The main thing is no chance of interruption. For that, you do have to entrust other person completely. It’s their responsibility at that time and it’s my responsibility to focus. In that episode, I gave the example of, “Do you want to set money on fire?” because that’s what you’re doing.
- 27:28 Ben: “Yeah, you’ve got to be really direct and clear about what is needed in order for you to be able to focus. Rachel and I had to have a serious meeting about this for both sides. We had to discuss how losing our focus because of interruptions is costing us time and and money as a family. It’s not only taking away from the money that I could be earning with that unfocused time but it’s also putting me in danger of thinking about my work more than I need to during our family time.
- 28:29 “That wasn’t just a one-time meeting to establish these rules, we have to continue to revisit that because over time, you get comfortable in your rhythms and interruptions may begin to happen again. You have to reestablish those rules in order to constantly protect those boundaries and it takes a lot of work.”
- Breaks vs. Interruptions
- 29:25 Sean: I think it’s worth pointing out the difference between breaks and interruptions too in case someone is confused on that point and thinking, “Well, if occasionally someone barges into my home office or a kid starts screaming, you need breaks right?” Breaks and interruptions are not the same thing. Breaks are intentional and they’re helpful.
- 30:03 Whether or not the interruption happens, it’s that potential interruption that prevents you from going into deep focus mode.
- 30:42 It also brings up the necessity for structure.
- You have to create structure.
- You’ve got to get stuff on the schedule.
- You’ve got to schedule your focus time.
- 30:54 Note on the schedule when the kids be taken care of by someone, or when you’re going to the office, or when you’re going to have headphones, or when you’re going to be focusing on this task. If you’re the type of person that’s struggling to get work done when you work from home and you’re having trouble focusing, you’ve got to create that structure.
- 31:24 Get an accountability partner (Related: e107 Why You Need an Accountability Partner & How to Find One), set up some meetings, set up some recurring Skype calls with people that you have to wake up early for. You could even commit to video calls so you actually have to be presentable. It sounds silly, but dressing for work really does make a difference mentally. You can still get work done in your pajamas or sweatpants, but I find there’s a mental thing about preparing yourself for the day as if you were going out.
- How You Dress Influences Your Productivity
- 32:11 Ben: “I like to use the word ‘readiness.’ Even if you don’t have any plans to leave the house or be in front of people, you wouldn’t meet a client in a coffee shop wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt. You would dress to communicate in a way that’s presentable. That also translates to your work as well. It communicates that you have pride in yourself and pride in your work. When you take pride in your appearance, it causes you to take pride in the work that you’re doing. It causes you to take it more seriously. I’m guilty of working in my pajamas sometimes so I’m going to do an experiment for myself. I’m going to get ready for an an entire week and see how that influences my productivity.”
- 33:21 Sean: I’ve definitely been more productive when I’ve had to do that. I still got plenty of work done even before Laci and Cory started working for me, but there’s something about the fact that people come over and I have to be presentable.
- 34:55 I want to hear how that goes for you.
- 36:12 Ben: “I like that we’ve also been talking about scheduling and boundaries. When I make a schedule and I default on something or I let something run long, my mind starts to think that’s okay because I don’t want to be disappointed in myself. Gradually, I start to pull back on the focus of keeping that schedule and I make it more okay to break those rules. That kind of compromise can creep up on you. When you miss something, think about it like you’re dealing with a client. Make it a big deal, not to shame yourself, but to determine if it was a legitimate reason and not just because you work from home and you can. It’s the difference between taking responsibility and feeling shame and disappointment.”
- Be Intentional With Family Time
- 38:25 Sean: That’s an interesting angle. Cory in the chat room asked, “How can you make sure to get anyone else in the house, like family or roommates, dialed in with your system of working from home?” I’m really glad that he brought that up because that’s a great two-sided benefit—having people in the house. You might initially think it can be frustrating but when you communicate to them what you’re doing, it does two things:
- It allows them to prepare for it.
- It allows them to structure their lives in such a way that they are not encroaching upon the time you need.
- 39:18 Having more structure could be beneficial to them as well. Maybe they could actually benefit from the structure. Maybe they could incorporate that into their schedule and it allows them to focus on their focus blocks of time too. Even more so than the potential benefits to them, it also make sure that they keep you accountable. Since they know when your focused time is, they’ll make sure you stick to it because they’re expecting it.
- 40:08 Ben: “There’s a huge danger in giving mixed messages when it comes to your set aside working time. Our children are still pretty young and don’t quite understand the importance of set aside time. We need to communicate it clearly. They know when daddy is sitting down at his computer with headphones on, it’s not a good time. I’ve set the boundaries and explained that I will be dismissive of them during that time since it’s work time. I’ve done so consistently. If I do that when it’s time to be engaged with them, and I’m distracted by work, then that sends mixed messages.”
- 41:12 Sean: There’s something really valuable in what you just said:
- 41:53 Ben: “Exactly, this is the slippery slope: when you start compromising for one, you will compromise for the other. If you feel yourself slip and start getting distracted by your family during what should be focused work time, then when it’s family time you’ll be feeling guilty about the work that you didn’t get done. The alternative is true too, if you’re thinking about your work when you’re supposed to be spending time with your family, then when it’s time for you to focus on your work you’ll be feeling guilty that you didn’t spend quality time with your family. I’m a big fan of letting the time you spend with your family inspire the kind of work that you do, especially with creative work. It allows for those lines to be blurred but there does have to be a clear separation and you can’t allow those two things to mix when it comes to your focus.”
- Coworking Is Always an Option
- 43:12 Sean: In the chat room earlier, Justin brought up coworking. That’s something he’s interested in and has been entertaining the idea of trying to start something up in his town. I’ve always enjoyed working from home. I’m productive. I’m more introverted and I always shied away from the idea of coworking just because I always thought of it as this binary: you either work in a coworking space or you don’t. If I want to do that, I would have to sign a lease and go there every single day and my introverted self started crawling back into its shell.
- 43:51 Justin mentioned, “I like coworking as a compliment to home-working,” and he said that the atmosphere is totally different. There’s the potential for meeting others and changing context. I asked if he liked it more than the option of only working at home. He said, “Yes, absolutely. If you work from home all the time and live at home all the time, then you’re home all the time and that can get stale fast.”
- 44:21 That opened it up for me a bit because I was originally thinking it’s either you use a coworking space or you work from home. His idea of having it just be an alternative makes it seem a little like going to a coffee shop. A lot of people do that, but there are more distractions going to a coffee shop than there are at a coworking space. A coworking is dedicated to work. Coffee shops are dedicated to coffee and more socializing.
- 44:53 The nice thing about a coworking space is you have both dedicated working spaces and socializing, but it’s a better mix of it because people are going there to focus and get work done. The people at a coworking space are more likely to have something in common with you than someone you run into at a coffee shop. You still have that intermingling, but it’s the kind of people that are there to get work done.
- 45:15 Ben: “Yeah, and I think it depends on your personality too because some people are very tolerant of being in the same space all the time without allowing that to affect their ability to be creative. Whereas some people have very little tolerance for that and need to in order for them to be at their best creatively.”
- 45:49 “The thing that I like about a coworking space is that often collaboration happens there and it can shape, in a positive way, the direction of the work that you’re doing. Even if you don’t work collaboratively with somebody on a project, you at least have other voices. It’s not exactly the same as being in person with other people but I think this concept is something you created with the Community.”
- Creating Community With Digital Coworking
- 46:26 Sean: I was just about to say that. Alice in the chat room says, “The Community is like a digital coworking space.” It’s totally true. It’s like coworking for introverts. Coworking spaces, in a physical sense, are great for everyone but I think extroverts enjoy that a lot more. Introverts can cowork in an online or digital sense.
- 46:47 When you’re burning the midnight oil, working late, there’s something about looking over at the chat and just seeing the names in there. It feels like you have this sense of camaraderie. It’s almost like you’re in an office and you’re not talking but people are there. It’s the difference between being the last one in the office with all the lights off except the one single light above you, compared to working late in an office but there’s a few people around you working.
- 47:30 No one is saying anything but the energy is different. I think the Community has been shaped around my own desire and need for interacting with other people but not to the level that would exhaust me. We’re able to put ourselves out there and be real humans and talk with people.
- 48:09 Ben: “Absolutely, what’s interesting to me about that is it’s unconventional when you think about the different types of working situations. Whether it’s working from home, going to a coworking space, working in an office, working at a coffee shop, or some combination of all of those things; I don’t think very many people actually consider a digital workspace like this as an option.
- 48:39 “It has shaped the creative direction of the work that I’m doing, big time. I’ve gone in there a couple times just wanting to share what I’m doing so that I could hear other voices speaking into the process. They never disappoint. There’s always somebody there with something valuable to add to what I’m doing and there’s this sharing that’s constantly going on there. That is something you do experience in a coworking space and it’s something that many companies work hard to facilitate when they have employees coming in to work for them. That’s why conference rooms exist.”
- 49:29 Sean: With a physical coworking space, you’re going to find other creative people there. You’ll find photographers, you’ll find designers, it’s going to be this nice big mix and that’s what you want but they may not all have the same kind of mindset. They may not all be in a place where they’re charging what they’re worth, focusing on providing value, focusing on taking on the right type of clients, and not compromising on their morals. Maybe they’re in a Scarcity Mindset. Maybe they would be the type of people to tell you to take what you can get.
- 50:13 That’s a struggle anywhere you hang out but what I like about the seanwes Community is that it’s attracting the type of people that listen to these podcasts. The people who have listened to all 135 episodes and keep tuning in every week because they’re on board with it, they get it. They want to focus on value. That’s the kind of people in the Community so it is like a digital coworking space. A lot of people leave the chat open all day and you can pop in to ask for feedback or their opinions on stuff. You learn from people in other industries, it’s really educating.
- 51:12 Ben: “Yeah, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, we naturally seek out community and external voices to help us work through our process. I think we always try to find that somewhere and when you’re working from home especially. Don’t be limited by what you think you can access. Be creative and look for ways that you can connect with people digitally.”
- Steering Community vs. Letting Community Steer Itself
- 52:15 Sean: John said something in the chat room I wanted to call out. He says, “The community reflects the personality of the person who runs it.” If that’s the case, you have a failed community. If your community is just you and it reflects you, you failed as an organizer. Let the people determine the direction. That’s something I’ve tried to do very much with this Community.
- 52:51 I take feedback into consideration. I let the community steer itself and facilitate that. I help that along, I don’t say, “This is where we’re going.” I put up the Community in its beta stage and tried to allow the Community to direct where it goes. This is why we’re building a new chat system with archivable content and giving the ability for people to connect with each other through individual masterminds and hangouts, because that’s what the Community needs.
- 53:51 Ben: “You do want that diversity and those outside voices but you also want to be able to promise, for the people interested in signing up for the Community, that the values are not going to change.”
- 54:36 Sean: There’s these core things: we don’t want to kill the passion. You have a passion for something and we don’t want to compromise that. Let’s support it, protect, invest in it. There are certain things that have to be done in order to support and enable that like not compromising on your morals or taking on the wrong type of clients. Maybe that means getting a day job that isn’t your favorite thing to do, not devaluing your work, and charging what you’re worth.
- 55:08 We have these certain core values but beyond that, everyone has their own individual values and I want other people to be true to their own values. I’m not telling someone in debt they can’t join the Community. I want to help people get out of debt and my personal values reflect that. I’m not going to do something that puts myself or someone else in a position of debt. That’s why I don’t do payment plans for my current courses and I won’t in future courses. I don’t want your money if it’s outside your means. I set a price for my courses that I believe reflects the value of that course and if that price is outside someone’s budget, I don’t want them to buy from me. These are my values and I want to make sure that other people are not compromising on their values.
- There’s No Formula For Working From Home
- 56:54 Ben: “Absolutely. Going back to working from home: I’ve noticed that depending on what’s going on in the house at the time, I have the ability to focus on certain types of tasks. Sometimes Rachel is able to take the kids out of the house and I’ll have the entire house to myself. I have a different kind of focus in that situation than when she’s taking care of the kids downstairs. Knowing that no one is going to come up and interrupt me makes my focus different.
- 57:44 “In some circumstances, you need to be available for your kids for a certain amount of time during the day or maybe you’re not able to go to a coworking space because you can’t afford it. You have to deal with reality but beyond that you have to be honest with yourself about what you are capable of doing and what might be necessary in order for you to do your best work.”
- 58:44 Sean: I just wanted to clarify what John said earlier about controlling a community and I said you fail as an organizer if that’s the case, I don’t think he thinks that. I was only taking his comment and explaining the concept of a community organizer needing to foster instead of dictate. I just wanted to make sure John knew I was saying all that to him and I think he does. He says in the chat room right now, “It looks like you agree with me. The Community does reflect you and your intentions quite admirably and that’s why I’m in the Community. I joined because of your core values and your intentions. I want to be around people who share my core values and intentions. I like it.”
- 59:42 Ben: “Exactly, and while I can see that the values and intentions are shared universally across this Community, there is a wide, diverse range of personality types represented. You don’t cater more to a certain personality type than you do to another. We talk about those differences and how they affect our work but there’s community here made up of all different types.”
- 01:00:22 Sean: It’s a beautiful thing. I get people saying they want to join, they tell me I’ve got a cool thing going on but they’re not into lettering. Actually, a very small amount of people in the Community are into lettering. We’ve got engineers, developers, designers, photographers, video production people, animation people, stay-at-home moms, YouTube gamers—everything.
- 01:01:49 Ben: “I know it wasn’t your intention for this to turn into a commercial for the Community but there is a lot of cool stuff that goes on.”
- 01:01:57 Sean: It’s not even a commercial. If you go to a co-working space, that’s your life. You’re around those people every single day and that’s going to be a part of your discussions for the rest of your life. We’re friends with these people. We talk with them every single day. This isn’t just a pitch—we talk about it because it’s such a big part of our lives. It’s such a hard thing to convey and you just don’t know until you join.
- 01:03:12 Ben: “Whether it’s the seanwes Community or a coworking space, it’s the people that you let into your creative process. You have to ask yourself if you’re going to constantly be around people who share your values and will support you. That’s not something to take lightly.”
With gadgets and push notifications always in our pocket, work is almost never left at the office anymore.
It’s becoming something that everyone has to deal with, not just the home working person.
Focused blocks of time are critical.
Interruptions are the killers of focus time.
It’s way better for you to have 90 minutes of focus time than it is to have 4 hours of potential interruption time.
“Don’t interrupt me during my focused time. Don’t knock on the door, it doesn’t matter what you want to ask me. Don’t come in.”
It seems harsh, but what you’re doing is you’re disciplining yourself to focus on your work so that you can also discipline yourself to focus on the family time.
Guess what? When you spend time with the family—when you spend time off work, on break, vacation—you’re just as disciplined about keeping work out of that family time.
A community is not something you manage, a community is something that you foster and encourage to grow organically.
I think it’s really important to say that there’s no right answer for what works best. We’re not trying to say working from home is better than working in an office or coworking is better than working in a coffee shop. It’s important to know for yourself what allows you to focus.