"Independence is essential to permanent, but fatal to immediate success." -Samuel Butler
"Autonomous is the best word to describe most of the work you'll do," my new boss explained. I had just accepted his offer of a position as a sales rep on full commission.
"What a beautiful word for a job description -'autonomous'", I thought. "It will relieve me of my draining, daily commute. I'll have no boss looking over my shoulder. I can wake up -well, whenever. 'Autonomy' will be fabulous. In fact, how cool would it be to get that word printed somewhere on my business card?"
A month later, I didn't feel the luck my friends accused me of having with an unsupervised job. Nor did I feel the big "commish" bucks I had envisioned would flow in once I was free to be me. Instead of feeling lucky, I experienced my first taste of shame at the end of a particularly long day in my home office. Not even the nice tax write-off of the home office could make me feel better.
Keeping busy wasn't my problem; I was quite active that day: I replaced a light bulb, sorted some laundry, took time for a big breakfast (critical fuel for my work), signed for delivery of 3 new CD's, played them -each, caught a midday TV talk show, and reached my highest level yet in PlayStation II Final Fantasy (in less than 2 hrs). Oh, and I sorted my business cards in preparation to call some prospects I predicted were virtual "done deals".
At 7:30pm when I scanned my well-intentioned To-Do list, my shoulders drooped. Out of 15 work tasks, only 3 were crossed off. "I'll make up for it tomorrow," I consoled myself. But that was always my rationale. Saying that I'd make up for lost work the next day was becoming more of a habit than actually making it up.
Ironically, I was so stir-crazy I had to get out of the house. Don't get me wrong -I loved my home, but using it for both a business and personal life for nearly a month was giving me cabin fever. The pleasure of going home after a tough day at the office used to be a treat I cherished. Now the pleasure of going home was gone because I was constantly there. Being at home felt like a worn out favorite song that begins to grate nerves because it's been played too much. Autonomy was turning out to be tougher than it sounded in the interview.
A brush with poverty convinced me to take a crash course in discipline. I passed, and still work in a home office many years later. I've learned that there truly is an art to maintaining professional productivity and psychological comfort when eating, sleeping and earning -all from home. Having a home office is rewarding, however, it is more difficult than it may seem to those that have never tried it. Aside from the obvious discipline it requires, I developed some personal tactics to keep my home office productive and enjoyable:
- Take a break outside the house each day. Whether you take a lunch, or a simple walk, absence from home will make your heart grow fonder.
- Get dressed for work even if you will remain in your office all day. To take my job seriously, I must treat it seriously. For me, this means the clothes I wear to call a client are the same clothes I would wear to visit the client. My voice, attitude and focus are more professional when I've dressed for the part.
- If you have a room set up as an office, stay in it during work hours. House wandering makes it too easy to fix, clean, taste, watch, listen and play things that have nothing to do with work.
- Set specific times to begin and end your work day, and then stick to them. Use a ritual to mark the start and finish of your work day in the home office (e.g. closing your office door, turning off the computer, changing into/from casual clothes). The separation of personal and professional time is crucial if you work and play at home.
As technology continues to eliminate automobile commutes to offices, a growing number of "autonomous novices" will experience the same challenges I faced. If you have the privilege of having a home office, your friends might say, "Wow! You get to work at home? How lucky!" But wait until your relationship with autonomy thrives before you add it to your business card.