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Working From Home: Luxury or Prison?

I recently got a gig where I write from home for 30 hours per week. It's been an adjustment, and I'm trying to figure out how to keep my home feeling like a home, and not my workplace.

For the last 4 years living on the Westside (3 in Santa Monica, 1 in Brentwood), I have been chasing the dream of being a professional comedian. Stand up comedy is one of those entertainment careers where you don’t make any money until you hit it big and make a ton of money—there isn’t much gray area where you’re just supporting yourself and living comfortably. So when you take a road like this, you need other ways to supplement your income, but not such a time consuming job where you have no time to work on your comedy craft, or that kind of defeats the purpose.

It’s a tall order for me to ask a potential employer. “Hey, I’m looking for a job to pay my bills but all of my passion and focus will be on something else. You’re okay with that, right?” After stints in advertising, waiting tables, freelance writing and collecting unemployment, I finally caught a break recently and scored a really great writing gig. I’m working for a start-up company where I write for 25-30 hours a week from home, and collect a nice paycheck in the process. Since I write from home I can set my own schedule, still go to auditions and stand-up shows, and as long as I budget my time well it really doesn’t cut into my comedy work at all. It seems like I struck the lottery, honestly.

If the rest of this piece comes off as complaining, I apologize. I am very blessed to be able to have a job that I actually enjoy and pays well while still chasing my dream and ultimate career path—but having a steady job instead of scraping by on stand-up gigs and occasional freelance writing work is a new thing for me and is taking some adjustment. If any of you have worked from home full time, I’m sure you can agree that you need to set up some ground rules and a set schedule for yourself or you can start to feel like you live in your office, instead of working from home.

If I have to get into my car, sit in traffic while drinking coffee in my to-go mug and listen to the radio for 30 minutes to get to work, I’m well aware that it is time to work. The fact that I’m sitting in a cubicle also helps drive that point home. You’re surrounded by co-workers who you can’t wait to get away from, and when 5:00 rolls around you can’t wait to get into your car and sit in traffic to get home. The biggest part is, when you get home from work there is this feeling of finality—the day is over and you’ve conquered it. You feel zero guilt cracking a beer and checking out what’s on your TiVo.

The problem with working from home is that you’re surrounded by the rest of your life at all times—there’s no separation between business and pleasure. I could turn on the TV right now if I wanted to, and try to write as I watch old re-runs of Unsolved Mysteries. The problem I have is that I will kind of half-work all day instead of clock in, work at full speed, and clock out. There’s no feeling of accomplishment, so even at the end of the day I feel guilty trying to tune out work and enjoy myself.

I’ve figured out a way to tackle this problem, though. Right now my girlfriend and I are in a 600sf one-bedroom apartment. It’s a little tight, and instead of laying out all my work stuff in the dining room, I’m treating local coffee shops as if they were my office. Starbucks and Bagel Nosh have been my two favorite spots lately. I treat them like my cubicle, I clock in, order a coffee, and write full-force. That way when I come home I feel that same sense of accomplishment, and I’m done for the day. It’s the best of both worlds!

If you work from home, I’m sure you’ve come to the same conclusion. Especially in a beautiful city like Santa Monica, you want your home to feel like your vacation house. No stress allowed when you’re inside of those doors—we pay too much in rent (or mortgage for you adult-adults) to treat our homes like offices. However, we are still on our long, drawn out apartment search, and now in the hunt for a two-bedroom so we can have an office/guestroom. That will change a lot, but I’ll need to clock in and out of the office door like I do at Bagel Nosh and Starbucks Monday through Friday to keep this plan going.

Al Loren Stone November 16, 2011 at 10:21 PM
I love working out of my home, though I do agree that sometimes it feels like I'm never leaving the office. Fortunately, I love what I do too, so its kind of a win-win.
RobertB November 17, 2011 at 04:59 AM
"I’m treating local coffee shops as if they were my office." I wonder how much business these establishments lose when potential customers turn away at the door because all the seating is taken up by people using it as their personal office for many hours at a time. Why not check out the main SMPL which is probably better suited for your endeavor? They even have a cafe in the courtyard for those coffee breaks.
Evona Niewiadomska November 17, 2011 at 03:35 PM
Hi Robert, Great post - happy to hear you were able to find a job that fits well with your priorities and passions! Your work from home frustrations are the types of things I hear everyday - I manage a coworking space in Boston [http://workbar.com] Not sure if you're familiar with the concept - it's an alternative to working from home and cafe's with a focus on collaboration and community! With your background in comedy, it could also be a great place to test out new material! I did a little search in case you want to check out some spaces in your area - http://wiki.coworking.info/w/page/16583941/SantaMonicaCoworking Goodluck! If you do try them out, do share your thoughts!
Olivier Goldschmidt November 17, 2011 at 06:15 PM
I have been working from home for the past 11+ years. Although I sometimes miss small talking with colleagues around the water cooler, I am happy to skip the commute to work, especially in a city like LA. I sometimes work in coffee shops but I tend to be too distracted and the Internet connection (which I need for my job) is often flaky. Now I should definitely go back to work and stop reading the SMPL!
Al Loren Stone November 17, 2011 at 06:23 PM
@oliver, Facebook is my water cooler. :)

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