Occasionally, I’ll get questions about how I handle what it’s like working from home and running a business all the while having my family at home during the day (my kids are both three and one so they aren’t quite at school age yet).

The obligatory family shot

The obligatory family shot. Sort of.

So though this has nothing to do with development and has more to do with how I get things done, I thought it would be worth sharing within the context of a blog post so I’d have something to refer to others later in terms of how I manage my environment and my time when it comes to working out of the home full-time.

Environment

The absolute most important thing for me is my environment. I have to have a room solely dedicated to work and I have to make sure that I have all the things that I need to be able to get into the zone.

This includes the following:

  • A simple workspace setup with nothing more than my computer a few papers (that will need to be filed)
  • A way to make coffee
  • A decent sound system
  • And a television for days in which I’d rather have some old movie playing rather than music as background noise.

I’m also a fan of natural light; however, sometimes I prefer it dark so the room that I use has two windows – about half the time the blinds are open, half the time they aren’t. It totally depends on my mood, but it also totally affects my mood.

So there’s that.

Interruptions

My office is on the second story of the house and it’s in the further corner from everything that goes on during the day. This means I can focus on my tasks at hand and be as focused as possible without a lot of background noise.

This doesn’t always work – as I’m typing this, I can hear one of my daughters playing around downstairs – but that’s fine. There’s nothing like being a dad and so hearing them downstairs playing around every now and then isn’t bad.

That said, interruptions are something that I have a hard time dealing with – I always have. It has nothing to do with anyone else but myself – it’s completely personality driven. So I try to keep my door closed as much as possible. When it’s closed, I usually hear a knock before someone – my wife or my oldest kid – comes in. This gives me a chance to pause what I’m doing and focus my attention to what’s coming.

Other times, I leave the door open. When that’s the case, I’m completely fine with anyone coming in. It really depends what I’m working on: If it’s email, then come on it; if it’s writing code or a I’m on a phone call, then it’s best to leave me alone so I can focus on the task at hand.

Notifications

Save for just a few exceptions – which I’ll talk about momentarily – I try to completely disconnect when 5pm rolls around. This means no email, no texts, no tweets, no communication of any type.

I want to be the kind of parent who’s completely involved with their kids when they’re awake and I’m off work. After all, I have the luxury of not having to sit in a commute, right? But this looks different for every person, so what I’m about to share has to do with my and my personal preferences – it’s not what I think anyone else should do:

  • I have no Twitter client installed on my phone. I have it installed on my desktop and check it only a few times a day.
  • I don’t use Facebook or Instagram. I rely on my wife, Meghan, to fill me in on anything that’s interesting and or relevant and that system works well.
  • I have email setup on my phone, but if something comes in that isn’t urgent, it gets pushed to ‘Tomorrow’ or ‘Next Week’ for me to handle.
  • I have an application that I use to stay in touch with my closest friends and family so that if something comes in from them, I can definitely respond. Anyone else is usually someone that can wait.
  • My calendar. I keep everything on my calendar along with reminders (thanks to Fantastical) so I allow those notifications each day so that I’m aware of whatever it is I need to do during the given day.

Other than that, I actually have very little on my phone that connects me to online communities during the off hours. This doesn’t mean I have the occasional emergencies come up that need attention but, for the most part, this system works and it works well.

A shot of my oldest "'sploring'"

A shot of my oldest “‘sploring'”

It allows me to really focus on what I believe matters the most when it matters the most and it also allows me to use things like my camera to capture all of the moments that I might be otherwise tempted to use to, say, check Twitter or something like that.

This is All Me

But this is all just me and it’s what works for me. I’m not trying to say that this is something that anyone else should do or anyone else should necessarily try.

I’m simply sharing what I do to stay on task each day given what I have going on since I’ve received since question more than once.

With that said, I’m still interested how the rest of you juggle your time, so feel free to share that information in the comments!

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Join the conversation! 13 Comments

  1. (Long, whiney rant about timezones and startup life ahead)

    I struggle with shutting things off at 5pm. I too work at home most days in a similar setup: I have an office which is dedicated to work (but also doubles as the sewing/fiber arts studio). When I emerge from it I like to do so with a feeling of done but it’s hard.

    The problem has to do with timezones. Most of the people I work with are either 3 hours behind me or prefer to work in the evenings. I get these terrible anxious feelings come dinnertime like oh man there are a number people clocked in right now all working on stuff that i’m paying them for… which needs a high level of management and attention to detail. It makes me feel that if I’m not paying attention i’m possibly wasting money… or at least spending it in an inefficient way.

    I can think of a number of times (way too many) that I sent someone a task to do, they worked on it for 6 hours while I was with my family, and in the morning I learn they misunderstood the spec. Then we have to perform the awkward dance of then feeling terrible that they just racked up hours doing the wrong thing, and me feeling terrible that I really ought to pay them for it regardless. I should have done a better job communicating the spec. Eeeeeek.

    So that’s my struggle with life/work in startup land. I yet to find a way around it. The best compromise has been to shut off at 5pm, spend time with the family until the kiddos are in bed, then check in with everyone that is still working between 8 and 9. I get time with my kids, but miss an hour with my wife. I try to keep it short and continue to beg her patience.

    • “The best compromise has been to shut off at 5pm, spend time with the family until the kiddos are in bed, then check in with everyone that is still working between 8 and 9. I get time with my kids, but miss an hour with my wife. I try to keep it short and continue to beg her patience.”

      Sounds familiar. :)

    • I don’t think it’s a long, whiney rant. I think you’re just sharing with the nature that comes with the territory.

      I don’t have a lot of information in terms of working with remote teams because I’ve been fortunate enough to deal with the majority of people being just a few hours behind me. They were vetted, and then they were given trust, and then we went with it. It worked. (I’m not saying you didn’t do this, I’m just giving my personal experience!)

      That said, misunderstanding a specification for a task is something that transcends timezones, in my opinion. I mean, I’m the primary guy in my shop right now and you can ask the majority of the people I’ve worked with – I’ve either misunderstood at least one aspect of it, or I ask a lot of questions to make sure that I do understand it.

      Regardless of how the same or different things are with what we’re doing, hang in there. You guys are building some good things that I think it’s going to pay off. 

  2. Love this post. I call it a day at 6pm, mainly because of my wife and son. Clients have to be trained that I don’t conduct business after hours and the biggest mistake you can make is replying to an email at 9pm. Then you’re screwed.

    If I have a client on the left coast, they have to understand that 6pm my time means 3pm their time and oh well, it is what it is. I’m certainly not working 12 hours a day because a client in CA expects me to answer an email sent at 5pm their time. This is a shock to them and covered in during the initial consultation.

    Have we covered not working on weekends? No weekends.

  3. Can’t edit? I mean this is “not” a shock to them since I cover it during the initial consult.

  4. Great write-up, Tom, and thanks for sharing your perspective on what works for you.

    I’m kinda in the middle. I work a full-time job that I commute to, though I try and work from home one day a week at least so I can have breakfast with my kids (they’re three and five).

    In the evenings, I get home around 6.30pm, and dedicate the time of getting home to the time my kids go to bed (8.00pm and 8.30pm respectively for the three and five year old) to them.

    Then it’s time with my wife, where we catch up on the day, and any issues with the kids, and simply enjoy each other’s company.

    After that (usually about 10pm), it’s my time to do my stuff. Blog, catch up with projects I’m helping with/working on, Netflix, etc.

    The problem is, considering I’m up at 6.00 am every morning for my two hour commute, I’m usually beat. So I don’t get to spend as much time doing my own stuff as I want to.

    I try and catch up when working from home, but then I also have extra time with the kids that I want to take advantage of. So, there’s that.

    Erm… I’m not really sure where I’m going with this now, so I’ll stop. :)

    • The getting up at 6am can really wear on you by the end of the day – especially once you’ve grown the family beyond just you and your wife.

      If I get up that earlier, it’s usually for exercise, though I try to allot a portion of the late morning for that and then get back to work. Normally, I’ll try to knock out all of my email and menial tasks like that in the morning, exercise, then get into development the rest of the day.

      Usually I stick to it, sometimes not (like today :).

      The other challenge is when there are appointments or other things that come up that require some type of scheduling that mixes up the usual routing. At that point, the exercise either sticks really early in the morning or late at night (I tend to prefer late at night).

      Anyway, all that to say, the struggle is real :).

  5. Always interesting to hear how others work at home, especially with kids.

    I have to work out of the hours with a 2 and a 4 year old at home.

    I just end up getting distracted and joining in the fun when working from home.

    I try and do a solid chunk in the day so I can spend the afternoon with them, then catch up a bit after they’ve gone to bed.

    I’ve tried getting up early to do a couple of hours before they wake, but they always end up beating me up after a while, plus I end up knackered!

    So glad I don’t work at a place, with a commute, and a fixed working day.

    Joe

    • It can be hard to work from home – especially with a family – for sure. That’s why I think it’s so important to have your own space that’s off limits (and preferably far away from the action) during the day :). 

      I used to do the bit where I worked early in the day, hung out in the afternoon, and then went back to work at night but that began to wear on me so I try not to do that anymore and try to function more as a standard work day (well, as much as possible).

      But yes – I’m with you all the way: I’m so glad I don’t have to commute. Especially with the traffic situation around Atlanta.

  6. Tom, Thanks for sharing your experience and there is no doubt that you are doing it right.

    Can you also share the details of how you work during those working hours in one of your future post ? I mean how you manage time between learning/reading, communication/coordination, development and other stuff that you might do. What you do 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on…I would love to know such details about you.

    Thanks

    • Writing a post on how I micro-manage my time might be a little long and even difficult to write – though I do have a workflow that I use, I don’t always stick strictly to it each day.

      Since I usually have a few things going on, my day-to-day looks a little different each day.

      If the time ever arises, sure, I’ll consider writing a post about it, but in the meantime it’s not really in my queue to cover :).

  7. Call me crazy – but again, it’s what works best for the individual and the family. My scenario is a bit different. I try to get up and at it way earlier than the rest of the house. I try to start my day at my desk at 5-5:30am so that I can get a solid two hours or so in right away. At that point, it’s inevitable that my two girls (3.5 & 1.5) barge into my office (definitely not knocking) to say good morning. At that point I usually take a break for an hour to spend time with the girls/wife during breakfast, getting the girls dressed for the day, etc. and then I can get back to my computer/office to keep getting work done.

    I do struggle with finding ways to remove work things from my phone, but it is something that needs to happen so that I am not distracted during off hours. I have found that getting a few hours in first thing in the morning helps me mentally feel relaxed for the day. When I do get interrupted by my family, I’m at more peace and less anxiety about it because I know that I already clocked some solid un-interrupted time in.

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