Still trying to work out working from home…

Writer's FrustrationWhen I had a corporate job, my schedule was cut-and-dried. I spent Monday through Friday, 9-10 hours a day at the office, and I crammed personal errands, recreation and “living” into weekends and two to four weeks of vacation. But the upside was that when I walked in the door at home, I was done. I didn’t bring work home and when I was off, I was able to put work out of my mind. The demarcation between work and non-work was clear. Family and friends understood the concept of employment; no one called me at the office to ask, “What are you doing?” and I never received complaints about me working too much.

I’d had several corporate positions and even changed careers once (journalism to public relations). I worked for some great companies doing great things. But while I felt like I made a contribution and derived a sense of professional achievement from those positions, I didn’t derive enjoyment. I didn’t hate my jobs, but I didn’t like them either. I felt like my time was occupied doing what other people wanted me to do, rather than what I wanted to do.

I wished my life away, longing for Friday, for holidays, for vacations, living for weekends. My first thought when the alarm went off every morning for 20 years was , “crap, I don’t want to go to work today.”

Now I write erotic romance for living. I love it. It’s my dream career. I write what I want to write. I look forward to every single work day. I can count on one hand with fingers left over the number of times in the six years I’ve been doing this when something happened and I thought, “crap, I don’t like this.”

Because I love it, I am willing to work longer and harder than I ever did when I worked for someone else. I’m at the computer most days by 5:30 a.m.

Being self-employed and working at home gives me a flexibility I never had. I don’t have to cram everything into the weekends. I can schedule doctor appointments in the middle of the day, do my grocery shopping on a Tuesday afternoon to avoid the weekend rush, take a morning yoga class, go for an hour walk for exercise in the afternoon.

But while the schedule is flexible, the job still requires 40+ hours a week. Missed work hours have to be made up. For the last two months, for example, I had two 3-hour physical therapy appointments ( 2 hrs drive time) during the week plus two one-hour yoga classes. That equals one eight-hour day of missed work. That time had to be made up…

On weekends.

A missed hour here or there doesn’t matter, but consistently over time the lost productivity would have a negative impact on my career.

The downside of “flexibility” is that I never have a day off. I work seven days a week. My family doesn’t like it, and I’m starting to not like it either.

I keep striving to find that elusive balance.

One solution would be to go back to a rigid 9-5, five-day workweek and schedule personal business on my two days off. But I don’t want to lose the flexibility because some stuff, like exercise is essential. Health is more important than career in the long run.

I often tell myself, “You just need to focus more, work smarter not harder.” But I truly don’t think I’m doing anything that I shouldn’t. I think I’m pretty organized and disciplined as it is.

Maybe I could hire a virtual assistant to take over some of the promotional tasks. But what could I delegate? Would I save time if I have to compile all the info to give to her v. just doing it myself? Could I trust her to make decisions about branding and strategy?

Should I cut back? Work part-time? Problem there is I like full-time money, and I’m trying to build my fan base and grow my career, not shrink it. Accepting less would run counter to my goal. I don’t want a “jobby” but a career.

I don’t feel as frazzled as I did a few years ago. Somewhere around the 5th to 7th book, I started feeling like the plate spinner on the Ed Sullivan show. After 22 books, it’s not crazy anymore, it’s just…constant…

How do you balance your work/personal time? Do you use a virtual assistant? For what tasks?

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28 Responses to Still trying to work out working from home…

  1. I think this is really hard to do. I love the flexibility and people always say things like ‘you can stay in your PJs and work or lie on the couch and work’ and while it’s true, it IS constant. Even when I’m physically with family, part of my mind is working out details of a book or thinking of title ideas or something. I love the idea of an assistant, but, like you, I have no idea what I’d hand over and how much time it would take me to prepare what he or she would need. I know for myself, I have to get out of the house one day a week and do something else AND I have to make more time for friends. Still though, I wouldn’t give this up to take a regular job where you work and you’re done. I just wouldn’t.

  2. S.J. Maylee says:

    I’ve been working on finding balance and working smarter since I started working from home 8 years ago. I still have the pull of the job I don’t love but I have the flexibility to spend some time on the one I do. I never have enough time to write though and I don’t see how that will change in the near future. The evil day job is still the one that keeps my family afloat and not my writing.

    I’ve thought about the personal assistant. I could really use one, but I too have no idea what I’d hand over that would truly save me time.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I don’t know how you do it–a day job AND kids.

      Every job has it’s downside, and maybe the flexibility conundrum is par for the course with being an author, but I’m not giving up on finding a solution.

  3. The best part about working from home? On Sunday night I don’t have to worry about Monday morning and fitting everything in for the week. However–working from home does demand focus. It’s a love thing for me. I’m doing what I dreamed of for so long. I don’t start work at 5:30am like you but I am in the office by 8:30 or 9:00 after quiet time, coffee, the dog and getting myself pulled together. I treat working from home like a job. I get up, shower, dress and put on my makeup and jewelry. Makes me feel ready to go. Although I might throw in a load of laundry or start the dishwasher, I work in the office until lunch. After that I work until 4:30 or 5:00 before I start dinner. (Sometimes a crockpot is on.) I watch the news, clean up the kitchen and then around 7:00 I sometimes do a little marketing or research. I’m trying to let the evening stuff go. It’s additive. The best drug in the world.

  4. Anne Kane says:

    I run my own accounting office from home, as well as writing and I have to treat each of these as a job. I have set office hours for the accounting business, and I need to be available during those hours because people expect me to be. I devote 20 hours a week to writing and while I thought about getting a promo company or an assistant I don’t have the fan base yet to allow me to do that, and I find that I am more likely to buy from authors who do their own promo, you being one of them 🙂

    I find it’s a matter of choices, and juggling. During tax season I won’t be able to write as much but during November and December I can reverse the hours and devote 40 or even 50 hours a week to writing. I love both careers, and I love being able to go see a grandkid’s dance recital or school play in the middle of the day. I find the balance is constantly shifting, but it is so worth it!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I can imagine how intense tax season is! Yikes!

      I do think the personal interaction with readers is important. And I feel that is one of the things I would lose if I had a personal assistant. I don’t consider posting on FB a waste of time, because that’s how connect with readers/potential readers. At the office you have conversations around the “watercooler.” When you work at home, you have FB.

  5. Lisa Wells says:

    At the moment, I’m working full time and writing part time. Starting in June, 2017, I’ll have the option of quitting the day job and writing full time. Between now and then, I’d love for you to get it all figured out so that you can give me a go-to plan that is full-proof.

    I’m afraid without structure, I’ll wander for forty years in the desert of authorship.

    Lisa Wells

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Lol. Why do you think I wrote this post? I was hoping other people could help me figure it out!

      Congrats on your upcoming full-time authorship! It sounds like you have a plan.

  6. My situation is a bit different, Cara, but I feel some of the same pressures you do. I’ve been ‘retired’ for a few years now, even though I just recently became old enough (in the government’s eyes, at least) and that means I don’t have to write in order to live–just to live well.

    I don’t set schedules for myself. Doesn’t work for me; that was what I hated about freelance tech writing, the schedules. Sometimes (like recently, and during NaNo) I work 50+ hours. Other times I do only 10-20 hours, usually because I feel I’ve neglected my wife, my grandchild, and my house and yard. I spend time catching up on a flurry of husband and grandad stuff. Eventually I begin to feel I’ve neglected my writing, so I skimp on being a human being and do a flurry of writing.

    I haven’t found a perfect balance. Instead I bounce back and forth between opposite ‘duties’–or ‘loves’ if you prefer. But I no longer worry about it anymore…much.

  7. Kelly Dawson says:

    I wish I could figure it out, I really do! I’ve got 4 young kids so it’s impossible for me to write full-time even though I would love to. Even when I’m not writing as such, and with my family, I’m still thinking of my stories, characters and plots. I think I just need to figure out how to go without sleep, then I’ll be sorted.

  8. Eileen K says:

    I lived and breathed my first job. I burned out. That was awful. It was very tough, but I found out that not thinking or worrying about my work when I wasn’t actively working left me feeling a lot fresher in subsequent jobs.
    Also, when I worked on my thesis, I allowed myself total flexibility in time, but not in location. I had two designated places where I could work on it, and that kept it from taking over my life.

    Right now, I work nine to five with flexibility for anything medical, and write for an hour on nights I can, which averages out to about twenty days each month. I have that luxury because there’s no money/deadline involved. When I’m not in my mental work zone, I’m not working. It’s important for me to have those safety partitions.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I think it does help to have that mental break — although I get some of my best ideas when I’m not actively working. Walking and showering are great for idea generation.

      I still need and want to be a full-time writer, but if I could get everything into a 40 hour work week, I’d be happy.

  9. Alta Hensley says:

    I treat working from home like any other job. I get up, shower, put on makeup etc. But I keep my days flexible. I go to the gym, I run day errands etc. I do, however, work 7 days a week, except it’s worth having the flexibility during the week. But 5:00-6:00 is quitting time for me for the most part. Occasionally a chat or FB party or something, but I try to spend my evenings with the family. I still have 2 little ones, so I have to juggle that too. Oh…and my day starts by 6am.
    I love it. I’m so lucky to be doing what I love.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I feel lucky, too Alta, because there is no substitute for doing what you love.

      Like I said, I’m usually at the computer by 5:30. I work for 3-31/2 hours in my jammies, then have breakfast, shower, & dress. I don’t wear makeup when I’m home.

  10. I do have a virtual assistant, but I do have to compile stuff for her. What I’ve done is to identify those things where my presence and influence is not needed. One example would be shelving my new releases in the MM Romance Goodreads group. It’s important, but not enough to take away from my writing/editing. What I learned when I was a manager at the EDJ, was that yes, initially it takes as much if not more time to show someone else how to do something than if you’d just done it yourself. However, once they know how to do it, that’s when you being to derive the benefits.

    I will say that I need more organization – you sound a lot more efficient in that area! I’ve also made the difficult decision to rent a small, inexpensive office space. It negates some of the benefits of working from home that I’ve dreamed of, but not all. It’s there in case I need somewhere where I can disappear for a few hours, and more importantly? I didn’t install internet 🙂

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I should start thinking about what things I could hand over to a virtual assistant. I would not want to write without the internet — I use it for research and I use the online dictionary and thesaurus. I do wish I could disconnect the phone!

  11. I have never loved anything more in my life as writing full time. That being said, I am not as regimented as when I held a 40-50 hour a week job with mega responsibilities. I should be treating this more regimented. I don’t want an assistant because I want control (type A) and I have had assistants in my other life and the set up was labor intensive. My problem is, if I get up and get things done in the order I have set out, I am golden. If there is more than one disturbance or if I turn on internet, I am off track. And I can work an easy 10-12 hours 6 days a week or 7 on a good run. So, if you all find that solution post it. I’ll be checking back.

  12. Lisa Medley says:

    On the days I can devote 100% to writing or authorly pursuits (outside of my day job), I find I easily get CONSUMED. If left to my own devices, I might never come up for air. I have to consciously shut things off, but when I do, I lose my momentum, and then it’s super hard to get back into the groove. Inertia and all.

    My housekeeping has certainly suffered. I find I can let a pile of clean clothes sit in THE CHAIR for a looooong time now. The family is used to sorting through the pile.

    I could easily fall into a work-from-home routine if given the chance. It would be like winning the lottery, give me a chance to prove I could spend my winnings responsibly, ha!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I hired a housekeeper, and I let my husband do his own laundry. I’ve had clothes sit in dryer for a few days. Nobody but another writer understands the consuming thrall of writing.

  13. Kathy says:

    Maybe you could ask your husband to help you out for a few hours a day, so you know things were being done in your best interest. I’m doing stuff basically all day for Jolynn, and I’m finally getting a really good office chair so I can be comfortable. Sitting on the edge of the couch typing makes my body hurt like hell. It’s coming by next week. Whoo!

  14. What a great blog and one I can relate too more than usual. Its hard to balance personal time and work time. I think being regimented and organized helps. I’m an epic fail on that piece though because I’m a pantser and find that I write in large spurts that suck me in for 3-4 hours at a time before I realize time has gone by. I also write 7 days a week because my brain doesn’t shut off on sat/sun so now I keep my laptop in the car when we’re out on the off chance I get a scene that I MUST write down. I do have an assistant and while it took loads off my plate, I filled that with more stuff. LOL. The only thing that keeps me remotely on task is separating myself from everyone when I write. Having a dedicated space seems to help me focus too

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