A Full-Time Telecommuter on Walking the Dog and Other Productivity Killers

How one full-time telecommuting dad avoids the distractions of home to stay productive.

A guest post by John Pearce of 14 Step Commute, which originally ran on his site on January 20th, 2014.

Guest blogger, John Pearce
Guest blogger, John Pearce

Absolutely, hands down, the best part of telecommuting is the freedom. I can come to work in whatever I want, work whenever I want (mostly), play whatever music I want, you get the drift.  However, for many, the freedom can be a killer when it comes to productivity.

Many tasks around the house get done on a schedule of nights and weekends. Why? Because you can’t do them while you’re at work. But, what if you telecommute? Imagine it, no more racing home to walk the dog who’s been left alone for 10 hours. You can just walk Fido anytime you need to because you’re home, right?

Even good things, like walking the dog, can be distractions if you don't stick to a schedule
Even good things, like walking the dog, can be distractions if you don’t stick to a schedule. photo credit: Leigh Harries via photopin cc

The problem is that these thoughts, and the activities that result from them, can absolutely kill your productivity.  In fact, one of the hardest aspects of telecommuting is blocking out the temptation to cut the grass, run to the store, and even walk the dog. While in most cases, you can get away with sneaking out to do one here and there, be careful. Don’t make it a habit.

Here is what works for me:

  • Even though I’m not leaving the house, I act as if I’m “going to work” by following a routine each day.  This helps me establish the boundary between work activities and home activities.
  • I am an employee of a large company so the time you’re supposed to be working essentially belongs to my employer.  I value my time, so I try to value the company’s time as well.
  • I maximize the benefits of working at home by scheduling the cable guy or the plumber to be either the first or last appointment of the day, just as if I was working at an office.  I never make the mistake of saying “I work at home, come whenever”.  My time will be taken.
  • I recognize that sometimes I have to walk the dog, but I don’t make it a habit, I account for it in my schedule, and I resist the urge to do non-work things during work hours that could wait until after work or the weekends.  Thinking that if I just snuck out and cut the grass today during work, then I can hit the links Saturday,  is dangerous.
  • When I do decide to engage in non-work activities during the workday, I am always prepared to be called back to work in an instant.   If I am scheduling a meeting at my church, for example, I inform the participants that I may have to reschedule at the last minute if I can’t juggle my schedule to fit it in.

So, how well do I do at following my own advice?  Some days are better than others!  I do try to learn from my mistakes, however:

Even chores can get in the way of telework productivity. photo credit: kafkan via photopin cc
Even chores can get in the way of telework productivity. photo credit: kafkan via photopin cc

One spring, I decided that I really didn’t want to waste my Saturday cutting grass.  I figured I could spend an hour Wednesday afternoon and knock it out.  So, on Wednesday, I spent time cutting, trimming, and cleaning up.  Before I knew it, I’d killed 90 minutes.  But here was the worst part:  Next Wednesday, the grass was really long again.  Uh oh  I thought, if I let it go until Saturday, it will be really long, and a lot more work.  I better just cut it again today.  Now I’m on a cycle I don’t want to be on….I have to cut grass on Wednesday, when I’m supposed to be working.

What are some of the productivity killers you face while working at home?

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John Pearce is a husband, father of 2 teenagers, and a serial telecommuter, having worked from home in various positions for 20 years. He is currently serving in a Product Management / Analyst role at Epicor Software Corporation. He blogs about the life of a remote worker at http://14stepcommute.net.

10 thoughts on “A Full-Time Telecommuter on Walking the Dog and Other Productivity Killers

  1. Nice article, John.

    Part of the problem with companies is that they want us to work a set number of HOURS. They, of course, don’t make money off our HOURS, they make money off our productivity (depending on what you do).

    Having several part-time workers assisting me, it’s hard for me to justify, let’s say, a 10% raise when I don’t get an equal or better return on that additional investment. I don’t care about their hours, but I DO care about getting their work done.

    And I’ve worked at home for most of my career… when I sold a quarter of a billion dollars of investment real estate and while I pursue my entrepreneurial companies (mostly in video marketing now).

    AND… since I generally work 7:30 AM – 7:30 PM (my wife commutes to and from work and has 10 hour work days so I generally work the whole time she is out of the house), I guess even if I DID work for an outside company instead of for myself, fitting in peeing the dog or cutting the grass could still work.

    Believe me… I understand your thesis. But we have lives to live even while we deliver outstanding production for those who pay us.

    Charlie Seymour Jr

  2. Hi John and Scott,

    I was a telecommuter for many years, so I recognize the productivity “traps” that John has described. The other side of the coin is that new telecommuters are often hesitant to take the type of breaks from work that they would otherwise routinely take while working in the office, such as taking personal calls, running a quick errand, or even going to the bathroom. They’re so afraid of being perceived as not really working if they miss a call that they drive themselves crazy. I’m sure that worrying about the perceptions of others can also have a negative impact on productivity.

    Of course, like with most things, operating somewhere in between nose to the grindstone and being a total flake is advisable.

    • Ray, I totally agree that finding the balance is the key to making it work. Having been a telecommuter for years as well, I hadn’t thought about a new telecommuter’s need to be “over-productive.” Thanks for the post.

  3. Nice article, John! (I’m one of John’s co-workers, telecommuting for the past six years. It’s only 4 steps from my bedroom to my office.) Like John, I’ve had to establish the discipline of “being at work” vs “being at home” and I think I’ve been fairly effective at doing so.

    So effective, in fact, that my lunch times are shorter than when I was working in the company office (no more driving to a restaraunt for lunch) and I’m suffering fewer distractions from coworkers. Although my daily working time has remained the same, I’m “at home” an extra three or four hours a day. My “at home” life has noticeably improved with this extra time.

    My biggest adjustment was overcoming loneliness a year or two into this new work style. I’m past that point now and relish the peace and quiet when I need to concentrate.

    • Hi Barry. Thanks for reading and commenting. You make some excellent points- the time saved on commuting and “getting ready” for work. I also would think that feeling isolated could be a problem, but that phone calls and other virtual meetings probably take care of a lot of that.

      For me, I’m a college professor who works probably 40% from home. I found so much in John’s article that was incredibly useful. So much so, that I reached out to him to share his article here!

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