Wednesday 4 December 2019

Taking Care of Business - Ciaran Murtagh

People always think it must be brilliant working from home, and as I sit in my freezing shed with frost on the inside of the windows waiting for the heater to come out of hibernation long enough to stop my breath steaming, I have to agree.

Sure it has it's problems, like wondering if you're going to make enough money  to justify turning on the heaters in the first place, but it also has lots of benefits. You're your own boss. You can work when you like and you can fit working hours around other things you might need to do in the day, like picking fluff out of your belly button, nursing that Bargain Hunt addiction and wondering what you're going to wear for dress down Friday, even though every day is technically dress down Friday. Truth be told, I sometimes have a 'can't be bothered to get dressed at all' Thursday...

But work does still need to be done. You can't just sit in your shed inhaling the sweet fumes of your a-ha themed scented candle (true fact) and dream of being JK. So how can you make a success of working from home? As Elvis said - you gotta Take Care of Business.

1) Routine

There is something about a commute to work that gets you out of home space and into work space. I'm not saying I want to sit on an overcrowded, overpriced train in order to be more effective, but I find I have to do something. When your commute is literally 'walk to the shed' or in previous incarnations 'walk to the spare room' then there's little time to transition.

This morning I've got myself up (big tick there), got two kids up, dispatched them to two different schools and nurseries, did the bins, tidied bedrooms and now it's time to work. Trouble is I don't really feel like it. I need to do something to kick myself into gear.  For me it's a blast at the gym, for you it might be a walk, a swim, reading the paper, something that kicks you into a different place. It may seem like you're wasting your time - the kids'll be back before you know it, there's stuff to be done. But as Billy Bragg said:

'I know it looks like I'm just reading the paper, 
but these ideas I'll turn to gold dust later
'Cause I'm a writer not a decorator...' 

2) Planning

I like to know what I'm doing in a day. Some people like to plan the night before, that's never been my bag. It's also impossible sometimes. I have book deadlines that might be a month or two in advance, I have TV deadlines which are literally 'by lunchtime' and I have the joys of working with Australia and the US who work through the night to give me work I didn't know existed in the morning.

Regardless, each morning I try and make a plan for myself. It doesn't have to be colour coded and covered in sticky notes, literally a numbered list - I am going to do these things in this order and then I'm going to stop, unless Australia wakes up early. It gives my day structure, and while it might not go according to plan, at least I know what I'm diverting from so I can come back to it in due course.

3) Breaks

Take breaks. You are not a loser for taking breaks. Procrastinating is not the same as taking a break. Recognise when you've hit a wall. I can spend an hour staring at a screen getting nowhere, I go and make a cup of tea and the thing clicks into place like a magic eye puzzle (ask your parents). Breaks are important.

4) Writing is not the only work

My job is a writer, therefore you might think the only time I'm doing my job properly is when I'm putting words on a page. It's not true. We're not coal miners, we're not paid by the tonne. Research is work. Answering emails is work. Sorting out your receipts is work. Invoicing is work. Sometimes - and don't tell my wife - sitting in a bath with a notepad and pen at two in the afternoon, is work. Don't beat yourself up too much about targets and word counts. If you are doing something that contributes to making the core business of what you do easier and more successful, you are working.

5) Don't eat the biscuit

That is literally it. In an office, you eat all the biscuits people judge you. When you're your own boss you can eat all the biscuits, go out and buy a new packet so nobody knows, eat them too and then only get blamed for eating one packet of biscuits. That has never EVER happened by the way.

What I mean is, fight your urges and your temptations. There are lots of things you could be doing and no one is going to know if you do them instead of work apart from yourself. Know what your distractions are and try and break the habit of going to them. You'll get more done, and in my case, stay slimmer.

That's it. Merry Christmas. Keep on trucking and may all your notebook pages be white.


Alex English said...

Great post!

Ciaran Murtagh said...

Thanks Alex. It’s always about the biscuits