No, I can’t, I’m working.
While I haven’t said these words out loud as many times as I’ve wanted to, I’ve said them in my mind at least once a day for the past year. I know every other person who works from home says them daily, probably hourly.
I left my full-time office job in March of 2015 and when my (then) youngest started kindergarten that August, I buckled down and focused on my freelance writing career. I worked from home.
At first, I struggled with setting boundaries for myself. I’d18 get distracted by the laundry or Netflix, or I’d decide to go have lunch with my husband and before I knew it a few hours had passed. But what was really hard to break was the perception that I was always available.
My close friends knew I was working. They knew I wasn’t always going to be able to stop and have coffee or watch their kids. But it seemed like everyone always assumed I was available and eager to do things during the day because the kids were in school.
For people who leave their house and go to work in an office, the idea of working from home is weird. Sure, you say you’re a work at home mom, but what does that actually mean?
For me, it means getting up before my kids to get an hour or two of work in before they need me. It means working during naps or rest time. It means working at the playground, at night, and on weekends. It means working work around the family. And it definitely means that when I have the time to work, I need to work!
Finding a nice way to say “No, I can’t, I’m working,” was nearly impossible for me. So I took a few steps to make the situation easier.
- I put my phone in “do not disturb” mode. I knew it would be super hard for me to not answer the phone when a friend called, or not return a text right away, so I eliminated the possibility. My husband, my mom, the elementary school, and my best friend were the only ones who could get through to me.
- I let people know I was working. I made a point to say, when talking to friends about upcoming plans, that I was planning to work X number of hours this week.
- I worked away from home. When I made the effort to go someplace else to work, even if it was just the library down the street, it made me more invested in my time. It also made it look like I was out and busy and avoided the, “I called but you didn’t answer,” questions.
- I was honest. When asked if I could watch kids, or if I wanted to go for lunch and I was working, I just said it. “I’m sorry, I wish I could, but I have to finish this project today.”
Some of the hardest conversations must be had with close friends and family regarding this. I don’t live near my family, but I’m very lucky that most of them have experienced working from home. In fact, when my sister came to visit, she also worked from my house. It was really nice not having to explain to her why I couldn’t entertain all day.
The bottom line is, boundaries have to be set and expectations managed. Hard conversations are in your future if you work from home and feel compelled to continue explaining yourself. It’s not entirely fair for us to expect people who don’t share our job situation to understand until we explain it. A firm, but gentle explanation should be all it takes. Although if, after you’ve explained it, the lines are still crossed, you may have to be a bit more firm.
How have you taught others to respect your work-from-home hours?