Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

11 December, 2005

Working from home
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 4:25 PM

I’ve been running Near Death Studios for nearly 5 years now. During this time, I’ve worked entirely from home and helped manage people across the country. In these years, I’ve picked up some tips and tricks on how to work effectively at home and I thought I’d share some with my readers.

  1. Put your work/computer in another room, not your bedroom. Damion Schubert shared this tip with me early in my days of resurrecting Meridian 59. He said that nothing is as irritating as lying in bed, perhaps in the arms of your significant other, then looking at the computer and thinking about the work you could be doing. Putting the computer in another room helps separate out your personal life and your work life a bit more. Of course, putting the computer in the living room could lead to more distractions from the TV (see rule 4 below).
  2. Find something to remind you of work. Get something to put you in a working mood. For me, it was bottled water. We rented (and later bought) a water cooler/heater and we get bottled water delivered to our house. I even put the dispenser in the kitchen so that I have to get up and go get water. I don’t mind drinking tap water, but something about the act of getting up to go get some water helps put me in a mood. It also gives me a chance to get away from the computer for a moment and give some thought. It also has the very healthy side-effect of giving me an alternative beverage to endless amounts of soda.
  3. Set some kind of hours and stick with them. One of the nice things about working from home is that you can set your own hours and your own schedule. Of course, if you own the business this usually translates to “able to work every waking hour”. But, there is the temptation to go off and do something else instead of working. Your best bet is to set some “core hours” when you’ll be working and stick to those. Of course, some flexibility keeps you from going insane. This is especially important if other people need to communicate with you.
  4. Avoid too many distractions. This goes along with the core hours. It’s easy to want to go out and watch some daytime TV instead of getting work done. Not that you shouldn’t take breaks to give yourself a rest, but be careful that your whole day doesn’t become one long break. You need to find a happy medium between all work and no play and the exact opposite.
  5. Realize that people won’t take your work seriously. If your roommate needs a ride to the airport at 1 in the afternoon, guess who he or she is going to ask. Yep, you, because you’re at home. Of course, this same roommate will use work as an excuse when it comes time to reciprocate. No one else is going to help you get your work done, so you need to focus.
  6. Stay in communication. If you’re working with other people remotely, stay in communication as often as possible. Make phone calls and/or send IM messages to keep in touch. It’s easy for people to get buried in work and race forward in isolation. This may work for a while, but eventually you’ll want to direct people and if you haven’t been in communication regularly before it becomes easy for them to undervalue it. Get comfortable with all forms of communication.
  7. Don’t ignore your outside life. It’s easy to get sucked into work and never come up from air. But, that’s not a healthy way of doing stuff. Although it may seem like things will fall apart without you carefully monitoring everything, that’s rarely the case. Spend some time with your good friends, or your significant other. Perhaps it might be a good idea to get out and make some friends or meet a significant other. :) Find a local gaming store and join a gaming group; it’s a great way to blow off some steam, and learning about board games can help you become a better developer.
  8. Enjoy yourself! I won’t lie to you, running a business is hard work. You’re going to be spending long hours at your computer, and on most days it’ll seem like you’re merely treading water and not making any forward motion. But, remember that you are working for yourself. Take pride in the fact that you’re doing what few other people even dare to think about. The life of an entrepreneur is not easy, but it can be very rewarding. Even if you don’t go on to create the next Microsoft, you will gain a lot of experience that should serve you well in your future career.

Any other tips and tricks from other people working at home?

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  1. “Put your work/computer in another room, not your bedroom.”

    This can not be stressed enough!

    I am beyond lucky in that my home came with a ‘den’ so when I switched to working at home I moved into the den. Not only does this allow me to shut down distractions (I can close the door and draw the blinds when I really need to work in isolation) it also tells everyone else in the house when you are working. Even my kids know that I am working when I am in the office. They may come to me for simple things (help with a coat, get a drink of water, etc.) but if they have a serious need for attention and I’m in the office, they understand that finding their mother is the path to an answer.

    Naturally, when she’s working in the office, they come to me.

    Having a separate workspace is a clear communication to the self, and to the world that ‘work is done here’ and it helps everyone adjust to respecting what you do.

    Comment by Grimwell — 11 December, 2005 @ 8:15 PM

  2. You hit on pretty much everything. The thing that’s really hard is if you add kids into the picture. They don’t exactly understand not to scream while mommy is on the phone hearing about the latest build going up or that she’s talking to her editor about a prospective job or anything else. Kids can really put a kaibosh on the whole thing and there’s not much you can do about it unless you want to pay for daycare which defeats the purpose of working from home and saving money on daycare. ;)

    Comment by Sachant — 14 December, 2005 @ 1:39 PM

  3. I’ve spent the last five and a half years working from home (my company is super telecommute friendly), and spent a lot of the years before that doing sizable telecommuting as well. My advice:

    1. Have a clear “I am working” signal. It doesn’t need to be a separate room if that’s not your style, but there needs to be some partitioning of your life that allows you to indicate to yourself that you’re working, and also shows others that you shouldn’t be disturbed.

    2. Keep regular office hours, no different than if you were going into the office.

    3. Keep good records of your business expenses. You’ll want them come tax-time.

    4. Invest in things that help you communicate and collaborate.

    5. Leave the house on a regular basis. Consider occasionally working outdoors or in some public space. (I particularly like outdoor cafes with wireless Internet access.)

    Comment by Lydia Leong (Amberyl) — 20 December, 2005 @ 12:15 AM

  4. I’ve been working from home for 3 years now. I think the biggest problem is how to keep your motivation alive. Many people heard about “how easy to make money from home” and then misunderstand it (just like I did). They think that by working from home they can easily be the next millionaires. When finally this never happened, they get upset and give up.

    I have some advice:
    1. Working from home is not as easy as you think. It’s not different from your daily job; the difference is just where you work. You still have to manage your own schedules, maintain your clients, and handle many troubles with your clients. Yes, it’s hard.

    2. By working from home you will become the next millionaires. I agree with it. As long as you know what to do. But trust me, it’s not as easy as you think. I have tried it for the last 3 years and still unsuccesfull.

    Please realize these two things before you make your decision.

    Enzo Chiu
    Freelance programmer and web developer

    Comment by Enzo Chiu — 22 August, 2006 @ 3:05 AM

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