If you think it’s difficult to work in an office, imagine how hard it is to work at home.
Take me, for example. Here I am, trying to get this column written, while the butler is constantly bothering me with Staffordshire bone-china cups of India tea and silver salvers full of petit-fours, and the nanny is teaching the children their Latin grammar in the morning room, and the footman is canoodling with the parlor maid in the servants’ pantry.
No, wait a minute. That’s Downton Abbey. I’m in a two-bedroom rancher in my sweats, with the only distraction being the endless pounding on the front door from the super helpful thugs from the Apple store, trying to repo my laptop.
But you get the point. Sometimes the best place to get your work finished is the place where the work originated — at your job.
If I’m not a great example of the homebound work life, Laura Kreutzer certainly fits the bill. In her recently published confessional in The Wall Street Journal, Ms. Kreutzer starts with the headline, “Home Offices: How to Stop Working.”
(I know what you’re asking — why should we pay attention to someone who doesn’t know how to stop working, when it’s a talent you developed early in your not-working career? But give the lady a chance. Heaven knows you have the spare time.)
Kreutzer does work at home, and apparently she has a demanding, round-the-clock position. But her problem is not her work; it’s her family. Especially her husband, Clay, who becomes disgruntled when she has to leave the dinner to table to take a business call.
“Cue the eye roll from Clay,” she writes, “as he continued to quietly chew his chicken.”
Despite the simmering rage emanating from simpering Clay, the author does appreciate the benefits of her situation. “It gives me the flexibility to pop down into the basement and toss the wet laundry into the dryer,” she writes. “It is a privilege, and one that I am grateful to have.”
(Maybe I’ve been watching too many Coen Brothers films, but this is all sounding very ominous to me. If, while popping down to the basement, Kruetzer finds Clay at his workbench, meticulously sharpening his ax, solving her work-at-home issues should take on a new urgency.)
Of course, the privilege comes with a price. Though physically present, Kreutzer feels that her work keeps her “from fully engaging in family activities.” And — surprise! surprise! — Clay agrees. “He sometimes is irritated when I bring my laptop downstairs to work from the chaise lounge,” she writes about her dyspeptic spouse, “getting in his way as he goes about doing the daily housework.”
Leaving for a moment the horror-film aspects of life at Chez Clay, where I suspect hubby’s next housework chore may involve cleaning up blood stains, Kreutzer does have some tips on how she and we might improve a situation where, “basically, you’re perpetually in the office.”
One basic challenge lies in “learning when to turn things off.” (Note to Laura Kreutzer: if Clay is on oxygen, I have a suggestion of where to start.)
For the author, this means, “setting a strict evening cutoff time for responding to work-related emails or calls.” She chose 7 p.m. as her cut-off time, but I suspect you could do better. After all, you currently stop responding to work-related emails or calls the moment you sit down at your desk.
She also plans “to restrict work papers and other work-related materials to the home office.” Good idea! She should take a lesson from you and use the chaise for lounging in a peignoir and eating bonbons. As for having a home office, make your role model the brilliant physician and medical researcher, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, who kept his work confined to his laboratory, which allowed him to spend his off-hours with his loyal assistant and the friendly villagers.
Finally, Kreutzer will end her workday by making a to-do list for her next day’s activities, thus bringing a “sense of closure” to her day. Since you do so little, this day or the next, this technique may not work for you, but you could start your to-do list with an entry to make a to-do list, which would definitely give you one thing to do.
As for Ms. Kreutzer, I’m sure that journaling in the Journal helped her process her inner turmoil, but I strongly suggest she make some significant changes — and fast.
Until she does, here’s a tip — stay out of the basement.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.