Espresso, Underwear, and Early Mornings: How to Work From Home

There are temptations at home that do not exist in traditional work spaces. We asked some hyper-productive friends of The Atlantic Wire who work from home to explain their strategies, and what it is they do all day. 

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Jen Doll's recent post "Your Boss Is On to Your Little 'Work From Home' Scheme," described the new, privacy-invading ways in which employers monitor their worker bees' progress at home. These methods reveal a stigma towards those of us who work in the same spaces where we sleep, eat and live. (Because "living," for the record, is something you can only do outside of "work.") This stigma assumes that we watch Desperate Housewives, polish our bling, sauté organic vegetables, and other non-worky things, when we ought to be doing what we're paid to do. Or in other words, that we are less productive than people who work in offices.

We don't subscribe to this stigma [disclosure: typed from this writer's studio apartment], but we acknowledge why it exists. There are temptations at home that do not exist in traditional work spaces, and not everyone is cut out to overcome them, at least not without a plan. So we asked some hyper-productive friends of The Atlantic Wire -- friends who work for bosses who do not monitor their actions with computer software, friends who do freelance work, and friends who are their own bosses -- to explain their work-at-home strategies, the challenges they face, and what it is they do all day.

  • Molly Crabapple [photographed above, in her home studio] is a New York artist, author, entrepreneur and creator of the global drawing movement Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School. Crabapple has created her subversive, Victorian-inspired artwork for a list of clients that include The New York Times, Red Bull, and other similarly tiny companies. "I am a robot who exists to make work," Crabapple told The Atlantic Wire. "Honestly. I get out of bed in the morning, obsessed with my latest painting, and drink about a dozen espresso shots a day until I fall asleep, having painted, plotted, emailed, done interviews, and project managed for around 14 hours. I do it mostly in my underwear, blaring Johnny Cash. If I want to break, I break. I hate the people who say that if you work from home you should dress properly and work in 8 hour stretches in a defined office area. As my friend Clayton Cubitt says, that's just a free person absorbing a slave master's rules. How do I keep on task?  If I don't do work, I don't get paid. I feel that a lot of being [an] office worker is just about showing up, but freelancers actually have to make things to get money. I have several people who work for me, and the hardest thing is finding people who have that level of self-motivation."
  • Jessica Caldwell is a freelance independent film producer based in New York City. "I can do my job anywhere there is a power outlet and reliable high-speed internet," she told us. "All I need is my laptop and cellphone. Whenever I get tired of spending too much money in Starbucks, or palling around with my classmates at my former university library, I work from home. I try to avoid working from home at all costs because it is extremely challenging. I live in a 10 x 15 foot studio, which I share. [I]t helps if I leave my apartment in the morning, to go get coffee. I take breaks and walk outside for a few minutes every few hours. It also helps if I take a shower and get dressed. Working in pajamas is tempting but makes me hate myself by the end of the day. I also have to restrain myself from doing domestic tasks. Too often I've tried to combine work with household chores and I find myself procrastinating difficult work challenges with laundry. Of course it's nice to have clean clothes as a result, but it's still procrastination. I also work at a small desk I bought, even though it's tempting to sit or lay in bed. Every few weeks I research renting office space. I would love to be able to rent something affordable. But rent in New York City is crazy enough as it is."
  • Jeff Newelt is a public relations and social media consultant, writer, and editor who works from home in Queens, New York. "I've come up with some tricks to make working at home more efficient," he told us. "Make sure your work space is comfortable and not cluttered. You might think working from the couch or bed is a real treat. Sure, for 45 minutes or less; any more and short-term comfort becomes long-term neck-crick. Keep a well-stocked fridge with what you need to fuel long work stretches, nutritious snacks to keep you going and not give you an excuse to distract yourself with a bodega-run. I take a one hour afternoon constitutional. There's no excuse not to, as I would have used at least an hour to commute elsewhere, and it invigorates the mind, body, and soul."
  • "I work full-time at an office as a magazine editor, and I also spend a good portion of my time outside the office freelance writing about fashion and style from home, so I'm lucky to be able to experience both worlds," Meghan Blalock, who is also [somehow] a yoga instructor, told us. "The work I do from home is either early in the morning (before work), in the evenings (after work), or on the weekends. So, in a mildly interesting twist, I find that working from home offers fewer distractions, because there are fewer people around, either literally or digitally, to usurp my attention. I don't have cable, so my distractions at home are basically limited to Internet memes, which could just as easily distract in an office. Another advantage of working from home is that I can blast music as loud as I want (while respecting my roommate's wishes and those of my neighbors, of course), and I sometimes find that helps me to concentrate."
  • Maisie Weissman is a video editor and producer for (primarily) reality television shows, which recently include DIY Network's The Vanilla Ice Project and Bio Channel's Celebrity House Hunting. For seven years, she has worked out of her home in Delmar, New York, which is just outside of Albany, for the company Departure Films, which is located in New York City. "My job is all about deadlines, which are the time budgeted for a particular show," Weissman told us on the phone from Delmar. "I can’t edit a show last minute, so I tend to work really hard in the beginning and relax more towards end. What matters is that the work gets done. I think you can work really intensely at some points and less intensely at others. At offices, sometimes you finish your work early and then you have to pretend to be working...At home, there is the concern of looking unproductive, so that helps you crack the whip a little...The time my workday begins depends on who takes the kids to preschool or camp. I switch off with [my husband] Dan. When it's his turn, they leave at eight-thirty, so I get to start a lot earlier. I usually have to clean up a bit before I start work because, with two young kids, our mornings are very chaotic. Then I sit down and check my email in different room than the one I work in. I keep it separate, because the internet is definitely a trap when working from home...My rhythm is I work really hard in the morning and then slower when the kids come home from preschool. When they're home, I work with headphones on to block out the noise...Sometimes you have to walk around the house to take your mind off things, where at an office you’d be chatting with a coworker or meeting a friend for lunch; You need that processing time....In the beginning, it was a bit of a shock being alone, waiting for Dan to come home, not having anyone to talk to, but I’ve gotten used to it now. The flexibility is the best part. If you’re doing good work, your bosses aren’t going to care [about the manner in which it was done]. It’s about efficiency."
  • "I put out a political newsletter called First Read for City & State, so I start my weekdays at 4:30 a.m.," said Aaron Short, a journalist who does most of his writing in his Brooklyn apartment. "I have two alarms, one on my phone and one piercingly loud desk alarm that sounds like a songbird getting tortured by a teenage malcontent. My deadline for scanning and aggregating the morning news from the day's papers is 6 a.m. Then I go to work compiling the next day's list. I write longform pieces on top of that, most recently a feature about McCarren Park Pool, a public pool that had been closed for 28 years, for The Awl. I had to set aside blocks of time on two weekends and a holiday to finish it. The saying that sometimes a story writes itself is bullshit. You are still reporting the story, organizing your notes, and molding the piece into a coherent narrative. The best thing you can do is block out more than enough time to write, take your breaks so you don't get exhausted, and have friends read your draft and give you feedback. And always celebrate finishing a long piece with champagne or chocolate. Preferably both."
  • Woody Batts is an artist and designer living in New York (by way of Baltimore), who runs his own art studio and design agency. "By the nature of my business I work almost exclusively from home," he told us. "I have a two bedroom apartment where one room serves as an office [and] studio. I used to have an office in Manhattan but I wanted to be able to move quickly from computer-based design to painting or drawing at a moments whim. Many people have the notion that as a freelancer my days begin at noon and I lounge for hours reading and sipping coffee or cocktails. This is only partially true. I certainly have the freedom to do these things, however for me to achieve my goals and maintain the level of success I desire, I normally start my day hours before my office dwelling cohorts. A typical day for me begins at 5 a.m., when I take my dog for the first of the many walks...and I hit Dunkin Donuts where I grab the first of my many “Extra Large, Black” coffees. Soon after I am in Soho, where I study Brazilian Jui Jitsu...and I am back at my apartment working by 9 a.m. I usually work until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. I am contracted by 30 hours a week for one of my clients and the rest of the time is spread out to other clients and my personal entrepreneurial endeavors. [I] find that momentum is very important for motivation. To always feel like I am producing and creating stimulates a self-sustaining fire of motivation inside of me. [I] keep a small pad of paper next to my keyboard where I jot down ideas for myself. Later in my day I follow up and execute these ideas turning them into products."
  • Brianne Garcia is a 24-year-old entrepreneur who works from her apartment in New York City's Chinatown (by way of St. Louis). She's in the building phases of launching a shopping startup, called Parceld. "I'm starting a business, and right now, I'm the only one who works on it full time," Garcia told us. "My partner is a software engineer at Amazon, my product manager works for another startup, and my designer also has a full time job. Because we are a small and scrappy company at this point with very limited funds, my job is basically to do everything not related to building the actual product. I have a ton of meetings and calls with potential investors. I pitch and then refine that pitch 24/7. I write for the blog, maintain the social media channels, email women to try and get them to sign up as beta users, and continuously research...The hardest part about all of it is tracking and controlling my social media activity...I just don't have a big bad boss to stare over my shoulder; I have to be the big bad boss and hold myself accountable. I just started using RescueTime, which I think is going to be really helpful. You can set the amount of time you need to focus on a specific task, and it tracks your activity, so if you are supposed to be working on a presentation for 45 minutes, and you're tweeting and getting lost in Linkback Land, it lets you know. [I] wake up at 6:30 everyday because I like to get an early start. And I really believe that, while I dick around a little bit, I am probably actually more focused with my time than a lot of people who work traditional desk jobs...While I can see how working from home might seem like the ultimate freedom, it's only great if you're disciplined. If you just watch TV and eat hummus on the couch, you're not going to do your job, whatever that might be. And then you'll be jobless...The goal is to be focused enough to structure your time. It's a struggle, but when I do it, it feels like a great accomplishment and is positive reinforcement enough to continue to do it."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.