I work. A lot. Usually between 60 and 90 hours a week. My boss is cool and doesn’t require those hours he just gives me enough to fill 40 or 50 hours and leaves me alone. Along the way I pick up other things to do in order to help folks out with various things and one thing leads to another until… I work. A lot. But I do it from home.
How we manage that level of work in the home is quite a trick and it mostly has to do with Mrs. Jinksto being the only sane one in the house.
She wakes me up with coffee every morning. Usually sometime between five and six. I gratefully accept it and thank her every morning. As the mental cogs slowly spin up to speed I check my work email on my phone. Usually, there’s not too much going on at that hour so I put the phone back and deal with the email later. If there IS something going on that I need to fix then it’s off I go to the office. This gives me 3 or 4 hours to work on whatever is “broken” before anyone gets into the office. Sometimes if an email is urgent but not critical I’ll tap out a quick reply on the phone. If an email requires only a few lines or a yes/no answer then that’s easy. If it requires more I head to the office to use the big keyboard.
Most days, though, there’s nothing in email that I can’t deal with later so I take a few more minutes to get the engine started and then wander outside. I sit on the patio with a cigarette and my coffee and wonder at the gift that I’ve been given. In the spring, I can’t see my neighbors house through the trees that surround my yard. It’s quiet. That early morning quiet that’s quiet enough that you notice the planes on final to KCLT when they fly over and notice when the neighbor fires up his truck to go to work.
After a while I go back into the house and head for my office. Mrs Jinksto has gone back to bed for a while by now so it’s quiet in the house. I quickly sort through the overnight emails, clean them up and then. Check my calendar for the day to get an idea about what my call schedule looks like. If I’ve got enough time in the middle of the day I’ll send a friend a chat to make plans for lunch. Once my calendar is straight, I work on anything that’s handy until my first call of the day. The rest of the day is a constant switching between email, phone calls and actually doing work. I tend to work on a lot of different projects so describing even one of them would give you the wrong idea about what I do. I know what my role is… I just can’t explain what I do. “Everything” is a poor description.
Occasionally, when there’s a hole in my schedule I’ll drop everything and go out to the shop. I invent things, or make things that we need or spend an hour building a pen from a block of wood on the lathe. Anything to decompress and get my mind off of work. After several years of practice I’m pretty good at this and can switch work on and off at will. Sometimes if I’m working on a particularly hard problem I can put it on the virtual back burner while I’m working in the shop and after a while the answer to my problem will come to me. When that happens I drop what I’m doing and head back to the office.
My boss doesn’t care if I disappear for an hour. He knows that I’ll be back and that I’ll get everything done on time (or mostly on time). If I’m going to miss getting something done he knows that I’ll let him know before it becomes a problem and that I’ve given it my best. Most times he just accepts the new estimate without comment, sometimes he’ll ask me to follow a different path to get the work done. Like I said, he’s a good boss.
Most of the tasks that I take on throughout the day are small things. Quick tasks that I can get done in a few minutes. Usually, they’re not even something that relate directly to my job. Just things that I can do for other people quickly to make their lives better. It might be a bug in a bit of code that someone’s been sweating over for days or I might be chasing down an approval for work that has been sitting for months with no action. It might even be 30 minutes of career counseling for a friend. Whatever is needed really.
In a typical 9 hour day I have between 6 and 8 phone calls for different projects. Most of them are between 30 minutes and an hour long so that eats up most of the ”day”. I don’t accept calls or meeting requests after 4 PM unless it’s for a very special purpose. After 4PM is when I get the “hard” work done. Writing large pieces of code. Working out the details of a spreadsheet. Sometimes developing a powerpoint presentation. Essentially, anything that I can’t get done in the “downtime” between calls during the day. I generally work on those things until I either complete them or the clock starts yelling that it’s midnight… again.
At midnight I start thinking seriously about going to bed and, usually, do sometime before 1AM. Four or five hours later I get up and do it again.
All through the day I take little breaks to do various tasks. Cut the grass, help plant a few flowers, work on a flower bed, build something in the shop… whatever. I might be away for 10 minutes or an hour. Occasionally, on a nice day, I’ll take a couple of hours and drive over to Rob’s for coffee and to hang out. Whatever I can find to distract me for a few minutes and get my mind off of work.
Of course, as soon as I get back, It’s back to answering mails and working on various things until bedtime.
My work computer and home computer sit right next to each other. I can punch a button on my keyboard and switch the monitors from one computer to the other. If things get rough or I’m tired and frustrated and can hit a key and be in another world. My world. My facebook, twitter, news, games… whatever.
That’s my day pretty much every day that’s not a weekend. On weekends I get a little more time off but the sirens call of the work computer always staring at me from one of the monitors is hard to resist.
The other side of that scale means that Mrs Jinksto gets stuck with most of the other crap that happens. She handles ALL of our finances (I do get veto power… sometimes), and the housework, and the dishes, and the cooking, and the… well, everything really. So, my working so much certainly makes her job harder. I try to mitigate that by telling her that she doesn’t have a job. She’s not responsible for cooking for me, or taking out the trash, or… any of it. If she decides that she doesn’t want to cook some nights then I find something else to eat or cook for us. If she doesn’t do laundry for a few days, hey, whatever…. unless I run out of socks, then I whine a bit but the option always exists for her to tell me to wash my own damn socks. And I would… eventually…
None of this was by plan really. Over the years we just sort of fell into it. I make money, she keeps me alive. It’s a balance of sorts that’s sorta fair to everybody… mostly me.
The trick, of course, is to make yourself take those breaks. The company that I work for has a pretty intense training program available for people that work from home. It goes through, in detail, how to manage your day so that you don’t become a workaholic zombie that’s always frustrated, tired and annoying to be around. I, of course, am doing it exactly the wrong way but you’d sort of expect that I guess.
In the end, it’s about balance. You have to give yourself and your loved ones enough time. Some folks do that through vacations or the local church or simple community activities. Some folks handle it with hobbies. For me, it’s the little things. A quick hug as I walk through the kitchen or 30 minutes planting flowers with her. Those things are enough for me. I love being where she can call my name at any time during the day. I love when she does. Occasionally, that’s not enough for her and she’ll tell me. When that happens I stop working and spend time with her. Always. Balance.