If you are self-employed and work from home, then you are largely in charge of your schedule. People around you (family and friends) may misinterpret this control as meaning that you work “whenever you feel like it.”
Creating an ideal writing routine takes time. We have to figure out whether we work best in the morning, afternoon or night. We trial different creative processes such as outlining, discovery writing or a combination of both. We test out different cafes and libraries to see which ones have the best lighting, non-invasive music and relaxed staff. We learn whether we are disciplined enough to check email and social media before we start writing, or whether our Wi-Fi has to stay off until the session is over.
The writing routine is often fetishized, but the reality is it takes a long time and a lot of experimentation to develop a routine that supports our creative practice and goals.
When we find something that works, we stick to it.
Unfortunately, these routines are also very fragile.
We need to set aside a reasonable chunk of time—preferably during our optimal working hours—in order to do the deep work our novels/short stories/articles/essays require. A knock on the door, a text message or email can be enough to throw us off our game. For every interruption that occurs, it takes fifteen minutes to get back into the ‘zone.’
A friend may call or text to invite you out for a morning coffee or to go see a midday movie. Because you work from home they just assume you’ll make up those lost hours later.
The problem is, you only have so many good hours in a day.
If you spend three of your optimal morning hours having coffee with a friend, you are not going to get those hours back. Of course, you can push yourself to make up those lost hours later, but the quality of that work will not be equal to what you could have produced during your optimal working hours.
There is only one way to negotiate your work schedules with loves one: communication.
That means you need to tell your family and friends what your non-negotiable work hours are. If you consider yourself a morning person, get yourself into your office as early as reasonably possible and firmly close the door. You can even put up a nifty sign if you like. Tell your family that you will be unavailable between 9am-12pm. You can then reserve less urgent tasks such as administration and email for the afternoon. Though it may still be undesirable to be interrupted during this time, you can let your family know that they can come to see you between 1-5pm.
If you have adult children, teenagers or friends that you connect with on a daily basis via text message, tell them not to text you during your dedicated writing time. You can also switch your phone to flight mode or leave it in another room, but some people prefer to keep their phones handy in case of emergency.
That being said, there is no reason to keep your inbox or social media pages open during your writing time. You need to make it MORE difficult for people to interrupt you, not easier!
And no-one is going to contact you about an emergency situation via email or social. If the house is on fire—metaphorically speaking—people will call you.
Being self-employed and working from home is a dream scenario for many people. The downside is some people see home-based businesses as less serious then brick and mortar businesses. As though the money earned through writing articles is less real than that earned through an employer.
Being a full-time writer who works from home is a privilege, but it is also a job. A job that you need to dedicate time to. A job that requires a schedule and that requires you to stick to that schedule. Family and friends may never see your work in this way, or they may forget when your non-negotiable work hours are, but there are so many distractions you do have control over. You have the power to say no to invitations and requests. To switch off your devices. To close your web browser.
You can’t stop life from happening, but you can minimise its ability to distract you. And don’t worry, all those requests, invitations and interruptions will still be there when you open the door and emerge from your writing cave. At least you will be more generous in dealing with them because you’ve already tended to one of your highest priorities: writing.