Working From Home… Again

If you hold a full-time job during the day, and moonlight with small projects, then you will likely be familiar with this scenario. Your day job is a source of steady income, and the side projects give you something extra, but are not reliable. When you have a project, you try to complete it as quickly and efficiently as possible, since it occupies your spare time (of which you don’t have much to spare).

For the sake of this article, assume that a normal working day is 9 to 5, and it will take you an hour and a half to get home and each dinner, which puts you to 6:30. Now you need to spend some time with your family and relax a little (try going without this for more than a couple of days and you will see why this is needed), perhaps an hour, to 7:30. Now you might be able to start working, at the earliest.

In order to work efficiently, you need blocks of time in which to work. This block must be large enough that you can spend some time “getting into the zone”, work for a while, and then spend some time closing up your work. For me, when programming, this tends to be about a 2 hour block. Longer than this and I start getting distracted when I should be in the zone, so a break is needed every 2 hours.

When planning work, you need to consider this. The size of your block, which depends on how long you can stay focused, will vary, but it can be figured out (just clock yourself a few times). If a project is estimated for 5 hours, that means 3 two-hour work sessions. The next question is how many work sessions can you do.

Considering that you are likely tired from being at work all day, it’s probably not a good idea to schedule more than 2 work sessions per evening, and that should be the exception. Using the numbers I showed above, that would translate to finishing work at 11:30, plus the time spent during the break, which should be at least 30 minutes, which brings us to 12:00. A third work session would bring us to 2:30. Then 5:00. You then grab a couple of hours of sleep, drink huge amounts of coffee and head to your day job, and the cycle repeats.

Instead, try the following. There are 5 workdays per week, so pick 2 as being nights off. Of your 2 weekend days, pick one as a day off. This helps you ensure that you relax properly at least once a week, and get a proper amount of sleep at least 2 worknights.

On the 3 worknights that you plan on working, plan for 1 working session for 1 evening, 2 working sessions for the second evening, and, if the project needs it, 3 working sessions for the third evening. On the weekend, work out how many hours you have available, and fill them. By doing this, you help ensure that you can plan for projects (that is, you know in advance how much time you have available to work) and can keep time open so that you don’t burn out too quickly.

One of the other things you may want to consider for the weekend is your client meetings (if you can). Count a meeting as a working session when planning your time. A weekend day may look like (4 working at home sessions and 1 client meeting):

  • 10:00 – 12:00 working at home
  • 12:00 – 12:30 lunch
  • 12:30 – 2:00 meet with client A
  • 2:30 – 4:30 working at home
  • 5:00 – 6:30 relax and dinner
  • 6:30 – 8:30 working at home
  • 9:00 – 11:00 working at home

What kind of schedule do you use? How do you keep yourself from buring out? Let me know, I’m always interested in hearing how other people balance their Work-Work-Life schedules.