The Nomad Dad

As I continue my evolution into a self-employed online entrepreneur, I run a never-ending gauntlet of new challenges for which I am just now becoming equipped. Some of these challenges include learning new technological skills, finding capital, hunting for great partners, and continually motivating myself to continue working, bypassing the amazing and grotesque story of the woman on Oprah whose boss’ “pet” chimpanzee mauled her beyond recognition. Alas, while these challenges are difficult hurdles to negotiate, the one for which I was least prepared is trying to work at home.

Working in “a home” is not the issue so much as working in “my current home”. My wife, 2.5 year old son, 7 month old daughter, and I all share a 1,280 square foot, 2 bedroom, authentic brick and timber true loft in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. If you are not familiar with a true loft, it means that the layout is very open with no doors and walls that do not reach the very high ceilings. We have been trying unsuccessfully to sell our place for about a year now, but the market is tough, and we happen to live in a neighborhood which is developing very quickly, with inventory saturating the market, much of it being sold off on the cheap at developer auctions and such. Our condo is extremely cool, the location is almost unbeatable, and the amenities are more than adequate. It was huge when Kerry and I moved in, and plenty of space even when Xavier came along. Hayden’s arrival earlier this year threw off the “tenant-to-square-foot ratio”, and in preparation for her arrival, we put our place up for sale.

To make a long story short (this isn’t an article intended to sell our condo after all), it still hasn’t sold. In June, I began working from home, and my ability to work in an environment free of not only daily temptations like T.V. and Xbox 360, but also regular interruptions from all three of my roommates has been severely compromised. To be fair, for the first couple of months I was home, my “work” consisted of spending several daytime hours surfing multiple job listing resources and networking, while the “Worldwide Pants” hours were spent working on my blogs. Late in the summer, however, it occurred to me that the world is changing in a profound way right now, and establishing multiple wellsprings of income while building my own personal brand is vital to my family’s future. To that end, I officially undertook other business building ventures, and my “work” has actually become exactly that…work. So, what to do about the home office situation?

Obviously, the best solution is also one that is more or less beyond my control, and that is selling our condo, and moving into a home where I can have a real office with a door dedicated to business activities. While ideal, a door alone will not completely solve the problem of interruption, so I looked to other sources of advice about ways to handle this underestimated challenge. One article in particular caught my eye, with simple and straightforward tips from a father of six who works from home. Yes, I live in a loft, but he has six rugrats at home with him, that gives him a degree of authority on the subject that I respect. It sounds like this is an issue for many Dads and also Moms, and the numbers of people working from home is growing every day, so I want to share Mr. Leo Babauta’s article, 10 (More) Tips on Doing Productive Web Work with Kids in the House, with others here.

Because Mr. Babauta does not specifically offer tips for my situation where a door, or even ten feet of separation exist between me and my potential interruptions, I thought I would add a personal touch by emphasizing the ability to work productively while “on the run”. Yes, for some a nomadic lifestyle is not the most productive, but I happen to live in the heart of one of the most populous cities in the world, so I have no shortage of locations where I can plop down with my backpack and laptop and get some work done. Today I sat in my nearest neighborhood Starbucks (I have four within a 3-4 minute walk), yesterday I did some work at Borders, and tomorrow I might visit Argo Tea.

Coffee shops and their ilk are also not ideal, often they are quite busy, and the music that the staff chooses to play can sometimes be overwhelming. Using these businesses like a biologically advantaged Cuckoo bird also comes with the delicate dance I will simply title “How-much-do-I-have-to-buy-to-be-left-alone-for-many-hours-on-end-and-will-this-Tall-Pike-Place-Roast-get-the-job-done?” tango. So far, so good. Usually I shell out about $2 for a hot beverage and the permission to commandeer my own little corner with electrical outlet for 3-4 hours, and no hassles whatsoever.

So, for now, this needs to be my top solution, though in the long run, it will not be sufficient. There are some things that must be done “in the office”, and for that I must either develop better techniques for blocking out the distractions, or give up some additional sleep. It is also a situation that requires a commitment from my wife, and she has been mostly good about it thus far. One huge benefit to working from home on my own business, after all, is the ability to spend more time with my family, so to some extent, my workday will always be “non-traditional”, it just demands a little creativity and dedication.

I’d love to hear from others who either have dealt with or are currently dealing with this same issue. What have you tried to better the situation? What has worked, and what has not? Oh, and if you think this story can benefit others, please pass it on, either directly, or by using the share buttons directly below this article.

Be Well!

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4 Responses

  1. Dave,

    Can totally relate to your story – and I have lots of doors and zero roommates.

    There’s a certain discipline that’s required to be self-managed and luckily you’ve spent enough time in structured corporate settings to know that a formalized space also didn’t always lend itself to productivity.

    So here’s a few suggestions:
    1. Keep a daily list of goals – Nothing lofty, something pragmatic and things that roll up into the big picture.
    2. Play background music – Not too distracting, but nothing that will put you to sleep. It needs to motivate but not over-stimulate.
    3. Take breaks – Yet keep them quick, to avoid having to “regroup.”
    4. Check up on online stats – Whether it’s in the morning or three times a day, know that you have to be on pulse: with social networks, stock market, global news, site traffic, etc. Be consistent on when you check these so they become the rudiments of the day.
    5. Give yourself rewards – If you meet a weekly biz goal, download a new iTunes song, or anything else that will incent you to completion.

    Hope this helps. I have more of these for people starting their own biz:

    • Alex, thanks for the list of tips…they are great.

      I really agree with you on goal-setting…and more importantly, writing them down. The act of writing them down reinforces them in your mind, and almost assures they will be accomplished. I also believe in breaks, but the really must be brief, as you state, the danger is needing to regroup which can take a long time depending on the circumstances.

      I hope you will continue to read and contribute as appropriate in the future.

  2. Dave

    Working at home can be a challenge because you’re accustomed to home being your “leisure” space, not your work space. Having people around makes it even harder.

    I can’t imagine working at a Starbucks, too much noise and distraction. In order to write I usually require no noise at all so I can listen to and compose my thoughts.

    Also, I find that creating an outline first is helpful in writing. Working on several outlines first can really help you in composition and organization. You can work on an outline almost anyplace and have several outlines going for several projects but then I usually need a quiet place to do the actual writing.

    Maybe you should try to Main Library to work, it’s quiet and they have free wi-fi and in a secluded corner, it can feel more like an “office”.

    • B, thanks for the suggestion of the library…there are actually some really good spots on the top floor of the Harold Washington library where I can hide out.

      Just for clarity, I am looking specifically for tips others can use as well about how to deal with the combination of small home office and children. It isn’t really just noise that is the trouble, and I actually have really enjoyed working amidst the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop. I find that being among a wide variety of people going about their different lives and activities inspires me to work harder, and not just writing, but also on building online business which I am still very much learning. Being out also affords me the chance to meet new people, many of whom are in similar situations, and could be of help in the future…you never know.

      As for writing, I believe there is a time for outlines and deep quiet thought, and there is also a time for free flow of thoughts, then editing later. The writing itself comes pretty easily for me, it is making the time, be it quiet or loud, that is the challenge. It is very difficult to look my son in the eye when he asks me to play trains or read him a book, and tell him that I can’t. Those are the stories I hope to hear from others as a result of this post.

      I really do appreciate you reading and sharing!


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