Some people work from home. Do you ‘home from work’?

Various labor studies have found that, over the past few decades, the proportion of workers claiming to do at least some of their work form home has increased.

Consequently, studies and experts (and occasional Yahoo CEOs) have attempted to prove whether working from home or from the office is more “productive” or “creative” or what have you.

I tend to think that this debate misses the point. Very few people (who are not self-employed) work from home full-time. Indeed, many of the people who tell survey-takers that they have done some work from home over the last week are talking about answering emails at night, in the early AM, or on weekends — not exactly the usual picture of a full-time telecommuter in her jammies.

So, my take: if people do this sort of work from home, then it’s not surprising that some people occasionally “home from work” too.

I first heard this phrase over on The SHU Box from a commenter (she says she’s not the origin of the phrase, so if anyone has seen other uses, please point me in that direction! I would love to trace its linguistic development). I love it. I think it perfectly encapsulates the personal tasks that many people do during work hours.

As with working at home, it is neither good or bad. Sometimes it’s inevitable; sometimes it’s something else.

If you have to be in your office from, say, 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., there are certain home-from-work inevitabilities. You need to call professional offices when they’re open.

Other stuff is more nebulous. Maybe you hit an afternoon energy slump. You could reread the same emails six times. Or you could plan your next vacation. In the moment, one probably seems more appealing than the other.

Then there’s the stuff that just bleeds through the work/life barriers. Maybe your work email address is the one in your kid’s contact file at their afterschool program. You’re answering a slew of emails, and you answer one from the program director right next to one from a client.

So, if you find that you “home from work” regularly, how can you do it well?

A few ideas: First, create personal priority lists, just like you’d create professional ones. Personal tasks can expand to fill all available space. Limiting them both creates a sense of progress, and helps make sure you’re doing the stuff that actually needs to get done. If you know this is the week to book your tickets for Thanksgiving, buy your sister a birthday present, and make a dentist appointment, great. Do those things. Then be done until the next week.

Second: Don’t use your best time for these tasks. I know this is easier said than done. For most people, morning is when we feel capable of conquering the world. It is so tempting, when you show up at work, to “clear the decks” before settling down to deeper work. But the problem is that you might run out of steam before you get to the deeper stuff. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment — because you knocked a lot of stuff off your to-do list! — but it is very hard to do deep work later in the day as meetings and requests stack up. So that’s when the final tip comes in…

Sub home tasks for “fake breaks.” You know what I’m talking about. You get sucked into an argument on Twitter. You take a glance at the headlines, see an ad for Nordstroms and start shopping for boots. If you tend to do these things during transition times, you could try taking real breaks (go outside!) But if you’re going to do the fake stuff, do something that’s actually productive, like booking that hotel room for your cousin’s wedding.

Do you “home from work”? How do you handle it (without going insane or losing your job)?

20 thoughts on “Some people work from home. Do you ‘home from work’?

  1. Yup, I absolutely do “home from work” sometimes (just as I’ll sometimes have to put in a bit of work from home after the baby’s asleep or a couple hours on the weekend). When I was pumping, that was prime home from work time – I didn’t really have the capacity to do real work, but my Spectra pump was quiet enough that I could knock out a phone call or two, or I could do some planning on my phone.

    I agree that making a list of personal priority items is key. I rely on a bullet journal style weekly spread for my work week and each week gets a small section titled “Personal” with 3 or 4 tasks I need to do during work hours (this week I need to make a phone call to a government office, print out some things for an upcoming trip and buy a few items on my lunch break from a nearby store).

  2. Yes, I definitely ‘home from work’. One of my rules of thumb is that if I’ll spend more time worry about/trying to remember the task than DOING it I do it at work (e.g. call the car place/dentist/bank right now rather than try to remember later). If I do need more time I often put a reminder on my phone for just after work ends so when I get home the phone beeps and reminds me about the task.

  3. I use Trello to keep track of my home tasks (and my work tasks separately). I color code the “home” items so I can easily find the ones I need to complete at my desk vs those that have to be done at home or at the store, etc. That way, when I have a lull and need a mental break from work and I can quickly grab an item from the home list. It works for me!

  4. I definitely home from work (and I have never heard that phrase, but I love it!). To me, I don’t have a lot of home stuff to take care of during the day, but it seeps in. I usually manage it by doing it as a break or first thing in the morning. I find that my mental capacity is limited if I don’t take care of things right away (for example I want to call the doctor’s office as soon as they open so I don’t have to think about it all day, and have it sitting in my mental to do list). I’m more productive just getting the home things out of the way so they aren’t distracting me during the day. This is true for work at home things too. If I see an email at home, but it’s something that sits in my mind, I’d rather just answer it that night instead of waiting til the morning. Otherwise I’ll be distracted with work things at home.

  5. The first time I heard about homing from work is from an article in Self magazine back in 2008. I read it in the actual magazine, which I’m sure I haven’t thrown away. But I’m glad it’s still available on the Internet for me to refer to every now and then (

    It left a deep impression on me — it made me so much more conscious about using my time at work efficiently. I’m pretty sure this article inspired me to find all the productivity tools and gurus that and whom I still use or refer to to this day (including you, Laura).

    I’d love to hear what you think of the advice dished out in this 2008 article.

    1. @Suzieana – thanks so much for sharing that article. It was well put together (and it was fun to see various people interviewed in it!) I think a lot of the advice is good – and pretty similar to what I talked about in this post. Don’t use your best time, do the home tasks as a break. In general, it is amazing what we can accomplish when we’re mindful of how we spend our time. When I actually map out the day and what I intend to get done in various slots of time…I get those things done. Stunning. 🙂

      1. Thank you for this post! I am the commenter on SHU who mentioned my desire to “home from work” less. I like all of these tips, especially to not use my “best” time for these menial tasks. I will try to use them during breaks. Also, the commenters here and on SHU’s blog have made me feel better. I think this is an inevitable problem.
        Also, I’m totally at work right now, commenting on a blog! At home, I don’t often sit at my laptop so I don’t get to engage in blog conversations unless I’m on a break at work :).

    2. Thank you for posting the article! I remember reading it (back when I got SELF magazine!) and this must be where I heard that phrase the first time.

  6. I really like your nonconventional attitude on this (and other matters). I usually expect people to say you must not ever do home from work but that is just not feasible. I find your take on it refreshing and more helpful.

    1. @Maggie – it’s completely unfeasible to not home from work if you have a job that requires you to be in a location for the hours that other professional service firms (or, say, the post office!) are open. The only way it would be possible is if it is assumed that all workers have a support person at home taking care of all personal tasks so the worker can focus on work. That may have been the assumption once but it’s totally not now. Also, I’d say that if you are an employer/manager who ever expects someone to answer an email after 5 p.m., then you can’t restrict the call to the dentist office during the day. Just not fair.

  7. My job supports a 24/7 manufacturing operation, so I get calls at home (or wherever I am) about once every one or two weeks. Unless they are significant (more than 30 minutes) I do not get compensated for this time. So I treat this the same way at work, taking a few minutes here and there to attend to personal matters if needed. I think this is more than acceptable for my work culture, but I do struggle to not over abuse this. It’s a slippery slope to do a quick print of tonight’s recipe and find yourself somewhere else on the internet entirely!

    1. @Kristin – yes, I think it’s the slippery slope that’s the problem from a manager/employer perspective. In the Self article linked to elsewhere in this thread, the woman was literally spending 6 of the 8 hours at work planning her wedding. Not a great idea!

  8. As with the other comments, I do home from work and am luckily senior enough that it’s not an issue. I do, however, find it very stressful. Lots of little things that add up needing to be done during the day on top of my work often make me feel very overwhelmed (my personal limit seems to be about 10 tasks on a to do list in a day, any more and my stress levels go up significantly even if each items is actually only small.) My solution has been outsourcing to a virtual PA, I can send them an email at 11pm when i remember that i need to call the dentist, and then it’s “off my plate”. It doesn’t work for everyone and is definitely a “first world solution to first world problem” but it helps.

  9. I definitely do this! My work has a busier season so I try to do more home from work when I’m slower (but still need to go into the office). I am guilty of sometimes starting on my home list and not a deep project in the morning! I keep a list as well as a folder in my email with off season reading- things I want to see but can’t get to when work/ life is crazy.

  10. Oh my I home from work so much. Shamelessly. My work is of a nature that sometimes I have no work tasks that need to be done. I am an urgent care Dr, so if there are no patients, I am free to shop online. Or read this blog. I plan pretty much all of my vacations from work and print out theater tickets, email my kids’ teachers, etc.

    1. @Sarah K – that makes total sense. In college, I worked overnight/front desk in the student center when it was open 24 hours during finals week. During the day there were frequent visitors, questions, problems. Middle of the night, not so much. I wish I could say I studied, but there was a lot of personal online perusing going on!

  11. Or outsource and let your travel agent book that hotel room (for the exact same price you would) with a quick email. 😉

    Great advice. I’m one of the few who does work fully from home — I’m a full-time remote assistant professor for an online university (and a travel agent ;)) and there is definitely a bleed between work, home, and other work that can sometimes be a big hot mess. Being disciplined, scheduled, and self-motivated is key!

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