I’ve wanted to have the chance to regularly work from home for years, but it was never an option in any of the jobs I’d had. Occasionally I could argue for a single day from time to time, if I had a major project to complete, but it wasn’t something I could regularly expect. I personally work really well from home, I’m more productive, strategic and creative. When I had my research leave, I had an awesome, and incredibly productive, time.
Everyone knows there are things that take 2 hours to finish at home that you can’t somehow even make a dent in at the office in 2 weeks. When I was in roles where everyone was in the office every day for long hours, the only time I could regularly count on for quiet, sustained work was Sunday nights.
Emails and phone calls and texts and Tweets and interruptions atomise your attention and require you to focus on other people’s priorities. People writing about productivity tend to suggest this is a bad thing—and I agree it’s a real issue if you are planning to be writing, problem solving or doing deep work. But it is an essential part of being in a team, and having a job that is, mainly, about helping other people. Teaching is not about what I know, but about introducing that knowledge to others. Coaching is not about my life plans, but about helping candidates find their own way to reach their goals. When I’m offering to help out a colleague, or accepting that it’s my turn to do that job no-one likes, or being on the team milk collection roster, that’s just me not being a bad colleague.
There are lots of things I can’t do from home too— I can’t go to meetings, teach workshops or bump into people in corridors or coffee queues. I don’t get the value of working with other people like at Shut Up and Write, the buzz of working on campus, or just being around for mini-consultations and collaborations that happen all the time in offices. I really only get a wider feel for the mood and politics of a place by being around. And there are some practical things like filing, printing out handouts and getting hard copy books out of the library that I find really useful occasionally.
So I’m glad to have an office, and to be part of a team, and to commute to campus four days a week. But I don’t have to do that every single day.
When I started my last job, I was delighted to find that one other person already had a day to work from home each week, and it wasn’t hard to get the same option for me. A few months in, I found ‘working from home day’ isn’t actually a good description of what happened on Fridays.
Instead I came to consider Fridays my ‘wildcard’ day. It’s the joker in my hand that lets me turn the day into whatever I need to get ahead. Just as, in poker or gin rummy, sometimes you want an Ace of Spades and other days you want a Three of Diamonds to have a solid hand of cards; sometimes I need a day at home, and other days I need a day of meetings in the city.
Things I used my wildcard day for:
- Write or research for publication
- Write reports
- Blitz my emails
- Create to do lists and plans
- Have meetings
- Attend conferences
- Teach workshops
- Write blogs
- Think, ponder, consider, problem solve.
I regularly blog about finding good places to work. And I found my wildcard day has enabled me to work from:
- The garden
- The sofa
- In bed,
- At the dining table, the kitchen table
- At my desk
- In libraries including my public library, the State Library, and other universities’ libraries
- The city campus of my university
- Going for walks, in the kitchen or the shower (lots of people have their best ideas when they are doing this stuff, so I intentionally add it into my work day if creativity or problem solving is required)
Having a wildcard day has also widened the groups of people I can work with:
- My writing posse
- Former colleagues and connections
- Strangers doing the same stuff as me (like working in a library or getting stuff done on their laptops in a café).
- My partner (we often give each other advice or act as a sounding board for early stage ideas–it’s useful to do that during office hours sometimes!)
- My own self. If I’m alone I can talk to myself, be silent, listen to my favourite music really loud, or make silly faces while I think. I can sing along or speak out the words I’m writing.
And finally, it’s made my day more flexible. I’m an afternoon/evening person. Turning up to the office at 11am and then heading home at 7pm works well for me, but doesn’t work for others in my team! My wildcard day means that is an option. So when I have something that needs my sharpest thinking, I can plan to bring my A-game.
And in the end, I think it’s this that makes my wildcard day so useful. I’m not adding on extra hours at the end of a long day or a long week trying to hack my way towards some kind of productivity. Instead, I can exploit the space and time to be productive in any of the many ways that works that aren’t supported by an office or classroom environment, without inconveniencing anyone else. I can instead bake into my working day the kinds of focus and effort that have results.
And it means when I’m in the office, I’m fully in the office, my door is open and I’d love to chat.