How do you commute when there’s nowhere to go? How do you create some physical and psychic separation between home and work – and keep home a sanctuary — when your workplace is at home?
These questions cried out to me recently when I had to give up an office I had used for years at the University of Colorado, here in Boulder, a lucky holdover from my teaching days there. I looked forward every weekday to the 15-minute bike commute, mostly along paths.
My luck ran out, and now I’m back working from home in a 6-by-6-foot nook on the top floor of our house. I love the spot, with a balcony and a view of the Flatirons. But I loved the nook a lot more when I worked there voluntarily and only occasionally. I’ve thought about private office space in town, even coworking space, as SciLancer Bryn Nelson (bio) wrote about. But you can’t beat the price of a home office (especially when you fold in the potential tax write-off).
So, in this transition I’ve tapped into the SciLance collective brain for inspiration and suggestions from long-time home-based freelance writers. Here’s a sample of their “commute” rituals and other ways they keep work separate from home.
From Rob Frederick (bio): “I take a 20-minute walk, sometimes with my wife. On days she joins me, we talk about our days’ plans… On my own, I think through what I’m doing that day. Sometimes I also question why I do what I do. The walk itself is a reminder of it, as I couldn’t imagine a better commute: outdoors, on my schedule, and entirely by choice.”
From Emily Sohn (bio), another parent: “When I started freelancing, lived alone and worked out of my 600-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment, I used to get up and go for a run and then come back, shower and start work as a way to make the apartment feel like a new space. Then, when I was dropping (my child) off at daycare, I’d go from there to a café for the morning and then back to my office at home for the afternoon. These days, on my work days, I hand the baby over to the nanny and then bolt out the door and spend all morning at a coffee shop. I consider the $3-4 latte fee as my “rent.”
Another colleague shared tales of her tiny commute, to the backyard: “I have a shed, which helps a lot to create a mental division between work space and home space.” But she confessed that recently her husband has been invading the shed to play video games, and leaving cans and candy bar wrappers behind. Her lesson learned: “Whatever space it is, make it yours only!” I’d love a she-cave in my backyard, though I don’t think it would fit.
And finally, here’s a tip from Sarah Webb (bio): “Try not to spend time in your office when you’re not actually working… If you want to use a computer in your off hours, make sure it’s in another part of your home. Otherwise it can sometimes feel like you’re always at work.”
In my quest for a new commute,I have landed on a ritual that works –for now, anyway. After a brief meditation and then breakfast, usually with my husband, I exit the back door, walk up the road to a beautiful, tiny, public space called Lover’s Hill Park.
The path takes me to a curved bench that overlooks a swath of the city. I stand or sit for a couple minutes, quietly taking in the bird calls and the view, and maybe scratching the ears of the furry black cat that sometimes snuggles up to me. Then I give thanks for something in my life at the moment, such as this peaceful (and carbon-free!) commute that the freelance life affords me. And then I walk back home, entering through the front door on my way up to my office. At the end of my workday I walk around the block and again re-enter through a different door. Or I just close my laptop and dash out for a workout.
Please share with us your commute to nowhere — or somewhere. What works, or doesn’t, for you?