The truth about working from home
The alarm has just gone off. It's 5am on Monday morning and my working week is about to get underway. As a freelance writer working from home, the two hours before my three young sons start demanding breakfast are a precious commodity.
This will probably come as a surprise. Even my closest friends are convinced I pad downstairs in my pyjamas around lunchtime and tap a few words out on the computer before retiring to the lounge for an afternoon of black and white movies.
If only! I would urge anyone contemplating working from home to think carefully. Don't be seduced by the picture of sitting in the garden, a long cool drink in one hand and a laptop in the other. The reality is a lot different.
Finding the right balance
It's certainly the toughest job I've ever had. Despite being my way of life for the best part of a decade, I still find it difficult to strike the right balance between spending time with the family and putting in enough hours at the desk.
The problem is you are never completely away from your work. There's always the temptation to check emails and put the finishing touches to articles, which can make it a seven-day-a-week operation – to the irritation of your other half.
This is particularly true if you're self-employed. When you know that every hour you spend working means you're earning more money for your family, even taking time out to get a haircut can trigger anxiety and feelings of guilt.
Rather than being a refuge at the end of a stressful day, your home also becomes somewhere from which you yearn to escape. So having interests that take you out for an evening become essential to your well-being.
Then there are the distractions during 'normal' working hours. My office adjoins to the kitchen – the hub of most homes – which means noise levels soar when three boys of eight, five and one are fighting to make themselves heard.
You have to plan the timing of important interviews with great care. Arranging them around lunchtime is a definite no-no, unless the chief executive you're speaking to is prepared for his words of wisdom to be drowned out by the protests of a hungry baby.
But don't expect sympathy. Unless they have experienced it themselves, partners and other family members will not understand the pressures you face.
To them, you are someone who is always on hand to deal with whatever 'emergency' has arisen. Covering for babysitters, fixing the washing machine, liaising with builders, being on hand for deliveries – all this and more will be expected of those who ply their trade from the front room, and it can be hugely frustrating.
But what about the positive aspects of working from home? It will give you much greater flexibility over your diary. You can start at the crack of dawn or work into the small hours in order to free up time during the day.
As a result, I haven't missed any event in which my children have been involved, whether it's been a sports day, karate tournament or school play. Everything can be attended, no matter how short the notice.
I'm always there when my children come home from school, rather than having to tiptoe into their rooms to say goodnight when they're fast asleep – and if I finish early on a Friday we can always take the bikes to the park.
As I write these words I can hear the familiar thump on the ceiling as my eldest leaps out of bed. Pretty soon the entire tribe will be down, which means pressing the pause button for an hour to make lunches and help pack them off to school.
So what's my conclusion regarding working from home? It may be a tough, challenging life in many respects, but it's one that wild horses couldn't drag me away from. I'm institutionalised. The trick is to master the work-life balance – and if you discover that secret, please let me know.