Home office question: how do I keep my butt in the chair?

I’m trying to develop a new writing routine that makes greater use of my home office space, but I’ve noticed a major problem: I can’t stay seated. I need your help!

As background, I’ve been writing my book for about a year now, and for the most part, I’ve worked at coffee shops. I like this routine because I know I’ll put in a few solid hours of writing whenever I go to a coffee shop in order to justify the trip. But there are problems with relying solely on coffee shops for a writing space. First, there’s the cost. On average, I spend about $7 a trip, putting my expenses at somewhere between $140-$210 per month. The second is that there are only so many hours I want to spend at the coffee shop (maximum of five), and I’m at a point now where I want to be working more than that.

So in order to write more and spend less money, I spent the latter half of last week writing from home. But I could not keep my butt in the chair. Any excuse to get up, I’d take, and if there wasn’t one, I would make something up.

What am I trying to escape? Overall, I enjoy writing and editing my work, but I find myself often getting stuck trying to revise poorly phrased sentences. These sentences make me uncomfortable, and rather than fight, I flee by taking a break, thus prolonging my agony.

Why don’t I suffer this same problem at coffee shops? It’s much harder to leave my chair. In particular, I pack up my computer and take it with me whenever I go to the bathroom. So it’s a pain to get up. I might pause and check my phone, but I don’t completely disengage from my writing space the way I can at home by moving into a different room.

To tackle my problem of staying seated, I tried implementing a 45/15 strategy last week. I would set a timer for forty-five minutes of work and then take a fifteen minute break afterward. But with no oversight, I found it difficult to adhere to the self-imposed schedule.

So this is the part where I ask for your help. What do you do to keep yourself on task when you work from home? How do you keep yourself accountable on projects where you’re only answering to yourself?

11 Comments

  1. Prior to working in my current role, I had a job where I worked from my home office every day for three years. It’s not for everyone. It requires adjustment time and testing out different scenarios to be successful. Here are some of the tips that I found helpful and that I’ve passed along to others whose work is in their home:

    1. Create your routine. Every day, I woke up, showered, and did everything as if I were going into an office. Find what works for you, but if you make a routine habitual, it’s easier to ignore the call of the other things.

    2. Change locations. I liked coffee shops, too, but it’s not sustainable. I found that work that required research or reading was nice to do on my sofa or in the hammock. I was more comfortable and as a result, more focused.

    3. Try standing. This one seems strange, but I’d bring my laptop to the kitchen counter (eventually to a stand-up desk I made). A lot of people I know love to stand and work and studies show you’re more focused on the task at hand. I eventually started using a tread-desk and walking while I worked and found that ultimately, THAT is when I was the most productive.

    4. Set milestones. I would schedule breaks like a coffee break, lunch, and afternoon break. It helped me stay on target because it “is almost break time!”

    5. Go for a walk mid-day. Even in my office setting, I try to take 15-20 minutes to go for a walk or be outside. It’s a good time to disconnect and recharge. It’s amazing what just a few minutes of that can do to recharge your focus and ambition.

    and finally….

    6. I worked in household things and made them part of my routine. A lot of people will say you have to not think about dishes or laundry or those things when you work at home. To me, that’s like dieting. I couldn’t let go of being a multi-tasker this way, so I worked it into my routine. For example, I always started working around 7:00-30 am. So at 9:00, I’d throw in the laundry. At lunch, I’d fold, etc. It’s just one of those things where you know you need to cheat a bit here and there, but if you build it into your routine it can work.

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks, Annalise. That’s helpful to think about things in terms of routines. I’ve been getting up about an hour and a half earlier this summer to kickstart my day with a run, and I’ve found that’s made a big difference in my energy level and focus. I also appreciate your point about moving around within the house. My office space has couches, chairs, and tables of various sizes so I should take advantage of that and not feel tied to the desk.

  2. I have a room with nothing but work-related books/objects in it. In a pinch, I will cut off Internet because THAT can be a vicious distraction. I will put my phone on silent. I need music to concentrate, but I need to stick to either Bach or Radiohead for minimal distraction (odd mix, I know).

    1. Yeah, I didn’t get into Internet in the post, but that’s definitely another distraction. When I’m out at a coffee shop, I’ll often restrain from joining the wifi network, which helps keep me in the zone. At home, I’m more likely to be online.

  3. I agree with everything Annalise says, and would add that you could try working from the library or some other free community spaces, maybe as a Friday treat for a change of scenery?

  4. I love the library idea. If you ever want a library with the bonus of character inspiration, the library on Ponce (across from Publix) will give you exactly that. I used to work there sometimes and while it was great, I often got distracted by the people watching – it was ENDLESS there!

  5. If you can’t stick to 45/15, try 30/15 or 15/15 if even that doesn’t work. Once you can do 15/15 comfortably and consistently, add 5 minutes to your work time. Just like we train to run and can get hurt or discouraged by taking on too much too soon, the mind needs to train to become better at focusing. But setting a super-easy work goal at first you will be motivated and more importantly successful, which hopefully will build on itself until you can do 45/15 (or better!)
    I never actually tried this for work, but this is how I started meditating: I would meditate for 4 minutes at a time at first (which was well within what I could do consistently) and I only started adding time once I felt really comfortable.
    As an added bonus, I stopped feeling so guilty all the time about not reaching my goals, which helped me keep up with my meditating schedule even better!

  6. I 100% relate to this dilemma and at 22 years old, I am still struggling to figure out my routine. I definitely define myself as a coffee shop writer because forcing myself to pack, drive, and be in public ultimately makes me concentrate on my work. Starbucks is expensive and I also don’t want to rely on caffeine to keep me focused.

    For me, I need to get out of my comfort zone as much as possible. This can be the library, a different room in my house, or even my backyard. I’ve heard about writers who will sit in their parked car, in their driveway, and write.

    The standing desk that people have mentioned is great and I would totally endorse it. I don’t personally buy into the 45/15 or any type of time breakdown–but that is just me.

    I think the one thing I’d recommend most is exercising before you write. I’m an avid runner and I find that it is a good way to clear my head and ensure that I am relaxed prior to writing. When you exert a lot of energy through exercise it makes write seem less intimidating. Hope this helps!

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