I have this idea that I am going to start working from home. I tried to go into the office. But the only alone time I have in my day is the time I'm not with the kids, and if I spend my alone time with other people, then I don't have alone time and I start to panic, and I do things like tell the guy in the cube next to me that he can't talk to me.

1. Get a spot where you can concentrate.
So I tried working from home, but then I started feeling like I am the most alone person in the world. So I thought I'd change it up a little; I'd work from home, but the farmer's home.

I call him to tell him I'm coming to his house early.

“How early?” he asks.


“Don't you have to work today?”

“I'm not going to the office any more. I don't want to talk to people.”

There is a beat of silence, and I think the farmer is going to say something. Or maybe the silence is long enough that he is thinking I am going to talk. He has asked me to not talk over him, but I have a hard time telling if it is his turn to talk or mine. I start to panic because the rhythm of conversation is getting irregular, so I say, “Okay. Bye.” And I hang up before he can say anything else. I note to myself that this is the fourth conversation in a row that I did not talk over him.

I stop at the gas station by his house. I have enough gas to get to his house, but not enough gas to get lost and get to his house, which shouldn't happen, but if it did, it would be bad because I still do not have a winter coat. I am not sure why I don't have a winter coat. I think it is because it's so cold that I can't stand being outside for more than five or ten seconds. So if I'm only going to be outside for a few seconds then I don't need a coat. The farmer keeps telling me how dangerous it is to travel without a winter coat. I show him I'm paying attention to the dangers of the cold by being sure to not run out of gas on a remote country road.

2. Have close proximity to a coffee source.
I get to his house. I put my stuff down in the kitchen and I make coffee.

The farmer comes in. He kisses me hello. Then he wipes up where I spilled water by the coffee maker. At one point, we had an argument about his wiping up around me all the time.

“I never wipe the table at dinner where you spill,” I said.

“What?” he said. “Are you kidding? I never spill.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No, I don't. You spill almost every time you do anything in the kitchen. That is not normal.”

“I spill more than other people?”

“Yes. Adults don't spill.”

Once he told me this, I noticed that I actually spill something every meal. Sometimes two or three times. I never noticed that other people don't do it until the farmer told me. So now, him wiping up the water on the counter feels intimate: he knows me so well.

3. Have good food, fast Internet, and a sofa for avoiding both.
He tells me that he is in the middle of moving pigs, and he'll come back to the house for lunch.

I want to ask him if he’s working on getting an Internet connection because if I’m going to work from home from his home, I need Internet. But he always feels like I'm pushing, and then he pushes back. So I decide to ask him while he's eating lunch. He is easier to talk to if he's walking or eating and it's too cold to walk outside.

I lie on the farmer's sofa and think. The fields are white and rolling, with bits of old corn stalks poking out. The cattle are far off, almost at the horizon: brown dots moving slowly to yellow dots of hay. I stare out the window long enough that the farmer drives by on the tractor. Stops at the barn. Pets the donkey. Comes in for lunch.

Since this is an impromptu visit, there is no food to eat except beef. That's all he keeps in his house. Well, beef and Frosted Flakes and Dora the Explorer cookies, from the last time that I came here with my kids.

He cooks hamburgers for us.

He tells me he did not notch the pigs’ ears in the last litter because he was so distracted dealing with me. He tells me he has never had a litter of pigs unnotched. Ever. Unnotched is not his word. It's mine. I forget the word he uses.

4. Have a notebook for ideas that you save for when you're with people.
Then he sits down to lunch and I try to not bring up difficult stuff to talk about because I can see that he is already unhinged that the pigs are unnotched.

But after three bites I cannot hold back: “I have a list of things we need to do so I can move into your house.”

He looks at me. Puts his fork down. Takes a deep breath. “Let's see it.”

“I have to read it to you.”

He looks. It's in shorthand. Not regular shorthand but the shorthand I invented to take notes at school because the way I got through school was by memorizing every lecture word for word and then regurgitating it to teachers on essay tests.

I find that my shorthand is also good for writing private notes to myself. Now I can have my list out, at the table, but the farmer cannot read it so I can tell him only the amount of things I think he can handle without going nuts over how hard it is for me to move to his house.

I tell him, “Well. The Internet. That's an easy one.”

He picks up his fork. Takes a bite. “Okay. What else?”

“The heating has to work.”

“Okay. We have to talk about that. About what it means to you to be working.”

“Okay. Let's talk about that now.”

“First, tell me what else is on the list.”

“Not that much.”

“What do you mean not that much? I see you have crazy writing down the whole page. That looks long.”

He's right.

I tell him it's a secret.

He shakes his head and laughs.

I tell myself I have to develop a shorthand sign for manure, because I need him to not put it so close to the house. I think it's causing a problem with flies. Which I already have a shorthand sign for because I had a history professor who always used the phrase “flies in the face of . . . .”

5. Find balance: Calm/exciting, chatter/quiet, people/no people.
After lunch we sit on the sofa and talk about grazing. He is thinking of grazing pigs with cattle this summer. People don't usually do it. He is not sure how he wants to manage it. He likes to have interesting projects on the farm. He is curious and likes the quirky edge of farm life. But he is always trying to figure out how to balance his curiosity with his need for stability.

He says, “Okay. I have to go back out now.”

I say, “Five more minutes.”

He says, “You're having a hard time transitioning to work, aren't you?”

He says, “Do you want me to lie on top of you?”

I nod yes.

So I lie on the sofa and he puts the cushions on top of me and then lies on top of the cushions, and the pressure from the cushions is like a big squeeze without the social input of feeling a person as well.

The farmer discovered this trick by reading Temple Grandin’s technique for working with cattle. It works with me, too.

Then he leaves and starts sorting pigs, and I sit down at the table and start writing.

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152 replies
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  1. Nate
    Nate says:

    Thanks for the tips. One thing I find most helpful is having an entirely separate desk/computer/chair for work than I do for play. When I’m at the desk I am only working, nothing else. This also makes for a handy tax write-off.

  2. Joe from Fresno
    Joe from Fresno says:

    One more extremely important point when telecommuting is to make sure the computer is turned off at a defined hour. Working at home often means keeping the computer on, and answering emails and researching well beyond the 5:00 hour you would normally get off of work at.

  3. Mel Olbeira
    Mel Olbeira says:

    LOL! I was trying to search for tips on telecommuting but came across this page. It wasn’t what I was looking for (I’m trying to convince my boss to let me telecommute a few days a week) but I’m glad I came across it. I’m a fan! =). I live in Miami and have never seen snow but your descriptions of the fields in the farmer’s house inspire the most dreamy pictures in my head.

  4. Scott Randle
    Scott Randle says:

    The part that would definitely strike me as difficult to handle is the “being alone” part of working from home. It just one of those un-social aspects that can’t be undone since we’re wired to be socially dependant.

    Great post though…

  5. Patrick
    Patrick says:

    Great article. Make sure you have a comfortable chair for your legs and back. A bad chair makes working from home uncomfortable.

  6. Lance
    Lance says:

    I’m far more productive as a freelancer at home than I’ve ever been as a 9-6 guy at an office. I work less time-wise, but in intense concentrated doses and get actual tasks done. When I get hungry, I go eat. When I’m fried creatively, I go exercise or run errands. Then when I re-charge, I work in another burst. I might do this all day well into the evening. I find I’m at my most creative from 7 – 11:30 am. After that I’m not creative and have to work on grunt work. Also, I’m more productive when I sit on a couch vs. an office chair.

  7. Peg Walton
    Peg Walton says:

    I really enjoyed your writing style and your great sense of humor! Thanks for giving me a smile!

  8. SEO training guy
    SEO training guy says:

    Thanks for the great tips. I’ve been telecommuting only a few days a week and it’s great. I definitely have to discipline myself to use a separate work space. If I don’t it’s like I’m always working. I think this is probably the best tip I can give. Getting the telecommuting thing done right takes work but it’s well worth it!

  9. Katey Walker
    Katey Walker says:

    Great post! I can relate to a number of its’ points, since I work from home most of the time. I find it helpful to block off at least 2-3 hours a day where there are bound to be no interruptions. I turn off my phone, settle in my favorite chair and get some quality work done.

    Nice story, love the analogy to animals, too…since I’m an animal lover at heart.

  10. Martin D
    Martin D says:

    I find telecommuting to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand I can get more work done in my own environment. It certainly has less distractions. Or does it? Work at your own pace without Agnes from Sales calling for the umpteenth time.
    On the other hand I am working at my own pace. Time for a coffee and cigarette break? Sure!
    Now don’t get me wrong I’m not lazy or opportunistic about the situation. It just seems that I can get distracted and sometimes work later than I would in the office because I took time off to go to the store or I did my laundry that day. Yes it’s true, I’m domesticated.
    Anyway, My work is never late. Noone is screaming down the phone at me or emailing at all times of the day wondering where the report is. At the end of the day I guess I just need more focus or better time management.

  11. chris
    chris says:

    Since one of the grammar police posted at the beginning of the comments, I feel safe in saying that it should be “number of things…” not “amount of things …”. I only know that because my ex-boyfrend Alex, who you know, had a college friend who was some kind of grammar major and she taught me this mnemonic that has haunted me ever since:

    Amount of squash
    Number of peas

    Just saying.

    Once you know that, mix-ups between amount and number will take you out of anything you read. I guarantee it. I have now cursed you with this knowledge.

  12. Bill Carr
    Bill Carr says:

    Many companies are moving towards a ROWE (results only work environment) as studies show that people get more done in less time and also report much higher job satisfaction. This has been incorporated with telecommuting, as there are many other benefits to it as well.

    Problem is, many people love the idea, but have trouble getting used to it, as you have pointed so amusingly alluded to in this blog post.

    I know I had lots of trouble getting used the time alone. You think it’s great, until you realize the only person you’ve spoken to all day is your cat.

  13. Stacy w fit flops
    Stacy w fit flops says:

    I just started telecommuting logmein works great. Focus is a real problem. I decided to go into my friends office once a week just so I don’t forget what a structured workplace feels like. That way when I get home I can create the same “I have to get things done now” DRIVE throughout the day.

    The upside is no commute, YES!


  14. DJ Miler
    DJ Miler says:

    These comments are so true. I myself work from home. It is so funny how friends and relatives call for favors, which I don’t mind at all doing, so long as I’m not pushed for a timeline. But for some reason, they are offended when I ask if I can do it when I’m finished working. They reply, oh never mind, I forgot you worked, I’ll do it myself. So, I just do what they need and wind up working at night after my family goes to bed. Tis life.

  15. Donna Abreu
    Donna Abreu says:

    The idea for creating this blog is amazing.The five ways given is so helpful and I think it would be effective.
    The story part about the farmer is sweet and honest.

  16. Travis
    Travis says:

    I’m still quite confused as to why you wanted him to lay on top of the cushions which were on top of you. I’m not even claustrophobic and that would probably make me panic a little bit.

  17. Candice Morgan
    Candice Morgan says:

    Nice post! I can relate to some points, since I work from home most of the time. I usually turn off my phone when I don’t want anybody to disturb my work.

  18. Sam Lopez
    Sam Lopez says:

    Teleworking: is cool, only if the working time is well defined. All your loved ones should be aware that time is dedicated to your profession, otherwise it’s unmanageable.
    Nice story,

  19. George Vlismas
    George Vlismas says:

    Working from home has been the greatest revelation I’ve had so far in my career. Telecommuting in retrospect..has been the worst. There is just no comparison. Thank goodness for online business opportunities, the internet…and the ever more mobile laptop.

  20. anthonya01
    anthonya01 says:

    I have had a home office for many years. I think there are pros and cons about telecommuting. If you don’t work in an office, you don’t make work friends, and if you have moved to a new community for your job, it can be lonely. It is, however, very nice to not have to worry about commuting to your job or driving in bad weather.

  21. Luke
    Luke says:

    I have personally worked from home and from an office and in fact at the moment i do a combination of both so have the best of both worlds. I get to socialize with my colleagues and get creative mixing ideas as well as time alone to concentrate and focus while working from home. Both ways of working have benefits and advantages. It depends on the type of work you do I suppose and how flexible your company is.

    On another note great work with the Blog, I love the style of writing and stories are quite thought provoking and funny.

    Keep it up ;-)

  22. Enola Overkamp
    Enola Overkamp says:

    It’s a grate topic for me. Working from home is really boring when you are alone. But it makes sense when you have kids. Working in social media may seems you won’t feel bore. But it really doesn’t help.

  23. DBrown
    DBrown says:

    Let others know you are at work at home. Set time for your family, for eating, for taking breaks.

    One should be able to “disconnect” too.

    • lorenz
      lorenz says:

      I agree.. it is always important to set time for our family. I worked at the city but I really give time to go home and spend time with my family.

  24. Mike
    Mike says:

    One VERY important part of making telecommuting better is having a reasonable and/or intelligent boss or management. At the last job I worked, we’d swing between working at home as acceptable and non acceptable at least every other quarter… and it would switch on a dime, and all of a sudden, you’d be viewed as if you were a mass murder for even muttering the words work from home, or asked for that consideration. I guess having a schitzophrentic (spelling wrong I’m sure…) corporation is bad for many reasons beyond that….

  25. Todd Davis
    Todd Davis says:

    Those are all great tips, and I’d like to add one. Even better than telecommuting is starting your own business and working from home. Then you don’t have a boss to answer to and don’t have to worry about what you’re missing at the office while you’re at home.

    DAVE JACKIE says:

    How fantastic is about balancing between extremes.I have faced it a lot in my whole working life.
    I loved Jack’s comment too. People take you for granted once they know that you are at home. They surpass the fact from their brains that you are working as well.

  27. BJ Lindy
    BJ Lindy says:

    Great article. This really hits home. For the last seven years I have been working three days at the office and two days at home. The split of office days vs. home days are just right. The days at the office are used primarily to get face time with my co-workers and helps me to maximize the time I need to dedicate to making them more productive. The days at home help me maximize the time I need for my own work. At first it was tough being at home with the kids but after about three to four weeks I was able to define the boundries of my office and my work time. Now they are both off at school and by the time they get home at the end of the day it’s nice to have a very welcome interruption from them!

  28. Mascha
    Mascha says:

    The Farmer must read all comments and could have come up with the solution: he should buy you a coat or give you one of his. A heavy one, for you to feel comforted by the weight of it. Or one or two of those foil blankets for emergencies. They hardly take up space and are multifunctional.
    I agree that people show less respect for you when you work from home when in fact they envy you for having the opportunity to do so. It takes a lot of self-discipline and disciplining others to make it work.
    A good thing we have you to blog about the hurdles to take. Thank you.

  29. Brian M
    Brian M says:

    Great post! It can be difficult situation juggling personal issues and work from home, a good measure is to limit the distractions, like turn off the personal phone during working hours, works for me.

  30. Brian M
    Brian M says:

    Had to add to my previous reply didnt think it sounded right after i posted, but what i meant to say ismany people love the idea of working from home but very few in reality are able to find that balance. A few days in the office is great, get to catch up on all the goss among your peers, keeps the social thingy happening, but also the family time as well which is so important and to balance that at home is a fine act.

  31. Steven Finch
    Steven Finch says:

    I love working from home. My creativity was stilfled when I worked in an office environment. The focus comes from when its up to you to get something done, not when someone else decides its time too. I have better control of my environment and priorities.

  32. AllyW
    AllyW says:

    You’d better hang onto the Farmer, he definitely sounds like a keeper. Working from home — I love it, but then I’m a solitary type and prefer not having to deal with office politics all day. Lots of good tips and suggestions above, but the one that most resonates with me is, work at the times that are good for you, which may or may not be 9AM to 5PM. I get my best work done late in the evening, I’m always at the computer madly tapping away between 9PM and 1AM. Make it work for you. And be good to the Farmer!

  33. William Winslet
    William Winslet says:

    I completely agree with Stephanie :)
    Communication plays a key role in the success of any workplace program or policy and serves as the foundation for all five types of psychologically healthy workplace practices

  34. Leroy
    Leroy says:

    I can’t stand working from home but I’m too cheap to go and pay for an executive suite. I’ve found the public library to be a nice and quiet place where I can get my work done. If I need to make phone calls or just need additional privacy then they have a conference room that works great.

  35. WellyMulia
    WellyMulia says:

    I agree with you with work from home method.

    Why? because I think, if we work from home, we can be more effective than go to the office.
    Do you think we spent our “real working hours” in our office?
    I don’t think so.

    In the office, I admitted there so much interruption, from your friends-somebody besides, behind your cubicle, forwarded email (humor – junk email), “restroom time” (even we don’t want to take a pee or something), etc.

    While, at home you can really focusing all your mind to your tasks only. And also if you can keep concentration on your task, maybe you finish all your task in only couple hours, after that you can spend your time by relaxing and wait for your next task. :)

    So..I really support working from home :)


  36. Sam Hamilton
    Sam Hamilton says:

    After years of telecommuting, I wonder how my friends with kids could ever hope to work from home. They tell me it is difficult to impossible. A working environment gives you some uninterrupted time to think so that you can put together a cohesive plan of action, Unfortunately kids have a different plan and that is a constant barrage of questions, demands, requests, and interruptions.

    The successful parents appear to have well disciplined children, and a dedicated room for the telecommuter to function. Without meeting these two criteria, I do not believe it is in anyone’s best interest to try telecommuting.

  37. starling
    starling says:

    I found your blog from a link off of an Asperger’s site (my daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s)…I started with your marriage counseling/divorce blogs to the “farmer” blogs. As a FORMER spouse (25 years) of a person who SUFFERS from Asperger’s Syndrome, I beg of you to PLEASE, PLEASE LEAVE THE FARMER, NOW!! I grew up on a farm (my 47 year old bachelor brother runs the family farm) and can attest to you that farmers are the most wonderful and humble people on this earth. Unfortunately, Penelope, you will only take advantage of these wonderful people, because you have Asperger’s. You are very controlling and manipulative in relationships, as evidenced in your blogs with your exhusband and current farmer “friend”. You have no boundaries in a relationship and you have no “filter” (you revealed to the entire world things that should be kept private between you and your exhusband!!). Eighty percent of marriages where one spouse has Aspergers end in divorce!! PLEASE don’t let the “farmer” be another divorce statistic because he is a “nice guy”…do the guy a favor and STAY AWAY. From your blog it is obvious that you spend WAY more time at his farm than he does in your “city’…so just stop going to his farm. YOu will NEVER be happy on the farm anyways because there are WAY too many flies, manure, dead pig carcasses, and mosquitoes. Farm life is NOT for an “Aspie from NYC”. You need the stimulation of the city life…Aspie’s live for their job; it is what defines them. Aspie’s need to constantly be working, with defined goals and a very defined schedule. Farm life does not have a defined schedule…YOU will be MISERABLE on the farm. The farmer has to fix everything himself, including his heating system. There are no “handymen” to call to fix things on the farm. AGAIN, I SAY TO YOU….DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND LEAVE THE FARMER!! Find yourself an ambitious city boy…preferrably another Aspie. Aspie women do much better with Aspie men than with “atypical” men.

  38. Chris Cobb
    Chris Cobb says:

    I’ve come full circle. 20+ years ago I quit the big corporate world to hang out my own shingle and decided to work from home initially. It was pretty cool at first; not fighting rush hour traffic and paying an arm and a leg to park. But then I found myself starting to work still in my PJ’s and not getting around to dressing until after noon. Disorganization crept into everything. After nine months of that, I rented an office and my whole attitude and productivity improved.

    Now I have “retired” from that career and started another, again from home. This time, however, the thought of giving up the home office doesn’t even cross my mind. What is the difference? It must be age. Been there–done that and more interested in enjoying every moment. It’s a great place. Hope everyone gets there some day, if you aren’t there today.

  39. Jen @ Traffic Ultimatum
    Jen @ Traffic Ultimatum says:

    I have in my life worked in just about every kind of situations: big corporations as well as small mom & pop retails stores. Now that I have tired of it all, I began working from home and, except for the fact that I miss the continuous interaction with other people, I love it.

    Your suggestion are very practical and I thank you for offering them.

  40. Chris
    Chris says:

    Hi. I came across your blog for the first time about two months ago, and I've been an avid reader since. I just wanted to finally stop lurking!Really interesting articles. I enjoyed reading it. Are these genuine images or has the artwork been touched up they are truly. Thanks for sharing a nice info. I don’t really have much to say in response, I only wanted to comment to reply wonderful work.

  41. martin
    martin says:

    hmmm well, you really have to give yourself a break with the man you are communicating with… i believe he could handle you with care… Godbless

  42. Gary @ Your City Office
    Gary @ Your City Office says:

    Its always a weird feeling when working from home, knowing you can get up that little bit later, the calming knowledge that you dont have to get into the rush hour with angry sweaty people :) And the joy of when you leave the office you are already home!
    But you can end up working longer hours than you do normally because its right there, you never leave the office. Crackberry syndrome!

    Nice article to read Penelope :)

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