• GradHacker

    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


On Not Working From Home

Advice for being productive away from your home office.

October 13, 2015

Jonathan D. Fitzgerald is a PhD student in English Literature at Northeastern University. You can find him on Twitter at @jon_fitzgerald or at his website www.jonathandfitzgerald.com.



I count myself extremely lucky that, unlike many of my peers and colleagues, I have a designated work space—a home office—in my apartment. When my wife and I moved in, I excitedly set up this hallowed space in the way I always imagined a home office should be. I have a desk with an additional screen for my laptop, my printer perched beside it. I have two tall bookshelves so that my research materials are always within an arm’s reach, and a comfy chair for reading. And, when I really need to get some serious work done, I forsake all of this and head to my sparse, shared office on campus.


Working from home is, in theory, a great idea. But, in practice, it is nearly impossible. With all the distractions of home—which, for me, include two children under 3 and a rambunctious dog—getting work done in my home office during the day is simply not possible. Maybe you’re home situation is not as hectic as mine, but there are still plenty of reasons to get out of the house and get to work. Here are a few:


Home is where the heart is, but maybe not the head


There is something to be said for designating your home as a work-free zone, whether this is necessitated by your home environment or not. As grad students our work follows us everywhere—we are constantly thinking about the last thing we read and the next thing we need to write. Why not let your home be a space where you check your to-do list at the door? You’ll never be able to free your mental space of the concerns of the day, but you can at least try to free your physical space.


Embrace the peer pressure


One of the best things about working on campus—whether in an office or in a more public space like the library or a café—is the peer pressure. If you’re having a difficult time motivating yourself, take a look around, everybody’s doing it. Unless they’re not, in which case you should find a place where others are working. To get to my department on campus, I have to walk through the math department, where I never hesitate to peek into every open door because in at least one office I’m sure to see people standing around a blackboard, chalk in hand, working out some equation that may as well be hieroglyphics to me. I don’t know what they’re up to in there, but they sure look busy and, for some reason, that motivates me.


Get Around


Maybe your work, like mine, is fragmented—whether it’s split up by different classes, or a variety of TA assignments. I’ve got into the habit of working in different spaces for different tasks. That is, I’ll get to my office in the morning to write, head over to the library to read, and then set up in a coffee shop to work on my TA responsibilities. Something about changing my physical environment helps me change my mental space as well. At the end of the day, if all goes according to plan, I’ve accomplished a lot and covered a lot of ground as well.


Use the University


Your campus has more resources than you do. It has printers, copy machines, stacks and stacks of books, and people who are paid to help you. That’s to say nothing of the invisible resources that you’d have to pay for at home like electricity, internet, and heat (or air conditioning, if you happen to live in a place where that is used year-round). Using these resources will make you more productive and might even save you some money on utilities at your home.


Disclaimer: I don’t always follow my own advice. Sometimes it’s just easier to force yourself to work at home despite the distractions. If I’m sick or—as was the case far too often last year here in New England—weather conditions make traveling perilous, it’s a gift to have some space in my home where I can work. But, most weekdays I forsake the comforts of home, pay the bus fare, and get to campus. I’m always more productive when working outside the house. Maybe you will be too.


Where are you most productive? Are you able to work at home, or do you need to get out too? What other benefits of not working from home have I missed?

[Photo by Flickr user Britt Selvitelle used under Creative Commons License.]


Back to Top