When I had my first research job I was hired for my ability to hold pipettes the right way up and not complain too loudly at the end of a long day of doing repetitive and dull experiments. Eventually I proved I could be trusted with tasks that involved reading and writing, and in no time at all most of my lab time was consumed with paper work.
The beauty of most paperwork is that thanks to the internet and the invention of the laptop, it’s pretty portable. Some paperwork requires chats and discussions but 90% is just me, a desk and more coffee than I should really be drinking in one day. Which I can recreate quite effectively in the comfort of my own house.
Back in my first research job working at home was easy. My girlfriend worked during the day so doing paperwork at home was quiet, save for a cat that only just about tolerated being in the same room as me.
Without colleagues and coffee breaks to distract me I generally found working from home more productive. I’d set myself a list of things to do and be finished by 10:30, leaving me with the moral dilemma: do I work the same number of hours or do the same amount of work? This dilemma was instantly resolved when I once was congratulated by my boss for getting so much work done – despite having stopped at 11:00 and taken the rest of the day off playing Civ 4.
But that was back when I had a quiet house. Things are different now – I have two noisy children, neither of which understand the difference between daddy that can play and daddy that’s drafting a paper. Also the surly cat has got a lot more needy in his old age and insists on being anywhere that will either stop me using the keyboard or the mouse, preferably involving sleeping on one or the other.
So to effectively work from home when surrounded by kids and strange furry animals I have three strategies.
Firstly, break stuff up in to MUCH smaller tasks. While the next couple of tips are obviously excellent you may need to accept that the hoards might not be kept at bay. So don’t do work that’s going to require 2 hours solid unblinking focus. You’re not going to get it, so give it up. Instead break things up into small pieces and get used to ending sentences with “[FINISH THIS BIT]”. It takes a lot of practice but think of it as instead of having two coffee breaks a day you get to have about 30 micro breaks a day, in which you have to settle disputes between children.
Secondly, lie. Work attracts distractors like moths to a flame that is in the shape of a very sexy looking moth. Pretend you’re just checking something boring like “researching cat flea drops”. If they realise you’re actually doing something that needs focus and attention then those around you will be filled with a sudden urge to consult you on everything from whether or not the cat food has made their breath smell or if it is okay for them to try some of the cat food.
Third one, buy ALL of the movies. Movies are a magical technique which almost guarantee me an hour of peace and quiet before I’m guilt-tripped into making popcorn or clearing up the previously made and now spilt popcorn. I’m starting to feel strongly that “The TV” should be a co-author on some of my papers given how important a role it has in them getting prepared.
Obviously this isn’t perfect and I’m sure some of you have idyllic children that sit perfectly still in the corner quietly discussing the finer points of Shakespeare and dividing up the household chores between them. But for the rest of us it’s movies and pretending we’re choosing which shade of grey we want to paint the shed. But I think the best universal advice I can give is [FINISH THIS BIT]