On Working From Home

I’ll often leave the office planning to finish up a small bit of business at home: read a paper, work on a manuscript, write a bit of code, or something else along those lines. It almost never happens in practice. I don’t think I’m the only one who has this experience — I know that my adviser has the best of intentions, but whenever he tells me that he’ll take care of something “this evening,” I can assume that it won’t get done. (He’s at least got a family to go home to, while all I have is this tear-stained magazine clipping of Justin Bieber.)

In my case, the Internet is the problem: when I’m physically at work, I do a good job of not distracting myself every ten seconds with Twitter, blogs, and the rest; but at home, I don’t. (Perhaps relatedly, the one kind of homework that I do well is that ur-distraction, email.) I’ll sit down and be totally ready to do something useful but then some funny link will come up and suddenly it’s midnight. I’ve found that I have enough discipline to keep working once I get going, but unless super-hard deadlines are involved I don’t have enough discipline to start working in the first place.

I think that I’ll be more likely to start my homework if I believe that I’ll finish it quickly — “OK, I’ll just get this over with, then I can go back to YouTube.” So I’m going to try imposing a half-hour homework rule: if I plan to do non-urgent homework, I’ll be satisfied with half an hour of effort. During that time, I won’t let myself get distracted, but once it’s passed, I’ve done my duty and can go back to cat videos if I want. If I get engrossed and want to keep going, so be it, but I will refuse to feel bad for calling it quits after thirty minutes.

I’m optimistic about this strategy. I think the name is catchy, too, and isn’t that half the battle right there?