How to Telework and Get a Life

While reading Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon recently, I came upon a quote by Daisaku Ikeda that resonated with me on two levels: “Creativity means to push open the heavy, groaning doorway to life.” As a writer, I found Ikeda’s words inspiring because, regardless of the mundane burdens that we all must bear, our creative spirit is capable of transporting us to worlds that are fascinating, fun and liberating. Art, regardless of the expression, unlocks doors and invites us to participate in life rather than being a mere bystander. As a teleworker, I read the quote as a reminder of how easily working from home can sometimes prevent us from enjoying the lighter, regenerative aspects of life.

If you’ve read my previous articles on telecommuting, you know that I champion the need for a healthy work-life balance. If you haven’t, here’s my philosophy in a nutshell: work hard when you have to; play hard when you can. Because we are paid to do a job for our employer, productivity must be our first priority during business hours.

While teleworkers are notoriously more productive than their office-bound colleagues, the comfort of working from home coupled with around-the-clock connectivity sometimes causes us to forget when to stop. In some cases, we’re afraid to stop, concerned that our “privilege” requires us to work into the wee hours just to prove that we are worthy of our boss’s confidence. It’s far too easy to fall into the “Superman syndrome” if we convince ourselves that our job depends upon it. But let’s face it: even Superman needed downtime.

What teleworkers sometimes forget is that whether you work from home or work at the office, you’re generally being paid for an eight hour day. Don’t confuse location with expectation. Teleworkers often get more done because they are spared the time-consuming, productivity-squelching distractions common to the workplace. We also have the freedom to work our eight hours whenever and wherever we want, as long as we remain available to our colleagues and clients. Once our workday is done, however, it’s time to push open Ikeda’s metaphorical doorway and embrace life. And what better way to celebrate life than to create? In Steal Like an Artist, Kleon reminds that we are given many opportunities each day to be creative, from the mundane (wrapping a birthday present, composing a letter, preparing a meal) to the extraordinary (painting a landscape, composing a song, writing a novel). After eight hours of work, I rejuvenate my mind, body and spirit for at least an hour by engaging in one my favorite recreations: working out, doing yoga, playing my guitar or writing fiction. My “Hour of Re-Creation,” as I call it, allows me to make the transition from work time to family time more smoothly, and my family not only understands, they appreciate the more mellow me.

In whatever form you choose — whether you telework once a week or full-time — use the time to free your creative genie.

If you find yourself becoming so stressed in the middle of a work day that you can’t think straight, take a mini-break from your work and compose a haiku. Write a letter to a friend. Doodle. Plan a vacation. A creative break, even if only for five minutes, can open the doorway enough for you to allow life in. You’ll be surprised by how refreshed just a few minutes of artistic liberation can make you feel, and you’ll carry the benefits with you when you plunge back into your work.

Staking out personal time at the end of your workday allows you to rejuvenate your spirit, reflect on and cultivate your thoughts and free your knotted creative energies so that you can contribute more to your projects and to your leisure time. Tapping into our creative resources helps us produce quality work, which is not only rewarding for the company but more importantly fosters our aesthetic development and self-satisfaction.

According to Carl Jung, “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” To be your most productive, strive to incorporate creative oases as needed during the work day. To be your most relaxed, to smooth your shift from employee and reengage with family and friends — with life — take time to appease your inner need by creating time to play. When it’s time to work, give it all you’ve got; but don’t neglect the regenerate power of play.