Monday, September 18, 2006

Adventures in Telecommuting

Once a week or so, rather than head to campus, I telecommute. Actually, I prefer the less technical sounding "work at home" as a way of describing what I do those days. There are many well documented benefits to working at home--good for the pocketbook (no Metro fare!), eliminate the 50 minute walk/ride to Foggy Bottom (although much of that is normally spent working anyways), and dress in whatever is comfortable that day (not that I am known for dressing up when downtown!).

So far, all of this hews pretty closely with the "official" telecommuting script that advocates pitch as a solution for everything from congestion on the Beltway to global warming (or climate change, or whatever it is called these days). But I like to think of working at home in less grand terms. It's all about substituting one set of distractions for another. At the office, it is unannounced visitors who directly impact my ability to stick to the tasks of the day (whether these tasks are teaching or research or service). And then there is, of course, the Internet. But the online world of news, sports, music, religion, and travel follows me wherever I go, so it can't be an important part of this particular story.

What about the distractions at home, then? Well, there are the obvious ones, like...

The dogs. Rather than colleagues and students dropping by, it is Cameron and Blue who call for my attention. And just like my colleagues and students, I pay attention to the dynamic duo quite happily (it's an important part of living, isn't it?...being engaged with those around you). Truth be told, though, Cameron and Blue are pretty much on auto pilot at this point. Lay around...beat each other up...lay around. All I have to do is open and close the back door and provide the occasional rawhide (not to mention clean up the routine messes).

Then there are the kinds of distractions that are not so typical. Or maybe they are typical, but nobody who works at home wants to admit to them. Like...

The laundry. I mean, while I'm at home, I might as well keep one load going in the washer and another load going in the dryer. This doesn't take too much time or effort, after all. A little bit of sorting by colors (I've gotten better at this over the years. There hasn't been too much pink underwear lately.) The killer, though, is what happens after the drying is done. Folding...hanging...putting in drawers. This is the kind of tedium that pushes me quickly back to work, no matter how boring the article that I'm reading is, or no matter how stuck I am on an idea that I am trying to flesh out for an article or the book. I guess some distractions actually serve (unintendedly of course) to enhance my productivity!

Or at least that's what I tell myself to justify all of those days spent "home alone"...