When my phone rang at 10 pm on a Saturday evening, I jumped up to answer it. I have several elderly grandparents, and my mind always jumps to the worst case scenario at that hour.
Instead someone asked me to edit a paper for a conference.
Such is the nature of working from home.
I make my own schedule, but my work also has a way of spilling out of my schedule and into my family time, devotional time, and any other time I tried to keep separate.
Emails arrive at any hour. My to-do list sits on my desk in a corner of the living room in plain sight. I just need to flip my computer open to chip away at a big project that’s been keeping me up at night.
The pull to do one more thing is almost irresistible some days. My friends who can access their work email from home experience the same pull.
One evening I hoped to wrap up an article by 5:30 pm. I just had a few changes to make. What could go wrong?
Everything. I needed to overhaul the introduction.
I called out at 5:30 as my wife, Julie, cooked dinner with my toddler, Ethan, under foot, “I just need to make a few unexpected edits. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
By 6 pm I wasn’t done, but Ethan was.
By 6:30 pm Julie was completely exhausted from the one-armed cooking marathon.
I should have just put off the introduction until the next day. There was no reason why I had to get it done that evening other than the fact that it was right in front of me.
When I should have been setting the table or zooming cars across the living room with Ethan, I was trying to get that last thing done. In the moment, my work became irrationally important and spilled into family time.
And that’s not the only way work interferes with us at home.
For a few weeks I read my Bible and prayed the Hours at my desk before starting work each morning.
I’ve never struggled so much at prayer and Bible reading.
I couldn’t settle down and focus. I felt rushed and hurried.
I started opening my computer and booting it up while I was still “praying.” I just wanted to give myself a jump start.
My mind always kicked into work mode as I struggled to pray: “Lord God, you have brought me in safety to this new day… I just hope I can find a good source for that article I’m working on.” I tried to reread the day’s scripture verses and let their words sink in, but my brain was already crammed with work projects.
I needed a sacred space that was separate from my work. My brain demanded it. I made our living room couch my prayer and reading spot for each morning. I’m not allowed to take my computer over there.
I’ve also found that watering our garden or taking Ethan for a walk can also give my mind some space to seek God or to wait on the Spirit. I need distance from my work, even if it’s only a few steps away.
There’s something to be said for being completely focused on the task at hand in a separate office that is far away. However, the flexibility and relative freedom of working from home is tough to beat.
I would never tell someone that working from home is a bad thing. I think it’s wonderful. My wife and I both work from home, and we find that working from home can help us stay in touch even during the really busy seasons of life.
The greater challenge is that life blends together and overlaps, and keeping time sacred and focused isn’t easy when your work comes home with you.
Ed Cyzewski is the author of Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life and co-author of the forthcoming book Unfollowers: The Dropouts, Detractors, and Doubters of Jesus (Wesleyan Publishing 2014). His imperfect and sometimes sarcastic blog about following Jesus is www.inamirrordimly.com.