Sunday, December 14, 2008

The 10 Commandments of Working From Home

Since 2004, I have been someone who jumps in and out between working on-site at studios and working from home. The at-home projects have included consulting (Lucy Daughter of the Devil, Super Why), directing pilots (Playhouse Disney and National Geographic Kids), directing shorts (Electric Company), and directing an entire season of episodes of the Adult Swim series Assy McGee. For the last two years I've worked exclusively at home and this experience has led me to compile these 10 Commandments of Working From Home. *drawings above from my current freelance gig: animating and directing a pilot for a client.

1-Go out before you start to work.
Grab a coffee, go to the gym, walk your dog, etc. This is very important because it gets your butt out of bed and forces you to throw on shoes and clothes. You get some air as you stretch your legs. It's a bad idea to simply stagger out of bed and plop down at your workstation straight away.

I get up each morning and eat breakfast with my wife, who has a job with normal hours in Manhattan. Every morning, I walk her to the subway and then I continue on to the gym. After a short workout I grab a coffee and walk home. Shortly after 10 AM I'm at my workstation and ready to start my day.

2-Start your working day at or around 10 AM and finish by 7 PM.
This way your get a sense of order to your life. Since you're working from home, you need to have a sense of being home and being done with work at a set time each day. Of course, there will be times where you'll have to keep working to make a deadline or juggle multiple jobs, but as a rule, try to create this healthy boundary between work and home. Also, by keeping to normal office hours, you'll stay ready to jump back into the workplace of your next on-site job.

3-Don't use IM unless you need it to communicate with your client or workers.
Instant Messenger can be a big distraction because it requires you to interact with people in relative real time. Non work related IMs get burdensome and can suck away hours at a time. Some animators use seperate IM addresses for work time so they can keep IMs as exclusively as work communication.

4-Make it a point to meet up with friends/industry peers for lunch outside of your home at least twice a week.
Not only will this be delicious, but it will get you out of the house to sustain friendships and start new ones. Note that this also works for breakfast too!

5-Be mindful of the increased demand for timely communication.
When working on site, there is opportunity for direct in-person communication all day long. When working remotely, its important to be extra mindful to communicate your questions, needs, and status of work on a regular basis.

6-Be extra mindful of the tone of your communication when using instant messenger and email. The reader always reads their own tone into someone else's writing, so its important to be clear and professional. If there is a sticky matter to discuss, get the person on the phone to discuss it in conversation.

7-Music and (maybe TV) is okay
Despite what Richard Williams advises, it is perfectly fine to work to music throughout the day. I doubt many of us are involved in the kind of total body and mind concentration required to do the kind of overly complex animation Williams is engaged in. If you're working on any other type of animation, listening to music can help make for a pleasant workplace. Leaving the TV on can work too, but there is the problem of getting sucked into a TV show. Watch at your own risk.

8-Lunch time is blog time.
When I'm not meeting up for a lunch outside my home office, I eat at my computer and use it as an excuse to peruse my favorite animation blogs which keep me informed on the state of the art and industry of animation. Food for thought, indeed.

9-Make time to go to animation events.
Working from home can make you stir crazy (anyone see The Shining?) and its easy to miss the companionship of of your peers and friends in animation. Attending events such as ASIFA-East's monthly screenings, makes for instant networking opportunities, keeping you connected to the larger world outside your home studio. You might also pick up a little inspiration.

10-Make time to work on your own art.
This can be tough under any circumstances, but it gets even tougher when you're working from home. The last thing you may want to do is to work on your own art or animation at the end of a busy animation day, but if you make the time to do so (even a few days a week), you will make yourself a lot happier, create new samples, and ready yourself for untold opportunities. Best of all, working from home allows you some days to yourself when you are inbetween freelance jobs. Fill in some of those days by attacking personal projects.


Molasses said...

Hey David,

Really enjoyed this post! I just found about your blog from Amid at CB. Look forward to going through the archives and seeing what other gems you've posted.


Elliot Cowan said...

I have a similar set of rules.
I'm an early riser and tend to start around 7 and finish earlier in the day.

Speaking of lunch...

Joseph said...

Love reading your blog as much as I enjoyed reading your book.

Lots of good stuff in this post. I've worked for myself for over almost 15 years and many of the rules you stated here have saved my life and career.

I look forward to reading more of your posts!

David B. Levy said...

Hi Y'all...

Glad you enjoyed the post! My feeling is that just because we might work from home it doesn't have to mean that we have to go it alone.


Robert Schaad said...

Great post, Dave. Words to live by.

David said...

Very good post , Dave. I recommend your blog (and your book) to all my students. I hope they read this post if they plan on being freelancers from home.

The getting up and out of the house thing is important . If find that I'm much more productive on the days when I get up early, do something else outside of the house and then get to work by 9:30 or 10:00 .

I have to agree with Dick Williams though. I find that , like Milt Kahl, I can only truly concentrate on one thing at a time , so when animating I need to leave the music or the TV off . If I'm doing something relatively mindless like scanning or coloring drawings I can have the music on.

Brett W. Thompson said...

Wow, great advice!

Biniman said...

Hi Dave,

Great advice! What I do in addition: Don't check your email too often. I have three fixed times a day that I check my mail, to not get too distracted by all the incoming mesages that show up in my email program.
So if I start work at 10 I check my mail first time at around 12, after that at 4 pm and once more in the evening.

At least for me, writing emails, even if it's work related, doesn't really mean a progress for the work, it just seems to be.

Best greetings from Germany and Merry Christmas!

Phil said...

Great advice, I'm finding it hard working from home these days.

Chris Kennett said...

Great advice. I've been a (very) remote freelancer for 9 years now. Living in country Australia, I do miss interacting with my peers. But a few of these rules will definately help me out of my bad habbits. Really enjoyed your book too.

Angela Entzminger said...

Hi Dave,

glad I found your blog! Hope you've been doing great in NYC. I miss ASIFA-EAST, the animation scene is not the same in Colorado as it is in NYC. I've been trying to find ways to balance personal and work projects from home and this is excellent advice. Thanks for sharing and hope all your projects are going great!