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Business News/ News / Business Of Life/  Opinion | How the gasman almost killed my gig

Opinion | How the gasman almost killed my gig

Understanding that you can have control of your own time, as opposed to a boss controlling your time, can be the most empowering outcome of having a work-from-home drill

Illustration: Jayachandran/MintPremium
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

I am on a call talking to a VC investor in Singapore who is telling me what the internet boom is doing to valuations of various Indian firms that are trying for listing on the Nasdaq. This is 1999 and I’m one year into a seven-year baby break trying to keep some freelance work, some training, and some editing work going.

Mobile phones are still luxury goods and not something I can afford. I’m stuck to the phone in the wall, taking notes furiously as the American twang goes on and on.

And then my blood runs cold. I can hear the gasman trundling the cylinder up the stairs just outside. This was the time before piped gas. I had booked the gas, but this man chooses these precise 15 minutes of this day to deliver. While still talking on the phone, my brain is doing the thing women are famous for—multi-thinking like crazy. If he rings the bell, my toddler who is sleeping is going to wake up, and wail. I’m on the phone interviewing a person key to my story, someone who has given me time after days of chasing.

I wait for the delivery man to reach the door, and just before he rings the bell, I disconnect the call, fly to the door, let him in. I have the exact change and a pen to sign the voucher ready; he changes the cylinder and is off. I call the suit back, all under four minutes, and blame the telecom sector for a dropped call.

That story got me a dollar a word from a US-based magazine. Worth every moment of those five minutes of stress. We ate out for three months on that money.

The to-do list

My seven-year baby break taught me that working from home is not the picnic it is made out to be. You need four attributes to successfully work out of the house.

One, discipline. Unless you fall into a routine that defines your working hours that you stick to, the clock will strike 4pm before you know it. The discipline begins in the mind where you make a decision on your work hours and commit yourself to being at the workstation, ready to go, with all the household chores behind you.

The greed of sleeping in just those extra 30 minutes will ruin your day. Believe me.

Two, focus. If a coffee break at work is your distraction or social media, then home has unlimited distractions. These grow exponentially as the number of people in the house increase. Throw in kids below 15 and you will really need an iron will to work from home.

A mental map on what the contours of work look like each day needs to be drawn. I like to plan in my head and then hard code it down on paper. The need to focus at home is far more than at work because there are literally a thousand things that cry for attention, from the door bell, to the spousal ergonomic keyboard that is crying for a clean and only you are OCD enough to leave work to do.

Three, social distancing. There is the gender issue when women work from home. Men will shut their doors and the house will tiptoe around him because he is “working". Women working at home are fair game for assorted relatives calling up, dropping in, errands that have to be run, housekeeping issues and managing the kitchen. Things are worse where extended families live together because the gender role play is tightly defined—the woman is just passing time in front of a computer, while the man is earning a livelihood, no matter that the woman may be earning more than the guy. You need to send out the message loud and clear that work is sacrosanct and you are not available for a five-minute chat. It may make for some family frowns, but that is collateral damage. You need to decide if you are in the popularity contest with family and friends or you are going to work. Mostly the two don’t go together in India.

Four, territory. This is the most important one. Mark out your place of work that can be shut off with a door.

Do what it takes—putting up notices, signboards, skull signs—to ensure that when that door is shut or a particular light is on, nobody enters that space. Again you have to be committed to it and don’t break the rules yourself buy allowing non-work related conversations and distractions in that space.

When I finally went back to work, I had come out with really important life-changing decisions about how I will work in the future. I understood that work can expand to fill whatever time you have, so a tight focus and a deadline for yourself is important or you will while away the day at “work" in an office. I understood that having control of my time, as opposed to a boss controlling my time, was the biggest empowering result of those work-from-home years.

When you work to other people’s schedules, a lot of time is wasted waiting for things to happen. It works for some people; it does not work for me. The seven years of work from home were life changing and even when I did go back to work, it was on my own conditions that allowed me to control my time and life. Why did I go back to work? It was when my eight-year-old threw her head back to look at me and said: “All moms work, what is wrong with you?" I got my ticket to ride!

Monika Halan is consulting editor at Mint and writes on household finance, policy and regulation.

For The Record is a series where people share their experiences on working from home.

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Published: 30 Mar 2020, 09:29 PM IST
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