Monday, 28 February 2011

Homeworking: Time Lord? You must be joking!

Freelance journalist James Pringle reflects on the homeworking lifestyle

Continuing our series of homeworking tales, I'm pleased to post a contribution from James Pringle, whom I used to work for when he was at IPC. He left London and the rat race and is now working from home in scenic Kent.

"After three decades of full-time jobs, I should be delighted to be master of my own time – but, several years down the freelance track, I am still not quite used to it. I still get up at 6.10, but now it’s to drive my wife Mary to the station for her long commute from our new home on the coast. I am at my desk from 8.30 going on 9.00, I take half an hour for lunch, then work till anywhere between 5.45 and 7.00 before preparing the dinner and hurrying off to collect Mary from the station.

There is an old saying that work expands to fill the time available. That easily happens for freelancers, but having a partner makes it harder to let the work spill over into late nights and joyless weekends. Instead, I am pretty much locked into an office routine from Monday to Friday. There is no danger of becoming addicted to daytime TV or switching off the work mentality and thinking I am on holiday. Instead there is a nagging feeling that if I am not actually at my desk preparing articles, or sub-editing in a client’s office, I should be doing more to drum up business.

Some freelances tell me that, as we do not get paid holidays, we should at least enjoy our free time, but I haven’t quite got my head round that one. And it’s hard not apologise for being unable to have a detailed conversation when a client rings on the mobile while I am having a haircut.

Phones are as much of a bugbear as they are in offices. Often at home I come tottering out of the cloakroom, with trousers around my ankles, to answer a call before voicemail kicks in on the fourth ring. I grab the business line extension in the kitchen and the caller will be someone I have been trying to speak to for a week or more. Eager to nail the interview at last, I stand there taking notes on scraps of shopping list paper – if one of these charity junk mail free pens will actually work.

Sometimes I have to see people face to face for in-depth features. Then there are those meetings with prospective clients – just when I thought job interviews were a thing of the past. But first, with my train time perilously close, I will be standing in the kitchen, trouserless again, urgently ironing my slacks. A quick straighten of the tie and I’m off – to meet people who almost invariably will be wearing teeshirts and jeans.

There are plenty of advantages to working at home. Nobody complains about the classical CDs that accompany me at my desk. There are no distractions, no office politics and nobody to pinch my stapler. Conversely there is no one to chat to and take my mind off problems. I hesitate to phone friends at work just for a chat, but emailing is always an option.

Would I go back to a staff job? Probably not, but homeworking calls for a disciplined approach. You have to manage your time effectively to get work done and to go out on foot for some exercise. Most important of all, you are working near your kitchen and you really must limit your intake of biscuits and chocolate."

To view James's work, visit

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