Four years ago, I moved out of my home office and rented a commercial space. The reasons were varied but the main one was: I had been working at home for 10 years while raising my son. I felt like I had been housebound all that time — and was going crazy!

Plus, my son, who was 11 at the time, was growing out of his small bedroom and really wanted my office as it was double in size.
washing dishes
Renting office space has had many unexpected benefits. Instead of getting out of bed and heading straight for my computer — and then sitting there half the day in my pjs (or worse, sweats) — I now get up, take a shower, get dressed up and go to work. I love it.

And, it is quiet — no barking dogs (I have two) and no neighbor mowing the lawn. In short, I have nothing to distract me from my work, which, if I read comments on blog posts correctly, is nirvana for writer types like me.

It’s taken me all this time to figure out that I really need distraction to foster my creativity. No, not the ADD type of distraction that comes with social media. I’m talking about distraction in the form of breaks from work.

Working at my office means I sit for hours and go from one project task to the next — with little in the way of breaks. By 2:00 PM, I’m usually fried.

I came to the realization that maybe having an office might not be the best thing for me when I visited with my client Simone Joyaux during the summer. As we sat in her office talking about her Website Overhaul, we watched her life partner, Tom Ahern, work in the yard. “Moving here has been the best thing for him,” Simone said. “When he needs a break from his writing, he just gets up and works in the yard.” Their garden is breathtaking. And Tom, I might add, writes highly successful donor communications copy — the kind that gets people to hand over their money. (He’s really good.)

Matthew May, in his book, The Laws of Subtraction: Six Strategies for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything, talks about how researchers have determined that we’re most creative when we’re not working.

When I worked at home, I had built-in breaks — or what others call distractions. I’d write a piece, then get up and put in some laundry, wash dishes, or run the dogs around in the yard. It seemed as if I weren’t working, but I was because my brain was busy mulling over the “glitches” in whatever I was working on. Neuroscientists call this type of relaxed but aware thinking “alpha wave activity.”

According to May and the research he cites, taking breaks that allow your brain to work in this relaxed state can help you produce better work. In fact, it’s alpha wave activity that produces those a-ha moments that lead to real breakthroughs.

I’m glad I learned this because I’m moving back to my home office next month. And I’m happy to say, I’m really looking forward to all of the distractions inherent in a home office — especially taking breaks, running the dogs around in the yard, and sitting out on my back porch and watching the birds while I eat lunch.

What’s your experience with taking breaks from your work — and how do these breaks benefit you? Leave your comments.

  • Simone Joyaux

    What a useful post. Useful because it takes away the guilt for many of us who work at home. Sometimes we do feel guilty about pajamas or sweats, laundry and a yard break. Then we do go out, get all dressed up and wear that special tie or shirt or dress… Well, it’s actually kind of exciting!

    It’s the creativity thing that matters so much. Somewhere along the way, it seems we thought that we couldn’t be creative…that creativity only belongs to Steve Jobs et al. But each of us can be creative. Each of us can innovate. Each of us can ask cage-rattling questions and solve problems.

    And doing the dishes or raking the leaves or planting flowers or sitting on the porch and staring at the birds helps. Even reading a romance novel can help! Thanks, Dianna.

    • Simone, Thank you! And thank you for all of the romance novels. Love them! 🙂

  • Simone — Thank you! And thank you for all of the romance novels. Love them! 🙂

  • Hey Dianna, I like working from home for exactly the reasons you talk about in this article. I like how I can take a quick break to do the dishes, or the laundry, or pop out to run a quick errand.

    • Julia — Exactly. What I’m missing here in my rented office is the ability to putter around while letting something unknot itself in my head. Thank you for the comment!

  • Hi, Dianna!
    I LOVE my home office and wouldn’t give it up for the world. 🙂
    In addition to the natural breaks inserted into my day by household chores, bird watching, and my playful cats, I love the fact that I can easily stop in the middle of a tough assignment and burst into song, enjoy a spontaneous dance break, or bounce on my exercise ball to get my endorphins flying. None of those things (cats, songs, or exercise balls) would be at my disposal if I was working in an office.

    When I feel like I need a little human contact, I pack up my MacBook Pro and head down to the local coffee shop. There, amidst the bustle and hum, I get my fix of being outside the house.

    Congrats on your “old/new” office digs. Enjoy the birds and the dogs and all the great comforts of working from your home (and your couch!).

    • Thanks, Jamie! I am glad I rented an office these last four years — I’ve seen many benefits. But I am glad to be moving back, too.

  • I’ve been working from home for close to 8 years now, all for the same company (every employee works from home).

    I’ve always been an early morning person, and realized recently that I get my best writing (for work or for my site) done before 8. The rest of the family is still asleep, so I get quite a bit done.

    I fade in the afternoons, so I aim for the non-creative work then (editing and proofing what I wrote earlier, doing research, etc.).

    Just today I was writing a blog post about distractions and how they affect meeting deadlines. I’ll have to modify it to discuss the benefits of distractions.

    • Jeff, I’m a morning person too and get my best writing done before 11:00 AM. Thanks for stopping by and for the comment.

  • EKR

    Hi Dianna- I’ve worked from a home office for 6 years and also love it, though I’ve toyed with the idea of a commercial space to mix it up. Good to know there are pros and cons to both from your experience.

    So many people have reacted to my home office with ‘i could never work from home, i would get SO distracted!’ so I do think it takes a special set of skills (and/or desire!) to do it.

    Cheers- thanks for the post!

    • Working at an office is equally as distracting — you just have different distractions. 🙂