Do-it-yourself feedback

One problem with working at home is that you don't get enough feedback.

But wait, you say, isn't that the whole reason to work at home? LESS feedback? For most people who work in regular jobs, a little less feedback from their bosses would seem like a gift from heaven.

Sure, many of us who work at home made the move to escape bosses breathing down our necks. But now that our necks are largely boss-free, we find that we struggle without some response, some validation that we're doing a good job.

Working alone means never having to say you're sorry. It means no one cares whether you goof off all day, as long as you get the work done eventually. It means you don't have co-workers giving you nonverbal cues, rolling their eyes when you do something stupid or impatiently clearing their throats when you spend too much time on the phone, gabbing with your friends.

Without feedback, it's sometimes hard to get motivated. Why bust your hump meeting a deadline when no one will notice? Why waste time with filing when a nice big heap of paperwork does the job just as well and nobody will see it anyway? Why bother to clean the house when the kids will just mess it up again anyway?

Such goldbricking can lead you to worry all the time, though. When you're your own boss, you keep wondering whether you should be breathing down your own neck. And is that even physically possible?

We at-home workers have to supply our own feedback, just like we have to do everything else around the home office. We give ourselves motivational speeches. We develop tools that will make us stay busy, that will validate the choices we've made.

There are ways to tell whether you're doing a good job, ways to pump yourself up for the next task. Here are a few you can try:

--Make to-do lists. Nothing is quite as satisfying as scratching a line through a chore, relegating it to the category of "finished." Naturally, there's a temptation to pad such lists. If you find yourself checking off "getting out of bed" and "lunch," you might want to re-examine your goals.

--Try the Stuart Smalley approach. Look in a mirror and tell yourself that you're good enough, smart enough, etc... Warning: Prolonged staring into a mirror can quickly degenerate into a search for wrinkles, zits and nose hairs. And I don't think you want those activities on your to-do list.

--Every time you complete a task, do high-fives with imaginary co-workers. Or, you can train your dog to give you a low-five whenever you need a boost.

--Try the methodology used by behavioral psychologists: punishments and rewards. When you do a good job, reward yourself in some way. I recommend ice cream. When you waste the whole day, berate yourself and withhold ice cream. Bet you do better tomorrow!

--Clothing choices can also be good motivators. Go look in your closet. If you're a man, check out the neckties you no longer have to wear now that you work at home. For women, the same goes for panty hose. Want to continue to wear sweatpants every day? Then you'd better get to work.

--When you're really in desperate need of feedback, call on your family. Your children will be only too happy to give you reasons to perform better. Most of these reasons center around the need for expensive new sneakers. If you ask your spouse for assistance, make sure your to-do list is hidden out of sight. Otherwise, count on it getting a lot longer.

--Saving the best for last, I've got one sure cure for the motivational blues. If you think your career is going nowhere, that you're suffering from a lack of feedback from appreciative co-workers, then go look at the place where you keep incoming mail. There will no doubt be a stack of bills there. If that doesn't get you up and moving, then maybe working at home isn't for you. Maybe you really do need a boss breathing down your neck. But bill collectors seem to provide all the feedback most of us will ever need.

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