This year I shall be conducting at least two experiments in location independent working and this post is about the first episode, so far.
Location independent working has been a long term goal of mine for many years. I’d like to be able to enjoy an optimum climate by migrating in tune with the seasons, do a lot of continuous touring, and be able to take advantage of property letting opportunities.
I’m in the middle of my first week long experiment working from a location independent from my usual home and workplace. It’s supposed to be a gentle introduction to the practice, but has turned out to be considerably harder than I anticipated. I’m actually at my mother’s house in a small village with no facilities, and with only intermittent and slow internet access. I don’t have my main workstation computer either, but I do have a fairly recent second computer and an EeePC notebook.
The lack of internet is a temporary obstacle, but not the only one. It should be possible to get a USB dongle that supplies some kind of dialup/3G access in most places, albeit much slower than landline broadband in London. At present there are two of us sharing one dongle that only works when the weather is perfect, and even then seems to drop back from so called 3G broadband to an ordinary mobile phone 2G connection which is barely usable. We’ve tried different rooms, orientations, and using the dongle with and without an extension cable. Upstairs and downstairs reception seem to be about the same. But like I say, that’s only one aspect of struggling with getting stuff done from another location.
It took the first few days just to get used to not being able to work online constantly. I’ve developed some alternative tasks I can get one with, but it’s surprising how when one is writing something, creating rich media content, that in theory sounds like it could be done offline, how frequently you do need to access online services. It’s been a habit built up over many years.
Tired of ISP based pop3 email accounts, I shifted to gmail almost as soon as the beta service became available. I maintain working information on private wikis and online documents. My Flickr photostream is more extensive than the iphoto library on any single machine. Reacting to interruptions has been a major stimulus to tackle the tasklist.
But the first thing I learned really, was that the physical workspace is so important. I’m not much of a laptop worker so I got set up at a desk with a borrowed monitor which ought to provide a workstation similar to what I have at home. But of course the room just doesn’t feel the same. Things like relative postion to the window and door, and the height of the desk and chair are obvious factors that need to be set up as close as optimum as possible, but things like acoustics, lighting and proximity to whatever else may be going on in the house can become determining issues as to whether it’s possible to get on with productive work or not.
I found it better for any kind of writing task that needs a bit of flow, for example, to venture up into the back garden and sit in the shed – sorry, ‘summer house’. I used to laugh at the ‘shed workers’ who built themselves a cubicle in their own grounds but now I think I can see what makes the idea seem tempting.
On the plus side, without the usual online distractions this has provided an opportunity to create some different kinds of content that I might not normallly get around to. I thought I’d do some Screencasts because this is a good way to create video content but then realised that most screencast require an active internet connection, because they are usually demonstrating online tools and techniques. I did manage to think of some functions that are better done by installed offline applications, and image editing is one. Video editing and music production would be others, so there are plenty of tutorial ‘how to’ screencasts that can be created in these circumstances.
The other thing is to write lengthy pieces of narrative that depend mainly on previous experience and life history – autobiographical storytelling. I don’t seem to have done much of that yet though.
So the internet connection, such as it is, can be used just to keep reassured that there is nothing untoward going on out there with my websites that might need urgent attention. Once I’ve got used to that, the compulsion to keep checking stuff should subside and I’ll be able to concentrate for longer periods on the offline tasks that can be progressed in between real world distractions.
Location Independent living is a promise that has been enabled through new technologies but is a practice that requires a lot more than technical skills to get right.