Homing from Work – What Personal Tasks Are OK/Good to Do At Work?

Homing From Work | CorporetteThere was an interesting article in Greedy Associates a few months ago about “homing from work” — trying to achieve work/life balance by getting personal errands done during the day.  I hadn’t heard the phrase before, but it’s obviously something I did while working long hours at the law firm, and something I’ve advised people to do (to certain degrees) when, for example, advising people to try to fit social visits with friends into breakfast or lunch dates, getting a midday workout in, or even keeping a recurring appointment (therapy, personal trainer) or a frequent doctor’s appointment.  Still, other times I’ve advised people to avoid doing things at work (for example, not having long wedding planning calls at the office), either because it’s unprofessional or it’s bad for work/life separation.  So I thought we’d discuss:  what do you think are things that are appropriate to do at the office?  What are the things that are almost BEST to do at the office and make you more productive and happy, and which are things that are acceptable — but just barely?  What are the things that are “hard NOs” in terms of homing from work?  My own list might look like this, I suppose:

Productive personal things:

  • Doctors appointments (no other time to do them, really)
  • Anything that can be accomplished within 60 minutes between the hours of 11-2 (your “lunch hour” — a mid day workout, a walk or lunch date with friends, going to the drugstore to pick things up, a manicure, a blowout, etc.)
  • Anything that can be confined to a 10-minute period at any point in the day (reading a news story or blog or two, checking Facebook, shopping an online sale, personal research, etc. — the problem is getting sucked into something longer than 10 minutes!) (Are things that make you more productive at work — yet are personal in nature — in a different category entirely?  Everyone needs a mental break at some point from your job. Do 20-minute power naps fit in this list?)

Other acceptable personal things, within reason:

  • Quick telephone calls or in-person meetings with people associated with other non-work areas of  your life — wedding vendors, alumni mentoring, the nanny, etc… I’d say these become MORE acceptable if you can do your job while talking or taking the meeting.  For example, think of the old stereotype of the Wall Street baron barking orders into a cell phone while his tailor is there fitting him for his expensive, bespoke suit. (This is an interesting example anyways because it begs the question — do the rules change if you’re an underling working 20 hour days versus if you’re a boss working 20 hour days?)
  • Career-related development (networking lunches, events, mentoring, etc) — it usually will not be related to your job but often makes the most sense during working hours
  • On the occasional basis, anything that gets you to work no later than 60 minutes after your usual arrival time (appointment, breakfast with a friend, etc) or takes you away from work no earlier than 60 minutes before your usual departure time (leaving early to catch a flight, seeing your kid’s play, making up a missed personal training appointment, etc.).

Unacceptable personal things to do at work:

I have the hardest time with this list, in large part because it depends on your office, how you work, and what your boss views as acceptable.  For example, if you’re working almost every weekend, most nights, into some early morning hours… stuff’s got to get done sometime.  When I was in this zone, I tried to keep the general idea that, as long as my billables were ok, if I happened to be at the office when I was doing something personal (or, was doing something personal that I could have done on a night/weekend when I had chosen/been required instead to work) then it was OK.  But if you switch to a 9-5 kind of office — even if you’re still working evenings and weekends because of how you work — then you may find yourself with a much longer list of “unacceptable” personal tasks, because your boss may view them as much less acceptable.

Readers, what are your thoughts? Are there any “hard nos” on personal tasks at the office?  Does your list of “things that are more efficient during the workweek/make you more productive at work” look different than mine?  What home tasks do you do at work?

Pictured above: Paper clip heap, originally uploaded to Flickr by Niki Odolphie.


  1. Kat, this is a great topic. Personaly, because I work both at home and at work, and on weekend’s, from both places, I insist on FLEXEIBILITY, meaning I should be abel to do anything I want from anywhere, b/c I work long and hard, and do NOT distinguish where I am doing the work, if that makes sense. Once you do NOT distinguish the workplace from your home office, where my dad made it deductebel for me (takeing out my personal stuff), you should be free to do personal stuff at your work place, and work stuff at your apartement. I did move a new ellypitical machine into my home office b/c it did NOT look good in my liveing room, but the IRS does NOT need to know about that and I do use it for work when I do step’s on my fitbit while listening to CLE’s from the web. YAY!!!!!

  2. I think a lot of this depends on your specific office situation, i.e., do you have your own office, do you share one, are you in a cubicle type plan, is your door see through, expected to be open, etc.? I do a lot at work that I wouldn’t do if I didn’t have my own office with a door that locks and – big AND here- if I didn’t work in a place where locked doors were quite common. Assuming that I am doing my work well and getting everything that needs to be done timely done, and whatever I am taking care of is not actually impacting anyone else, I don’t see why it should matter if I do a few small things during “work hours” or not. I feel like that’s one of the perks of being a “professional” salaried employee – I’m not a hourly employee, and just as no one cares if I have to stay late or work on a weekend to get something done, no one should care if I happen to take care of some personal things during “official” work hours.

    • I agree. I think all anyone should care about is whether I’m meeting my billable hours. If I’m doing that by doing personal things from 8-10 and working from 10 to 8pm, who cares?

      • Same. I’m on site at clients 90% of the time, so I can’t be obvious about homing from work all the time depending on the situtation.

    • I agree with this. The only caveat that I would add is that if you are spending more than a very small amount of time on personal things, don’t go around complaining about being overworked/having to work late/etc. (This seems like common sense, but I used to work in an office where this was constant.) But otherwise, yes, as long as it’s not disruptive or inappropriate and you’re available to do all of your work and pitch in where you’re needed, I think that most anything is fine.

    • A professional woman :

      Yes, as an attorney at a private firm, if I’m doing my work and billing my hours then who cares? Work encroaches on personal time and if it is ok for them to take up my Sunday with work, it is ok with me to run to the store at 3 PM as long as it isn’t interfering with my overall productivity. It is different if you are salaried and only work (or mostly work) during defined work hours. But if you don’t, then it really isn’t anyone’s business if you do personal things during the work day as long as you are responsive and don’t blow deadlines.

    • I agree. I think tenure — particularly in your first several months at a new job — is also a big factor. One of my colleagues made a bad impression by having an extremely permeable work/life barrier in her first few months at the new job, e.g., asking staff to do personal errands for her, scheduling a ton of mid-afternoon appointments where she’d disappear from 2:30-4:30, and using business resources for personal issues (e.g., mailroom, AV supplies).

      I’m all for homing from work within reason, but generally along the lines that Kat proposes above (lunch time appointments, occasional personal calls, coming in late when necessary/infrequently)…. but first build up some goodwill before pushing boundaries.

    • TO Lawyer :

      +1 – I don’t have a door that locks but if I need to take a personal call or run an errand or online shop, I don’t feel guilty because I know I more than make up the hours. Plus I find the little break in my day SO helpful. Otherwise I just feel trapped and I still don’t have any business hours to do those things that you can only do during the day.

    • I agree. As long as do what’s in your power to hit your hours and personal errands don’t get in the way of your work, I don’t know that I would put any sort of limits on a personal errand. I can’t think of something that would be inappropriate to do at work as long as it didn’t impede your work. I planned a wedding and took plenty of calls and emails with wedding vendors in my office (obviously with the door shut) or during “office hours” but while I was on my cell outside of the office. I pay bills, run to the drug store, doctor’s appointments, lunches with friends/husband, etc.

    • Moderation :

      Agree. I got fired from my first job (running the register at a pharmacy) for taking a nap in the break room during my lunch. 2 decades later, as a professor, I locked my door and laid down when pregnancy made me exhausted and later when I pumped milk.

  3. hoola hoopa :

    Great topic. I agree that ultimately so long as I seem available and completing deliverables, it doesn’t really matter. And of course, based on my experience, the answer is “it depends on the role/office”.

    For example, I worked at an office whose geographical and transportation access limited employee’s ability to run personal errands, so it was well understood that the work from home day was partly to accommodate those. But in my current centrally-located and accessible office, it would actually raise an eyebrow if I were constantly away from my desk for personal appointments and it’s better to spread them out over the entire week.

    Also, being offline from 11-2 would be negative at our office because it’s our busiest time for collaboration. The best workflow for me is to log in at the normal start time, respond to emails or get out urgent items, then do whatever personal or off-line stuff you have planned, and get back on by 10 or 11. Sometimes communication slows down in the late afternoon, so I can log off for a bit and do another burst right before the end of the day to wrap up lingering emails or tasks, but that’s generally my most productive time at work or home.

    A great work from home personal activity is to do laundry. With a family-worth of laundry, it’s a life saver! I can get several loads washed and dried with just 2 minute breaks every hour.

    Another is to take care of older sick kids. I love having the flexibility to work from home when my school-aged children are ill so that I don’t have to take PTO. Between naps and movies, I can easily get in a full day and save the PTO for when the younger kids and myself inevitably get sick.

  4. Personally, I’m salaried, have a private office, and no billable hours requirement, so I feel Ok doing everything I can possibly do at work when things are slow. As long as all my work is getting done, I see no problem with shopping online (clothes, groceries, household items), making travel arrangements, calling the plumber, updating my daughter’s photo website, sending personal emails, going to doctor appointments, doing online CLEs, paying bills, reading blogs, etc. My hours are not flexible, so this enables me to spend my limited at-home time with my family and friends, working out, and relaxing.

  5. Blonde Lawyer :

    I pay bills, submit FSA receipts and deal with personal customer service issues (writing a letter or calling to get a billing error fixed) all from work. I use my own envelopes and stamps of course (when it isn’t an e-thing.) I also get my hair cut during the work day and everyone knows it since I return with it looking different. I also drop off/pick up dry cleaning but it is about 1 block from my office. I do all banking activities during the work day too but that is kind of required given their hours. I will sometimes talk w/friends on my cell w/ the door closed but this is rare. Only if we have to talk about something urgent and I know I’m going to be working past their usual chatting time. I also deal with my board (non-profit) work from work but I consider that marketing/networking time anyway. Oh, I thought of a few more. Ordering and picking up contacts, getting my glasses adjusted and getting my car worked on are also all things I’ve done from work.

  6. Need to Improve :

    In a BigLaw job where we have our own offices and work long hours, I think it is understood that many personal errands are and need to be accomplished during work hours. And the inverse is true: many work errands need to be done during “personal” hours, when you are home at night with your family. I think the separation between “work time” and “personal time” is largely an artificial distinction with a job like this.

    Calling the cable company, returning packages, etc. all are legit during the workday, and a lot of this kind of stuff HAS to happen during the work day because nothing is open when we are “off work.” Honestly I can’t think of anything that would be unacceptable to do while at work unless it is illegal or violates company policy. When you are billing over 2000 hours a year and doing professional development stuff on top of it, it would be impossible to be a functional member of society without doing some personal errands between 9 and 5.

  7. I work in an office where almost every one is salaried and there is not tracking for number of hours worked. Many people send a notice email that they will be out between so and so time to take care of few errands etc. It is totally okay in our office. But the thing that really bothers me is the loud phone calls as we don’t have personal offices (we have cubes). We had a person who relocated to our office from a branch in different country. He was always on phone and I knew what was going on in his home (broken water heater, internet not working, calling the bank etc etc). Then he started making skype calls to his parents who live in his home country as that was the only time convenient for him and his parents due to time difference. It was so disturbing and it was hard to focus on work. Then some one wrote on a white board in his cube to use a conference room for his phone calls (I came to know about this from the other person in his cube) and he stopped. It was such a relief to have some quietness around me.

  8. Grey Matters :

    A Big NO! at my bureaucratic workplace is reading and responding to Blogs. oops! When most awake time is spent at work than at home – I sometimes pay bills, get haircuts, dr. appts., and buy the occasional item on zulily. However, we have people that have used work time for online sales … photos and posting and selling- think EBay. That should be a big no!. As is on-line photo editing (think large personal albums); scrapbooking; wedding planning; party planning; and excessive on-line shoppping. Sometimes I wonder what’s left for these people to do at home?

  9. I work in a small office with mostly male attorneys, but also a few female attorneys whose husbands’ schedules are more flexible than theirs. I’m the only unmarried attorney and I often have to do a lot of errands and personal things during the day because there is really no other time to do them. I often feel as though I’m looked down upon for this because no one else really has a need to do this because their spouse is either a SAHM or SAHD or has a more flexible schedule. Just wondering if anyone else also encounters this.

    • AnonLawMom :

      This was an issue at my old firm. There was a total disconnect between my responsibilities outside of work and those of my colleagues. They all had SAH wives or wives with less demanding jobs so day time errands were never really their issue.

    • I am the only single attorney at my firm. The rest have stay at home wives except for one who has a nanny he shares with his first wife. I feel the same way! So when they ask where I am I usually tell them and then ask when do you do it? So they can realize that hey, they don’t have to do it.

      • Same here. Male attorneys with stay at home moms or wives. Conversation–male attorney “what are cage-free eggs?” Me: I guess you don’t go to Kroger much.

        When one divorced and had to take care of his own laundry, etc., eyes were opened.

        Since they play plenty of golf and hunt, go to ball games, I don’t feel the least bad taking time off for personal errands. However, I am busy enough at work that I would never dream of reading a non-legal blog at the office.

  10. locomotive :

    I typically work 60-80 hours a week depending on the season and a lot of my personal tasks end up getting done in the office due to necessity – these range from the borderline unacceptable (painting my nails) to totally acceptable (bill-paying, putting packages in the mail room to be picked up with our office mail). I think a lot of it depends on timing like everyone else has mentioned. If I’m painting my nails at 1pm it’s not going to be a good idea, but if I’m the only one left and doing it as a break at 9pm I don’t see a problem. I’ve also booked vacations, arranged house cleaning, picked up dry cleaning, ordered groceries/gifts/packages etc… so I’m starting to think computer or phone related tasks are almost always acceptable if you aren’t being loud.

  11. I work for the government and was told when I started as an intern- “never do anything on the clock that you wouldn’t want to get out in the press”.

    For me, taking a few minutes to run to the bank/post office/call the insurance company- no big deal. A few minutes spent reading blogs during our ‘slow’ season- totally fine. I also work in an office where we frequently get placed in a holding pattern prior to meetings, which ranges from ‘five minutes after scheduled time’ to ‘cancelled indefinitely’. During this time, I have zero guilt farting around online.

    I’m careful about what I post online, the phone calls I make and don’t abuse the privilege of working in an environment like this.

    Also- for the love of all that’s holy. If you have to make an extensive call regarding your health issue or a family’s health issue, particularly when it involves you screaming at some poor underpaid receptionist/med assistant, don’t make your coworkers listen. Sincerely, someone who can tell you about her former coworker’s EVERYTHING.

    • Orangerie :

      Ha, I once had to listen to someone questioning her husband about the contents of their checking account. SUPER fun.

    • old capitol :

      Sounds like my office, including the screaming about family health issues! Must be something about the government. The only thing that’s different for me is that I don’t make any personal phone calls on my office line, just my personal cell.

  12. Famouscait :

    I do computer-based things from work. Like:

    Scan and upload receipts for FSA reimbursement
    Fax forms to antiquated offices who won’t accept them any other way (grrr)
    Manage some email correspondence, such as unsubscribe from email lists in my personal email
    Obsessively track UPS packages
    I also log into Mint.com every day to categorize transactions that have popped up. I imagine there’s lots of folks who would be uncomfortable doing this from a work computer, but it doesn’t bother me.

    Doing these things from work (usually over tea in the morning or over lunch) means I don’t have to go near my computer once I get home, which I like.

  13. I usually work 8-9 hour days and rarely have time to do personal things during those hours. I work for a busy, startup tech company in a matrix environment where everyone expects you to respond to Gchats and emails instantly. It’s an open office too, so there’s no privacy and people can see what you are doing at all times. Virtually no one takes lunch breaks, so it would be weird if I went out for a hair cut or errand. But the good thing is we can work from home once a week, and so that gives us a little breathing room for meeting the plumber or whatever, although you still have to be available at all times.

    I try to fit in a little blog reading just to give myself a reward for getting through hectic days. Today I wrote my grocery list for the week while I was at work, which is a rarity, but it was nice to get that done during the day.

  14. Anonymous :

    I think in a Biglaw/long hours job, it would be ridiculous to say you can’t do personal things in the office. Having just gotten out of a three week stretch where I billed between 80 and 100 hours each week, EVERYTHING that had to be done got done in the office during 5-10 minute breaks while I was waiting for an email to come in, or waiting for a phone call. I ordered flowers to my parents for their anniversary, paid all my bills, sent emails to my landlord, booked vacation tickets, etc. The only thing that I couldn’t do was get my hair cut, because I couldn’t leave the office for more than 10 minutes at a time, because I had to be absolutely responsive to emails the minute they came in. But I think that, given the circumstances, no one would be upset with me for getting things done, and I know that everyone else in my office who doesn’t have a stay at home spouse to take care of life’s little details was doing the same thing.

  15. I do everything from work. I do not even have a home computer anymore just an ipad. I pay bills, check mint, shop online (if there is a sale otherwise most shopping is on tablet), run errands, print things, mail things.

  16. I’m in a very different role now. When I was a management consultant and on the road 5x a week, I still could not conduct personal business at the client because I worked from the client site. It made everything very difficult. I’d often book a conference room for lunch and spend an hour returning personal calls or doing personal work – i.e. insurance, house, grad school. Of course I was also working 60+ hours a week and traveling 12+ hours.

    Now I’m in academia, and my schedule is my own. As long as I cover my classes, I’m fine. I teach and I oversee one of our graduate programs so I do need to be on campus during work hours for my grad program. But I teach online as well as on campus, so I have late night office hours via Skype, am writing lectures and grading when my kids are sleeping, etc. Now my days off campus are spent doing personal work – handling my father’s estate and medical issues, going to my own appointments, shopping & errands, paying bills, cleaning the house. And I weave my course prep work in and out of my day. It’s a much more fluid day, and I rather like the autonomy although it is hard to draw a line. I sometimes bring personal work to the office, but it’s nearly impossible to get done as I’m in back-to-back meetings, answering emails, coordinating roles & responsibilities, etc.

    The University definitely gets its money’s worth out of me so I have no issue.

    • I spent last semester teaching, two courses – and while I won’t miss the actual having to be “on” and “performing” at lectures for at least 4 hours, if not 8 hours, every week, I will miss the flexibility.

      The work hours were calculated in a “this is how much time we estimate that you will use for lecture prep, assessment and lectures” and as long as you were at the lectures prepared, few (if any) people cared if you were sitting at home, at the office or wherever, and would be checking in on emails from time to time.

      Going back to a 8-16 office job after that was kind of tough.

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