9 TIPS TO MAKE WORKING FROM HOME WORK FOR YOU
As any freelancer knows, working from home is something of a double-edged sword. On the one side, it’s a glorious vista of freedom, time set aside for side projects, healthy lunches and productivity; on the other, it’s a murky pit of procrastination, loneliness, and a fear of having monumentally cocked something up, with no one to reassure you.
But there can be a middle ground. In my first few weeks working from home it was a confusing but rather lovely situation, living that cliché of working from my bed, in my pants, singing along to the radio and eating biscuits. Outdoor swimming on hot days. Having a beer at 4pm. Then suddenly you realise you’re not actually getting as much done as you could, you’ll soon get a bit fat, and a bed isn’t a sensible workplace, ever.
So onwards and upwards. If you’ve just started working from home, or are just about to, for the love of god don’t make the same mistakes I did. Here are a few tips on how to be the productive, creative powerhouse we all know you can be.
Seems like a daft and obvious suggestion, but it’s amazing how easy it can be if you’re not seeing another person all day to stay indoors in pajamas, a tracksuit, or some nice comfy undies. But the fact is that if you’re body is clad in such slobbish (and probably faintly ridiculous) attire, your brain isn't going to be all it could either. Have some self-respect, and pop on something that will make you feel like an actual person at actual work, rather than a student or an off-duty personal trainer.
Have a routine
One of the joys of freelance life is not having to adhere to “the man” and his demands that you have to be somewhere for eight-odd hours a day, or wake up before 9am. But the vast majority of us need to be anchored to something. Keeping similar hours each day means you’re more likely to get stuff done, and just as crucially, know when to stop working. Try to make sure your day is made up of working hours, regular breaks and, crucially, mealtimes. As you’re at home and most of your friends will be doing the 9 to 5 (or 6, or 7, or 8), it’s always nice to have roughly the same downtime as they do. That way you can go to the cinema in the evenings and go out and play on the weekends, rather than snoozing until midday, watching The Jeremy Kyle Show and working until 1am.
Making lists helps, with items ranked in order of priority.
Again, it seems like an obvious thing to suggest, but it’s hard to overstate the benefits of exercise. Whether it’s getting outdoors for a brisk walk, pole dancing, mountain biking or yoga, it’s a chance to let the mind wander and to take some care of yourself for that day. It’s easy to get trapped into rarely leaving the house when you’ve nothing to commute to, but it’s a dangerous habit that can make you feel pretty low after a while. I’ve found group exercise classes like aerobics to be brilliant: they make you sweat but you also get to see a group of people outside of the house, and those interactions are the sort of things that stop you from becoming a navel-gazing hermit.
Learn to work on your best terms
Yeah we’ve banged on about routine, but within those guidelines understand what works best for you. That’s the nice thing about working for yourself: your days can be structured in the best possible way for you, not you and your designated lunch-break/meetings/fire drills/desk swaps etc etc. If you know your brain is sharpest in the mornings, do the stuff requiring the most mental agility before lunch and use the afternoons for meeting, networking and the fun stuff that inspires you, like visiting galleries or scouring the internet for inspiring visual stimulus or words, or reading a book. If you know you take ages to wake up in the mornings, make the most of that by exercising first and thinking later. It’s now up to you to figure out what makes your days the best they can be, so make the most of that.
Remember that hell can be yourself, as well as other people
If you’re working at home, you’re probably spending a lot of time alone. That can sometimes make you mega productive; other times make you feel lonely and miserable, and other times make even the kindest person rather too inward-looking. Seeing other people and remembering you are far from being the centre of the world is very healthy. Make sure you see other people everyday (aside from your partner/roommates/anyone who happens to be in your home), and you will remember there’s other shit going on apart from your impending deadlines or irritating clients. It makes you feel sane and puts a stop to thoughts that can spiral out of control when left unchecked.
Working in the creative industries means it’s likely a lot of people in your network will be in the same boat, working from home and also feeling a little adrift sometimes. Try making a Facebook group for local people who work from home so that you can arrange to work together from coffee shops, or even in each others’ houses together. That way you’re more likely to get dressed and less likely to accidentally lose a few hours to meaningless YouTube rabbit warrens or deciding it’s suddenly a good idea to arrange your record shelves by BPM.
Just because you’re at home, it doesn’t mean you’re a housewife/husband
Since I started working from home I began to feel guilty about not doing everything around the house, seeing as I was in it so much. I felt bad about sharing chores with my partner: surely I should be the one doing all the cleaning, the laundry, the waiting in for parcels? Surely it’s now my duty to have dinner ready for when he’s home from work? Then I realised that actually it’s not the 1950s any more. Just because your working day is at home, it’s no less important or difficult than if it’s elsewhere. Don’t feel like you have to do everything at home. It’ll make you miserable, and ebb away at the time you’re meant to be actually DOING WORK at home.
Make your space work for you
In an ideal world we’d all make like Virginia Woolf and have a “room of one’s own” to work in, locked away from the rest of the world and allowed to quietly beaver away in a flurry of creativity and diligence. But with property and rental prices as they are, most of us have to make do with a desk space rather than a whole room. When you work for a company, they have to make sure you go through reams of paperwork ticking off basic health and safety requirements for your chair comfort, desk height, ensuring you have the right wrist support, and underscoring the importance of not sitting down for too long. Become your own boring health and safety form: just because you’re at home, it doesn’t mean that a badly positioned screen or unsupportive chair won’t do you harm. You can read about best position for screens here and how to properly support your back here.
And keep it tidy: a messy space is psychologically distracting, and you’ll feel so much better about things if you’re not spending half the day scrabbling about for functioning stationery or scraps of paper.
Even if your desk is just in a corner of your bedroom, make it feel like you’re “going to work” if you can by minimising distractions and not using that space for “fun” things like watching TV, or hanging out with friends. It’ll make switching off form work (or on to it) much harder when the physical spaces for work and play are blurred.
Work time doesn’t always mean desk time
As someone working in the creative industries, working to your own hours means you can go to all the exhibitions you want, meet all the inspiring people you want, and read all the books you want and it’s still work. Take advantage of the fact you can spend longer than you could in a studio-baed role poring over things you find fascinating or inspiring. Even if something seems irrelevant to your current projects, it’s so important to keep learning and stay curious. If you’re a graphic designer but you’re fascinated by a natural history collection, visit it; if you’re a strategist who loves traditional Oriental tapestries, learn about them. Little nuggets of seemingly irrelevant information have a habit of somehow forming “aha” moments when you most need them.
Make the most of your freedom when you can
There’s a reason people have a utopian and unrealistically glorified idea of home working as being all about hanging out in coffee shops staffed solely by attractive, kooky baristas, or sitting in parks, or knocking off early. Yes, you still have to work hard, but you can still do all those things. If the weather’s gorgeous, get the hell down the lido and be smug in the knowledge you can towel off and make up the hours later. Clock off early when there’s a family birthday. You can make up the hours, or if you’re not too busy, you can write them off. That’s the beauty of a freelance lifestyle, so take advantage of it.