For years I dreamed of being able to work from home. The freedom to work in my pajamas, to cut my commute time down to only a few steps and to work on my own terms. Now that is the life, right?
After freelancing full-time for a year now, I have experienced the challenges that come with working from home as well. Here are 10 tips to help you through some of the challenges so you can focus more on the benefits of the freelance lifestyle.
1. Have a separate room with a door you can close
This is one of the most important points to consider. While many people have started out working from their kitchen table or from a desk in the corner of their bedroom, try to avoid that if at all possible.
You need a completely separate space that is your own and is not shared by anyone else. This is especially true if you have a spouse or children who are at home during the day while you are trying to work. It could mean converting a spare bedroom or finishing a basement, but the investment will be worth it.
Imagine trying to concentrate on a task at hand, or talk to a client on the phone, while your three year old keeps wandering in wanting to play dolls or watch Dora the Explorer. I can hear productivity screeching to a halt now.
For me, I’m lucky in that regard. My wife teaches, our oldest daughter is in kindergarten and our youngest daughter is in daycare. But during the summer months, everyone is home and that is when my separate office really becomes important!
2. Communicate with your family and friends
There is a common misconception that when you work from home, you are free to run errands, do chores, pick up the kids or a number of other tasks that are normally associated with being ‘off work.’
You need to communicate to your family and friends that you are working—just the same as them. Would you drop by your friend’s place of work to chit chat for a couple of hours? No, unless you wanted to get him or her fired! Would you expect your spouse to do laundry or wash dishes while on his or her job? Not a chance.
Now, does this mean that you never do those things? No. After all, you do have more flexibility by working for yourself and working from home. But it shouldn’t be expected of you. See the difference?
3. Maintain a working schedule
You left the corporate world, in part, to be free from schedules right?
Well, you don’t have to conform to the Monday–Friday, 9–5 world if that is not for you. In fact, you may find that your most productive time is late at night or early in the morning and your least productive time is early afternoon.
If so, adjust accordingly. But it is important to maintain some consistency in your schedule. I have found that late at night is a highly productive time for me. It may be that I was accustomed to that schedule during the many years that I worked full-time and freelanced on the side. Or it may just be because everyone else has gone to bed and it’s a nice quiet time!
It’s important to me to stop working when my family comes home so that I can spend time with them. If you’re not careful to maintain some kind of schedule, you’ll let projects, marketing, bookkeeping and all other tasks fill up any spare time you have. And your family relationships will suffer because of it. So be proactive, set a schedule and stick to it.
4. Stay focused
It easy to get distracted when working from home. You don’t have a boss or manager looking over your shoulder. You can get quickly absorbed with Twitter, Facebook or blogs. Or your email chimes constantly and you are compelled to check it right away.
Maybe you have a television nearby and get caught up in the latest celebrity scandal plastered across CNN—or you just have to watch the highlights on SportsCenter for the 10th time.
A good tip is to turn everything off for a set amount of time while you are focused on the project at hand. Eliminate all distractions during that time and concentrate on working efficiently. Then periodically check email or your social networks—but limit the amount of time or soon your working day will have passed without anything to show for it.
There are a lot of different approaches, tools and resources that attempt to help with this. Experiment with different ones until you find the system that works best for you.
Additional Resources: Some apps that may help eliminate distractions
Photo credit: sskennel
5. Take breaks
It can be draining to sit at the computer all day. After so long, your concentration and productivity levels drop and it’s much harder to stay focused.
So periodically make sure you take breaks. Get up and move around. Fix some coffee. Take a short walk outside and get some fresh air. You’ll be surprised by how refreshed and refocused you become by taking short breaks throughout the day.
6. Get out of the office
Freelancing can be a lonely profession. Often we overlook how much we benefited from social interaction in the corporate world—chatting with co-workers and listening to the hustle-and-bustle of phones ringing, fax machines beeping and people talking.
And unfortunately for many freelancers, depression even sets in—especially when first adjusting to working from home or during times where business is slow and cash flow is tight. Get help if you need it—for yourself and your loved ones.
Make it a point to schedule times to get together with former co-workers for lunch. Attend local meet-ups or events. Explore some co-working opportunities in your city. Take your laptop and work from a Starbucks or local bookstore every now and then.
The point is, we all need interaction with people at some level. Even us introverts .
My home office. Still a work in progress, but it’s getting there!
7. Invest in proper office furniture and equipment
It’s tempting to cut costs on office furniture in the beginning. But you need an adequate desk so that you are not cramped and can spread your work out comfortably. Obviously your chair is important so you need one with good support and one that fits you well. Consider office layout, lighting and other ergonomic aspects.
I’ve gone through two desks this year. The first one I had was a very nice L-shaped desk with a hutch. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough leg room and every time I swiveled in my chair to get up or to sit down, I would bang my knee against the pedestal file cabinet drawer. Also, there wasn’t enough elbow room since you had to sit in the corner of the L-shape. It’s hard to explain but it was just awkward.
I thought the next desk would be better. I have a thing against using keyboard drawers. I prefer my keyboard on the desktop in front of my iMac. This desk was more shallow than I realized when I bought it and I couldn’t rest my elbows on the desktop. So I had to type at a weird angle that put pressure and strain on my wrists. Not good for a long term set up!
Finally, I invested in a nice bow-front desk that is wonderful. Plenty of room to spread out my work and deep enough to accommodate my computer and keyboard arrangement. Plus I added an additional 23” monitor to create a dual monitor set up. Now I can arrange my windows and applications better and not constantly move things around.
I went into all of that detail to demonstrate that sometimes little things can have a negative effect. So plan for a good office set up that is going to help you be more efficient and comfortable rather than hinder your workflow.
Additional Resources: Home office examples
- Where We Do What We Do
- Apartment Therapy: Favorite Home Office Inspiration
- Flickr Group: Cool Offices
8. Connect and collaborate with peers
I’ve mentioned the importance of being around others. In addition, you will benefit greatly from having fellow freelancers with whom you can communicate, ask questions, share resources and get feedback.
It today’s world, this commonly takes place over Twitter, Facebook or email. I can post a question on Twitter and have a couple of responses within just a few minutes from fellow designers. Or there are sites and forums you can participate in and get feedback on designs or ask questions about client dilemmas. I have fellow freelancers that I can email with a specific problem, if I don’t want to discuss over social media, and they can help solve it.
9. Take time off
Sometimes it’s just too much—the projects, the client changes, the bookkeeping, the client changes… You need to get away from it all so you can recharge and relax. When you worked in the corporate world you may have had two or three weeks paid vacation and often it was mandatory to take it before the year’s end.
Now you’re working so much that you “don’t have time” for a vacation. But you need to make time for your own health and sanity. Schedule a trip and book your reservations ahead of time. Then mark that on your calendar and adjust your schedule leading up to it accordingly. Let your clients know, at least ones who have current projects. With planning and care, there is no reason you can’t take time off.
Both you and your business will benefit.
10. Take time to reflect on the alternative
What were the things you hated most about working in the corporate world? Was it the office politics? Or the endless meetings where nothing was ever accomplished? What about the commute? Rush hour traffic? Do you have horror stories about a former boss or supervisor?
Occasionally looking back can help put things in perspective. After all, you left that world for a reason. Remind yourself of that reason from time to time.
Then sit back in your pajamas and take a sip of that fresh-brewed coffee and enjoy one of your “scheduled” breaks. Oh—and take out the trash while you’re at it
Photo credit: Mark Woodbury