Lifestyle

10 Tips to Survive Working from Home

10 Comments 03 December 2009

10 Tips to Survive Working from Home

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.

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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!

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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?

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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.

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cat-at-computer

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

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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.

Addi­tional Resource:

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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 :-) .

Addi­tional Resources:

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my-office
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

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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.

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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.

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traffic

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

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YOUR TURN:

What about you? What tips do you have for work­ing from home? Or what chal­lenges do you face? Please com­ment below.

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Author

Neil Brown

Neil Brown - who has written 16 posts on Freelance Show.

Neil Brown is the founder of the Freelance Show and runs Brown Advertising, LLC, a successful graphic design studio.

Contact the author

Your Comments

10 Comments so far

  1. Brian Jones says:

    Excel­lent post and thank you for the great tips!

  2. Great post Neil — use­ful tips — all good espe­cially these 2:
    - Main­tain a work­ing sched­ule
    - Invest in proper office fur­ni­ture and equipment

  3. amicus18 says:

    Great post neil..i just reg­is­tered last month on odesk.com as freelance/independent contractor/provider but until this moment no one hires me, but i have one inter­view and i’m happy..maybe this is the most dif­fi­cult stage in free­lanc­ing profession…

  4. Great arti­cle. All of these tips are essen­tials. One of the solu­tions I’ve found to the iso­la­tion is to look into affin­ity groups that have actual meetings.

    Do you really want to social­ize with ex-coworkers from the cor­po­rate mono­lith who didn’t have much in com­mon with you, or with the peo­ple who share your spe­cific inter­est in sci­ence fic­tion, fly fish­ing or grow­ing roses? Get into the groups that you enjoy most. 

    You’re social­iz­ing in order to be happy, so build up some group mem­ber­ships where you’ll have a con­stant influx of new acquain­tances to choose friends from — that already share a topic with you. Inter­net can work well for this. Social media do help, you can always look for your inter­ests locally online and show up to the out­door paint­ing thing or whatever.

    It also helps to pri­or­i­tize. Tak­ing a few min­utes in the evening or morn­ing to plan and look ahead, decide what’s the most impor­tant thing to do next, then rank every­thing else that needs to be done in its impor­tance is vital. Obvi­ously your work has to have a top pri­or­ity — but equally impor­tant, don’t just go self employed with­out actu­ally doing some­thing you love and are will­ing to learn and get good at. Prefer­ably have already learned well enough to do it marketably.

    A lot of self employed peo­ple and work at home peo­ple, the major­ity, have found pro­fes­sions that are more fun than their hob­bies. It’s part of a happy life tc do that, to think of your occu­pa­tion as some­thing that really mat­ters to you. To enjoy the work for the most part — there are chores involved and which activ­i­ties are “chores to be done so I can get to the fun part” or “fun and I would be doing this if no one paid me” is personal.

    The huge advan­tage of work­ing at home is being able to be your­self and arrange your life to suit your­self. The more you do that, the more effec­tive and pro­duc­tive your work becomes too. When there’s real pas­sion for the work, then lazi­ness doesn’t come into it.

    You’re entirely right to remind peo­ple to take vaca­tions because when the work’s that sat­is­fy­ing, the vaca­tion may seem like a bother and an inter­rup­tion. But it’s also a chance to spend more time with your loved ones who may or may not be that much into your pas­sion, and get into other things you enjoy doing.

    Vaca­tions don’t need to be “go some­where” either, they can be chang­ing what you do so that you catch up on a bunch of movies you always wanted to see or you spend time at the local lake hang­ing out camp­ing or vol­un­teer on some local project. It’s mostly to take a break in the rou­tine and go do some­thing else that’s enjoy­able for a week or two.

  5. Wes says:

    Great post Neil! I should be work­ing but I’m sit­ting here read­ing your blog posts…

    Again, this is a great post. I have been strug­gling with keep­ing a sched­ule lately and the social life has almost dimin­ished. I’m going to just have to make myself take a break like you said.

    Nice office by the way :)

  6. iMatt says:

    Thank you for this very user­ful post! I‘ll hold to the hints and tips. Curently buy­ing new office fur­ni­ture for more pro­ducite work. Thank you!


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