I’ve worked as a freelancer for 5 years; much of that time has been spent working from home. Over that period, I’ve learned a lot about what makes working from home wonderful… and how, gone wrong, it can drive you nuts.
Below are my top 5 tips (one for each year!) on how to work effectively from home – without going crazy.
1) A dedicated working space (at least during working hours)
Listen, if you live in some sprawling house in the country, this is an easier step to take – set up an office or dedicated working area. When you’re in that space, it’s working time; when you’re outside of it, you’re at home. Ta-da, your boundaries are clear and you have assured work-from-home sanity!
If you live, as this post’s author does, in what might justly be termed an “urban hobbit box” in Manhattan, the delineation between “working space” and “living space” is a lot more fuzzy.
Still, setting up a de facto working space is key to productivity (and prevents you feeling like you live in a pseudo-office). During working hours, a certain chair in my living room is more-or-less my working space. It’s in a sunny spot, it’s comfortable, it’s out of the way enough so my roommates won’t trip over my stuff, and (most importantly), I’ve now conditioned myself to snap into work mode whenever I set up with my laptop there.
Is it the catalogue picture of a workspace? No, but the point is that you don’t need a fancy set-up – you just need a vaguely-organized corner.
2) An escape plan
Okay, so the first thing you needed was a workspace. Now you need a Plan B.
The “escape plan” is for when the very sight of your home office (or chair-based equivalent) makes you nauseous, when you feel like running screaming into the night if you have to look at your own walls for one… more… second.
Scout out coffee shops and local co-working spaces. Investigate libraries and studios. Heck, look into a creative retreat. A key component of working sanely from home is being able to escape your home. Which brings me to #3…
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3) Good connectivity / tech
I am not the most technically-inclined person. I once, infamously, owned a laptop that had to be “rebooted” by delicately lifting it an inch over a hard surface – and then dropping it.
But since I became a full-time freelancer, I have invested in good tech: a great (non-droppable) laptop, a good smartphone, up-to-date software, excellent data storage, fast Internet connection. I don’t have the fanciest tech, but I have very reliable tech.
First of all, these necessaries are often partially (if not fully) tax-deductible. Second of all, NOTHING will drive you stark raving mad faster than dealing with bad equipment, tech, or connectivity when working from home.
Before I invested in good connectivity, I reached absolute frothing-at-the-mouth states when talking to the hapless customer service representatives of cable companies.
When your only connection to the outside is through your various devices and their invisible reach, it’s worth springing for the more reliable options. AND AGAIN, this is from the tech-averse freelancer who once refused to replace a partially-smashed mobile phone for TWO YEARS – tiny shards of glass working their way into my ears notwithstanding.
4) Noise control
I live in New York City, belligerent car-honking and yelling capital of the Northeast (still working towards world title; fingers crossed), so this is a must for me – but it’s just as true for y’all livin’ in less, ah, exuberant climes.
Nothing is more prohibitive to productivity than constant noise pollution. I’m NOT saying you have to run out and sound-proof your walls; that seems drastic, unless you’re narrating audio-books.
There are plenty of low-cost noise mitigation options: for instance, choose an out-of-the-way corner for your working space. If you have kids (the ultimate noisemakers), work away from their play space and establish boundaries about interruptions.
Buy a pair of noise-cancelling headphones if your space is super noisy – just don’t wear them while crossing the street. I find a combination of playing classical music and choosing quiet hours to work does just fine.
5) External influences
The most seductive path to work-from-home insanity is… getting too good at working from home.
Eventually, you’ll figure out a workflow that works for you! It’ll feel great. Really comfortable and great. You’ll just work and work and work and… wait, when did you last shower?
Was it last Tuesday? Eh, who cares. Your friends want you to come and hang out, but why would you go outside? You have everything you need here; why travel where the sun would burnses you?
Just stay inside, with your Friend the Laptop in your cozy workspace: your PRECIOUSSSSSSS…….
You get the point. You need external interests and influencers not only to draw you out of your beguiling home/work den, but also to structure your time within your workspace. Make a point out of signing up for external activities – whether social or professional – that get you out of the house; don’t cancel them.
Make exercise, in particular a priority. Within your workflow, set limits – make time for breaks. Create boundaries for yourself; don’t work past certain hours, or let work time bleed into playtime.
Tell a friend (or roommate, or family member) to drag you bodily away from your desk whenever necessary.
Following these simple tips ensures that working from home is enjoyable – and you’ll amass quite the collection of comfy daytime wear. You, too, can have both sanity AND convenience!
Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.