It's tempting to view your workspace as merely a utlitarian arrangement: desk, chair, computer, and lamp. But, investing a little in the environment from which you produce your life's work can vastly improve both the life and the work. You can be as spiritual or as scientific as you'd like about tailoring your workspace to your business and your soul, but I've found that creating the perfect space boils down to 3 main characteristics:
You may be the most diligent, committed, busy little freelance bee imaginable. You may spring from bed every morning at the crack of dawn, sit right down to your desk, and work like a perfectly-oiled machine until you fall into bed again to sleep a dreamless sleep like the paragon of productivity you are. You robot you.
But even if you are such a specimen – and really, ugh, stop reading this if you are, and go back to work – I guarantee that at some moment in your freelance career, you will temporarily run a bit dry.
You’ll find yourself blankly staring at walls, with nothing whirring in your robot-y brain. You’ll need a kickstart to start working again – and barring a battery charge, that means finding inspiration.
All freelance workspaces benefit from sources of inspiration; wellsprings from which to refresh your poor overtired brain. Myself, I like to surround myself with both the aural and visual variety – I’ll put on music if I’m working remotely, and my workspace at home is plastered with pictures that inspire me.
Sources of inspiration are deeply personal, and need not be permanent – many people change their surroundings regularly. Pictures, poems, music, nature – it’s all good.
You needn’t even be able to articulate what, exactly, inspires you about any given element of your workspace. Just go with whatever feels right; if it feeds you, it’s an inspiration.
Anybody who has ever said it’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools has never tried to operate buggy, pirated software on an ancient, constantly-crashing computer.
You may indeed do stellar work on cruddy equipment; you may even find that necessity becomes the mother of invention. You needn’t own top-of-the-line goods in order to work effectively, but you must be ABLE to work.
A good freelance workspace supports you, instead of hindering you. It should be a tool, not an obstacle. If you consistently find that an element of your workspace is not usable (or is distractingly terrible), prioritize improving it.
Invest in that new computer or those ergonomic chairs, if you can. I realize that money may be short – I’ve been there. But put utility and function ahead of luxury, in such an instance.
Invest in yourself, your health, and your work. Don’t let sub-par equipment drag you down.
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Yes, in many cases this means active connection to the outside world: your clients, customers, or collaborators. A fast Internet connection has helped many a freelancer edge out their competition. If you’re one of these freelancers, make sure you’re easy to reach during working hours – and that you’re equipped to reach others with ease.
But when I say “connection”, I also mean active connection with yourself.
Yes, I’m aware that sounds a bit New-Agey, but stay with me.
A workspace that gives you time and space in which to think - in which to connect and reconnect with what’s important to you – helps you stay centered and make the right decisions for you and your business. It helps to remind you WHY you do what you do, what you like (and don’t like), and where your boundaries are.
Ask yourself if your workspace helps you to feel strong, confident, and grounded – or if it fundamentally stresses you out. Some of these elements may be beyond your control (you can’t help an obnoxious construction site next door, or a bad florescent light in a co-working space), but some elements ARE within your power to change.
Consciously shape your workspace to promote your sense of self-trust and connection. Maybe this involves changing your lighting, or posting reminders of accomplishments. Maybe hanging pictures of loved ones to remind yourself of happy times is key, or packing healthy snacks. Maybe it’s a matter of less tactile workplace adjustments – like enforcing boundaries about work/rest time, or declaring a home studio a kids-free zone for an hour or so.
Remember that a workspace should be YOUR place to do YOUR work – and that means shaping it to fit your needs and promote your best self. It needn’t break your budget or even be a concrete space; you may be able to find the right mix of inspiration, utility, and connection working remotely, with very simple materials.
Combining and refining these elements can help you develop workspaces that are equal parts sanctuary, studio, and bootcamp – and with that kind of base, who can help but work?
Kate Shea 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.