Career Change
Staying Sane When Working From Home

Staying Sane When Working From Home

Rosie Allabarton

Enjoying the freedom of working from home is something that many of us have dreamed about when tied to our office desks on a Friday afternoon . Sitting in your pyjamas, fresh coffee on the stove, working from home can sound idyllic in comparison to office politics, stuffy offices and vending machine lunches which is why it is often held up as an ideal due to the flexibility and freedom it affords. A recent study even showed that workers make better decisions and come up with better strategies when they have the time and space to consider all their options, when working from home. As Forbes journalist and neuroscience expert Christine Comaford wrote in her article on the benefits of working from home: “Working at home makes us faster, better, and heck, it’s even cheaper.”

 

Working from home - how it can drive you crazy, if you let it

It’s certainly true how much more efficient it can be working for yourself in an environment entirely of your own choosing. However you ask anyone who does work from home and they will tell you it’s not always so idyllic. To reap the benefits of the freelance lifestyle there are first a number of obstacles that need to be overcome.

So whether you’re coding, writing, designing or developing see if you can relate to some of these working from home frustrations. At the end of this post, we’ll give you a step-by-step guide on how to overcome your working from home hurdles, and Emil Lamprecht, our Creative Director and longterm freelancer will help you boost your motivation and productivity in a video filmed at our Berlin Headquarters. Make sure to check it out.

Distractions

The cat, the washing up, the sound of the neighbour’s radio. When you want to be distracted by something there are endless ways to allow it to happen. Of course one of the biggest distractions for many people is right in front of their noses: the internet. Cute animal videos, personal emails, Twitter, Facebook. You name it, your most important tool and valuable resource is also your greatest enemy as a freelancer.

Working at home makes us faster, better, and heck, it’s even cheaper.

Sophe Turton, writer on freelancing issues and web editor, said: “With no one to look over your shoulder, it is all too easy to become distracted while working from home. For me, a born procrastinator, the intricate swirls in my wall paper suddenly became more fascinating than Picasso and I found I was losing a lot of time staring or surfing the internet or making endless cups of tea.”

Still wearing pyjamas at 3pm

The temptation to not get dressed can be huge when there’s no dress code to adhere to and no one to get dressed for. It’s also kind of fun conducting Skype calls in a shirt, tie and boxer shorts. Casual friday in your old job can very quickly become casual everyday as a freelancer. Unfortunately not motivating yourself to get dressed in the morning has a seriously detrimental impact on your motivation levels. As Andrew Handley pointed out in his blogpost on the topic of working from home : “Interestingly, the clothes we’re wearing have a huge impact on the way our brains perceive the role that we’re filling. It’s called enclothed cognition, and it causes our psychology to shift based on the way we dress. See, it doesn’t matter what you physically wear; it matters how you feel when you’re wearing it.”

Personal hygiene takes a backseat

Same as not getting dressed, why shower if you’re not going to see anyone all day? However your boyfriend or girlfriend might not appreciate it when they get home and there are flies swirling around your head. As Micha Kaufman wrote in his blog post Going Nuts Working From Home – 5 Sanity Saving Tips: “For crying out loud, please remember to start your day with a shower.”

Loneliness

It can be lonely working freelance. Your flatmate/partner leaves the house to go to work at 8am and you’re left listening to the loud hum of the fridge. The house literally rings from emptiness. Suddenly you’re missing those chats with co-workers by the water cooler about last night’s TV and who got drunk at the staff party last week that you enjoyed (or didn’t) in your full-time job.

The house literally rings from emptiness.

Unexpected personal visits

When you start working freelance you may find that many of your friends assume you are not working at all most of the time and have plenty of time to hang out with them or run errands for them. It’s true that you will have the freedom to get the post office before the lunch time queue but that is your freedom that you work hard the rest of the time for, not for your flatmates/family to take advantage of because they’ve chosen a job that doesn’t allow them such flexibility.

Lack of separation between work life and home life

The lack of any distinct line between your personal time and your working time can lead to many freelancers working more hours than if they had an office job. Rather than being the more flexible and manageable work/lifestyle choice , for some people freelancing from home creates the temptation to just continue working. It is a feeling that’s often very hard to resist, especially when you know that you alone are in control of your earnings. The problem often stems from having a desk or working area that is also in the bedroom or the living room, rooms which are meant to be for relaxing or ‘down time’ instead of in a separate room altogether. If you can see your computer or your inbox full of due projects while you are trying to relax, chances are you’ll find it hard to switch off from work mode.

In an article from ODesk about the difficulties of working from home, by journalist Julia Camenisch, Dr Michael Britt said: “You can get caught up in it. You figure you can answer the email quickly. But then it turns into something longer. You send that email, answer another, and then the next thing you know, you just spent the last 45 minutes working.”

What can you do to overcome these distractions and stay motivated and satisfied while still enjoying the comforts of working from home?

1.) Allocate specific time slots for social media

If you are not using social media as a marketing tool, keep Facebook, Twitter and YouTube closed. You will lose literally hours of productivity otherwise. If you do use them as part of your business strategy for personal branding or content marketing (which, as a freelancer you really should be), allocate specific times of the day when you allow yourself to use them (for that purpose) and close them when you are finished.

2.) Find a community of freelancers

Rather than calling up friends who are probably working, try to find an online community of freelancers to exchange ideas and advice with. Good sites for this are:

Having people to brainstorm with or moan to can make the difference between a lonely day and a productive one. It can be a great way to hone your ideas and find more work too. If you do find that you crave real human contact, arrange to meet people for lunch or work in a cafe. Joining a gym and exercising for an hour a day is a good way to get you out and about and keeps you fit in an otherwise fairly sedate working day.

3:) Separate Life from Work

Try to find a work space that is separate from where you live, sleep or eat. A separate office, spare bedroom, balcony, conservatory or really any corner of your home that you can put a desk and computer in. If you only have a small flat, perhaps you could ask a friend who works in an office if you can use their kitchen while they are out. Or, if your work equipment is portable, go to a cafe. Although one of the joys of being freelance is the ability to determine your own work hours, make sure you do have some sort of routine or weekly plan established.

Sophie Turton, told us what she found helpful:

“I started a routine and forced myself to stick to it. I find Toggl to be a really useful time management app as it forces me to stop procrastinating and focus for chunks of time. Every week I then run a report on how I have spent my time and measure my productivity to see how I can continue to make myself more efficient and, as a consequence, happier.”

Getting up at the same time every day and having a plan of action or to-do list can make getting started in the morning a lot easier. You don’t have to start at nine and work until five, with a one o clock lunch break, just make your hours regular. It will benefit you and your clients who will then know the best times to get hold of you and when they can expect work. Giving yourself small goals – with deadlines to meet – throughout the day will help keep you motivated too.

Give yourself small goals, with deadlines to meet, to stay motivated throughout the day.

4.) Make it clear you are not on call 24/7

You need to make it clear to your friends and family that you are not on call to them just because you now work for yourself. In the beginning it might be a good idea to not answer personal calls when you are working and create an answerphone message that states specifically your hours of work. Eventually they will get the idea that when you say you’re working, you are.

Why stay chained to a desk when you don’t have to?

5.) Allow yourself to enjoy it

You’re not stuck in an office, you’re your own boss , why not let yourself enjoy it and appreciate the benefits of the freelance lifestyle , that is, after all why you quit your job , right?

As Kristen Fischer told us:

“My biggest stay-sane tip is to give yourself different working options. I have a laptop and docking station so I can be in my office hooked up to a traditional monitor. When I don’t feel like being at my desk, I can work in bed , on the couch or on the patio. I think setting up the technology (including a network or single spot for file storage) is imperative so you can work where you’re most productive. Why stay chained to a desk when you don’t have to? Sometimes you can improve your productivity or inspiration by giving yourself the option of more flexible work settings. Need to go to a cafe to get something done? Give yourself that. No one says you have to work at home in order to be a great independent worker.

Working at home makes us faster, better, and heck, it’s even cheaper.

And one more tip from fellow freelancer Hanna Brooks Olsen, who told us:

“Being a full-time freelancer presents a lot of challenges. One of the best things to do, both for your career and your mental health is to find your tribe. Coworking spaces can be a helpful way to establish connections, and they provide a space where collaboration is encouraged. But even just getting together with other freelancers to cowork in a coffee shop can be useful.”

Staying motivated: what can you do to keep your energy levels up when working from home?

1. Recognise that you don’t have to be in love with your work 100% of the time

Expectations are important. Having realistic expectations about your freelance lifestyle will keep your feet on the ground when you do make that career break and stop working for someone else. It’s important to recognise that working freelance is still working and, like with any other job, you will have good days and bad days, productive days and not so productive days. Give yourself realistic goals and deadlines, and don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t feeling the love for your chosen profession 100% of the time. Once you’ve accepted that working from home still requires hard work and dedication - sometimes more so than in an office, as you are your sole motivator - it’ll be easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel when those bad days do creep around.

2. Think about what sets you apart from your competition

How are you different from everybody else out there? Is it your skill set? Your efficiency? Your great relationships with your clients? Try to find one thing that makes you the natural go-to person for your profession. If it’s not your skills, think about upgrading your skill set and finding a niche in your field. It’ll make you easier to find on Google and you’ll stand out from your competition if you are the only person doing it. It will also give you a valid reason to charge more than them too. Focusing on simple things like building a great reputation for being personable, easy to work with and good at your job and that’s another way you’ll quickly stand out from the crowd.

3. Think about the future (and the past)

Today might’ve be a bad day: you overslept, spilled coffee on your keyboard, missed a deadline and got turned down by a potential client. It can be tough getting back on track with these kind of setbacks. One way of dealing with them is to think about the future and put them in perspective - in two weeks’ time will this be such a big deal? Think about the past too, and how you’ve overcome previous hurdles. Remember that really bad day you had 4 months ago? You got past it. You dealt with it. You can’t even remember now why it was so bad. Focusing too much on the negative in the present can make it hard to see the bigger picture, but by doing so you realise you didn’t get this far by luck: you’ve had bad days before, but by focusing on your end goal you got over them and you can do the same today.

4. Learn from the bad parts of being freelance

So you had a bad client. They were difficult from the start: shortening deadlines indiscriminately, late paying you and bad communicators. So what have your learnt from this? To grumble and moan and do the same thing all over again with another client? No. You know the warning signs now. You know that when someone is unreasonable or overly demanding in the first couple of exchanges they’re unlikely to improve as the project goes on. Learn from your mistakes, learn to say no to clients who waste your time and don’t appreciate your hard work and you’ll be a happier freelancer in the long run.

7 small steps to getting more done:

  1. Use one of these tools to close down your social media during times of the day when you’re not working on your personal brand , or marketing your skills: GetColdTurkey, Anti-Social, TheWebBlocker
  2. Use a system of rewards to keep yourself motivated and on time with your project, rewarding yourself when you’ve completed a certain number of tasks. As you’re working from home you can be creative with your rewards; it doesn’t just have to be a chocolate bar at 11am, it could be a stroll in the park, half an hour listening to the radio with a cup of coffee or a quick power nap.
  3. Make appointments throughout the day, either online or offline to keep yourself on target. This will help give you a structure to carve the rest of your day around, rather than slipping into bed at 2pm and staying there.
  4. Work in a different part of the house to where you sleep or live.
  5. If you’ve got less work on, don’t just procrastinate, use that time to upgrade your skillset, market your product, or increase your network.
  6. Use your more relaxed, creative environment to explore new ideas. If you were sat in a grey cubicle all day your mind would have little stimulation, but when you’re working from home a quick stroll around the block, or 20 minutes sat on the balcony can do wonders for your concentration, creativity and productivity. So don’t just sit at your desk all day, use the time and space that freelancing has allowed you to give your mind a walk! You’ll soon find you’re solving problems left, right and centre.
  7. Set boundaries between work and home and let everybody know about them. Be they your spouse, your kids, your roommates or your cat. That time when you shut the door to the office is work time, nothing else. Make a big sign and put it on the door if necessary (side note: for those with cats, this is only useful if your pet can also read).

Need more help staying sane when working from home? Our CMO Emil Lamprecht has some productivity tips to help you on your way. Check out the video he made here:

http://careerfoundry.wistia.com/medias/6ukoxkj0lw?embedType=iframe&videoWidth=640

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Do you have any tips for freelancers on staying sane when working from home? If so, we’d love to hear them. Let’s start the discussion in the comments below!

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Rosie Allabarton

Rosie Allabarton

Contributer to the CareerFoundry Blog