Working from home or working as a freelancer and working for yourself – it’s the Holy Grail, isn’t it? No commute, no being herded around like cattle. No irritating colleagues looking over your shoulder or making small talk by the water cooler.
You’ll enjoy the freedom and flexibility to work when you can, taking on the projects or tasks you want. You no longer have to follow the herd. No more 9-5 (unless you want to, for some weird reason). The opportunity to pick up the kids from school, or go to assembly, or sports day.
There’s convenience and independence in working from home (or at least, remotely) but there’s also a challenge in keeping yourself motivated and ‘on task’. It’s all too easy to get side-tracked – the chance of a lie-in, something interesting (yes, maybe!) on daytime TV, a call from a friend to go out for lunch.
Overcoming feelings of loneliness aren’t easy if you’re not used to them and keeping a divide between home life and work life – bearing in mind they take place in the same environment – can be testing. Let’s consider some ways in which you can make things work for you (and your family).
Choose your hours – and stick to them!
We are pack animals – we see what others are doing and generally like to follow. It’s convenient, it seems right, it’s ‘normal’. It’s only right we should try and do the same.
But the whole point of working from home – or for yourself – is that you want, perhaps need, to buck that trend. In any case, 9-5 is not for everyone. Some of us work more productively in the early hours, before dawn, before others are up and about. They’re fresh out of the blocks and raring to go.
Some work better late at night when others have turned in. They’ve got the mundane tasks of the day out of the way and are fired up with ideas and positive energy.
Make sure you take advantage of this flexibility and freedom and find the times of day when you are most energised and productive.
Create a dedicated work/study space in your home
Although working from home means you have the freedom to work wherever you like, it’s important to remember that working, eating, playing or watching TV in the same area – bedroom, sitting room, dining room – distraction, frustration or maybe boredom can easily set in.
When you’re trying to work, you get distracted by the usual goings-on in that space, and when you’re trying to relax – or play, or watch TV, or cook – you can’t stop thinking about work. Blurred lines.
If your home allows for it, create a space specifically for work – a dedicated office, if you have a spare room, perhaps, or a desk in the corner of whichever room you chose to use for your home office – a dining room or bedroom is possibly more productive than a living room or kitchen.
It’s still perfectly possible to work from your laptop anywhere in the house, but having a dedicated space tells you – and your mind – that you are there to work as soon as you sit down.
Be sure to take breaks and book days off/holidays
In the home environment, it’s all too easy to settle down and immerse yourself in what you’re doing. It’s also easy to get distracted and the feel the need to work through until you’re back on track.
That could mean missing lunch, for instance. Which in turn brings feelings of tiredness and a loss of focus and concentration – productivity drops and you might then spend the evening, family time feeling guilty and trying to catch up.
So, make sure you factor in time during the normal working day to just stop what you are doing and take a walk. Deliberately stop for lunch – it doesn’t have to be a full hour. And make sure you have a cut-off in the day – switch off the phone and the laptop and stop checking emails and other notifications.
Diarise your days off and your holidays. As an employee, you’re entitled to holiday – minimum 28 days/5.6 weeks per year in the UK – so if you’re freelance/self-employed, make sure you take at least the same.
Of course, as an employee, holiday is paid – when you’re freelance, you don’t necessarily get paid when you don’t work. But when you’re working for yourself, no working usually means no money. So, factor into your prices/rates enough to make sure fallow periods are adequately covered.
Don’t be tempted to abandon holiday time because of the lack of income. Your mental health – irrespective of your bank balance – will NOT thank you.
Work with other people to stay motivated
Working from home can be lonely. If you need company – or just some people around you – why not look into meeting fellow independents in libraries, coffee shops or dedicated office or studio spaces?
If face-to-face doesn’t suit you – or is not workable for whatever reason – think about joining an online support community. Search on the major social media sites – or Google (or your preferred search engine) – to find one which fits for you.
Use apps to maintain your focus
There are plenty of productivity and time management apps available to help you find and manage time which help you stay organised and focused.
Trello is a noticeboard-style app to help you organise, prioritise and keep track of your projects in a flexible way. You can add comments and attachments, and the app allows you to collaborate with others. You could also use it to organise your family life too.
Rescue Time helps you keep track of where you’re spending your time online, offering a daily report on which websites you’ve visited. If social media is your weakness, Cold Turkey helps you to block chosen sites for certain periods of time during the day, helping you to avoid getting bogged down on Facebook or Twitter – easily done!
There are plenty more, depending on how you want to focus your time and energy – Google is your friend here.
So, here are just a few tips to help you stay organised and focused throughout your day when you’re working from home. The takeaway here is to keep the distinction between work life and home life – create a dedicated workspace and make sure you set yourself clear boundaries in terms of when you will work.
Make sure you take regular breaks and holidays and make use of the dozens of apps available to help keep you organised and productive.
Working from home should be liberating, exciting and, above all, fun.