I’ve just passed the seventh anniversary of my freelancing career. Wow! It took two years to pluck up the courage to leave full-time employment and go solo, and I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out. I feel fulfilled, productive (mostly), and I work with some really great people. It was worth the leap, 110%.
But freelancing is not all rosy. Like any career, some days are tough. Surprisingly, the difficult days often come from the thing I wanted the most: working from home.
I always imagined that running a freelance business from home would be a breeze. I’d get up early, ‘commute’ down the stairs, whizz through my to-do list without any distractions, and finish my day with a whole afternoon to spare.
Yeah… that’s easier said than done. So after seven years of practice, I’m going to share some of the things I’ve learned about time management and how to be more productive when working from home.
Find a space to work. Maybe you’re not quite ready to jump on the latest trend and book a desk at a coworking space, but the kitchen table is not a long-term solution.
When your home is your primary place of work, you need a permanent office space. Somewhere to put your ‘stuff’ and ideally somewhere that you can leave behind at the end of the day. It’s really important to build separation between your work and your home life, otherwise the boundaries blur and you’ll quickly become tired and disillusioned with your work.
A spare room or home office is ideal, but there are plenty of genius hacks you can try — such as the space under the stairs, a built-in wardrobe, an alcove, or simply foldable partitioning in a corner of the living room. Oh, and invest in a good ergonomic chair, too. Your back (and your sanity) will thank you for it.
- Hold yourself accountable. When you’re working from home, you don’t have your coworkers around to keep you on the straight and narrow. It’s easy to let your thoughts wander. Oh! You forgot to book those cinema tickets, or pay the utility bill, or find seats for that home game next month. Before you know it, 5 minutes of web browsing turns into an hour.
Find a way to make yourself accountable — for instance, if you’ve just started working on an article, drop your coworker or manager a quick message to say it will be ready by 2pm. That way you can’t afford to let time slip away.
- Identify your weaknesses and strengths. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Play to your strengths and work at the time you feel best. That’s one of the great things about working from home — your day is flexible, so use it to your advantage. Likewise, manage your weaknesses. Are you easily distracted by the TV? If you really must watch that program, start your day earlier to make time for it, then switch it off. And unplug it.
- Communicate regularly. It’s easy to feel isolated when you’re working from home. Schedule calls during the week and keep in touch with your coworkers or clients as much as possible. Face-to-face time is important too; video calls are fantastic for most meetings, but sometimes when you’re working on a tricky project with lots of other people involved, there’s nothing like an in-person meeting. It will help break the monotony of working alone, too.
- Make time for activity. It’s surprisingly easy to stay indoors working all day. Even when you’re up against a tight deadline, get outside and enjoy some fresh air. Trust me! Go out and exercise, run an errand, or simply walk to the local shop. Not only will you benefit from fresh air and activity, taking a break is often the best time to evaluate a problem and come up with solutions.
- Change something. If you find yourself regularly feeling bored or getting easily distracted, it’s time to make a change. Get up earlier, start a new exercise routine, or change your scenery by working somewhere different. Use a local coworking space or work in a coffee shop for a couple of hours. Do something to break the cycle and if it works, keep at it.
After seven years, I’ve experienced plenty of productivity drains and booms. I hope some of these suggestions will help you in the same way they help me. We are all different and some things work better than others, so my last piece of advice is: try something. If it works, great! If it doesn’t, try something else. You have nothing to lose but so much to gain.
Good luck — and if you have other tried-and-tested productivity tips, I’d love to hear them!