Are you a freelancer or self-employed digital worker? Or maybe a remote employee? It sounds like a dream, but if you don’t have a strategy for it, your productivity will suffer.
When I tell someone that I’m self-employed and work from home, the first words out of their mouth are usually “Oh, isn’t that NICE!” While it can be nice, it’s not without special challenges. Below are some tips for working from home I’ve learned along the way to keep my productivity — and sanity — in check.
7 tips for working from home I’ve learned during 15+ years of self-employment
1. Don’t work where you sleep.
Unless you live in a studio apartment, your work area should never ever be located in the same room where you sleep.
My first few years out of college, I worked freelancing design gigs from my apartment. I made the rookie mistake of putting my desktop in the bedroom. I’d get up during the night to go to pee (yes, I was old before my time) and find myself checking email which inevitably led to a) actually doing work or b) watching inane videos starring cute animals sleeping in unlikely spaces.
That was unproductive and robbed me of good sleep.
2. Working from home doesn’t mean you always have to work AT home
Make a goal to work at least one day a week at a remote location. (My remote office of choice is Starbucks, but any air-conditioned place with free wi-fi and a table will do.) Changing up my environment gives me a creative bump, not to mention I end up interacting with other humans. Never underestimate the important of interacting with humans!
BONUS Relationship Tip:
Let’s say the average human uses 8,000* words a day. If you never leave your house or speak to another human during the course of the day, you will unload ALL EIGHT THOUSAND WORDS on your partner or roommate immediately upon their arrival home. I’ve found that it’s good to distribute those words among multiple listeners. * I made this number up.
3. Build a network
If you’re self-employed and responsible for generating your own business, it’s a no-brainer that you need to get out there and meet people. Whether it’s a WordPress meetup, a Chamber of Commerce event, or regular volunteer work, it’s important to shake hands and build relationships in your community. You may find that it brings you business directly, but even it doesn’t, I promise you’ll be more well-rounded, knowledgeable, and better off for it.
4. Use the buddy system
When you work in an office, there’s always somebody hanging around the water cooler for a chat. When you work from home, you’ve got to look a little harder to replace those encounters.
I recommend finding a local buddy or two in your industry, preferably self-employed. If there’s nobody in real life, make friends on online. Find communities related to your work topic on Twitter or Facebook (or wherever people hang out these days) and get to know people. If you’re in the tech industry, this is especially easy.
Meeting up with buddies gives me the chance to bemoan problems, bounce ideas, discuss projects, and generally shoot the bull. It’s a great way to generate new ideas, discover creative solutions, and learn about new things.
5. Stay on the clock
Whether your task is hourly work, project work, or just a little research, set a timer and make it a goal to complete it within a given time frame. If you need to add more time to the clock, do it. But if you don’t set a time goal, it’s easy to rabbit trail off into all manner of link following, article reading, and code tinkering.
Harvest is a great online time tracker tool as well as Tomato Timer (if you use the Pomodoro method). RescueTime is an app that runs in the background and is a great way to look back over a week and see where your time has actually gone.
My friend Curtis McHale offers some more productivity tips for freelancers.
6. Send your mom to voicemail
It’s nice to have a flexible schedule, but it’s possible to flex yourself right out of a productive workday. Set firm boundaries for yourself about when you will or will not respond to emails, phone calls, etc. There’s no shame in telling a friend that you could technically meet them for a last-minute lunch, but you choose not to because you’re working. (I’m sure you can find a nicer way to say it, but you get the point).
I’ve realized that the phrase “I’ll try to” needs to be replaced with “no I’m sorry, I can’t at this time”
— Josh Byers (@joshbyers) July 9, 2012
7. Thou shalt rest on the 7th day
All work and no play makes me a grumpy girl (and a terrible spouse). With the rare exception of a pressing deadline, I take ONE day a week to ignore my computer completely (don’t cheat and check email on your phone).
Your “7th Day” could be an entire Saturday, or maybe it’s a random Tuesday morning. It doesn’t matter when it happens in the week. Make a point to take time off from work however it fits into your lifestyle.