The Right Way to Work From Home, From People Who've Been Doing it for Years
Most of us haven’t been in an office for months, but for plenty of freelancers it's been business as usual...as far as where we work. Freelancers have been working from home (at least part of the time) for decades. For many of us, avoiding “the office” was part of why we went out on our own in the first place. Then the pandemic hit, and everyone was told to work from home. Apparently, it’s not that easy for people. Here’s what we do to make it work:
People need structure. Even if we hate the idea of “9 to 5,” having some defined start to the day is important. We get it; It’s very easy to go from “I can sleep a little later because I have no commute” to waking up at noon. Be realistic and reasonable, but pick a time — earlier is better — set an alarm, and get out of bed when it goes off. Mornings are your most productive time of the day, whether you want them to be or not. Before you do start work, you're going to want to "commute." Not literally commute, but have a series of activities that transition you away from leisure and toward work. If you’re going to ride the Peloton or do yoga, do it now. Get the coffee started and take a shower. Seriously. If there’s one single thing you can do to establish a productive day, showering would be it. Go ahead and have coffee while you’re getting dressed. Just wear whatever you’d wear to the office. If you eat breakfast, now’s the time to do it.
Once you've finished your “commute," try and stay out of your bedroom during the day. Research shows that having a physical separation between work and rest is valuable. But wherever you’re going to be productive at home, get yourself set up and get to it. Stay on schedule and when the day is over, you should have a routine to wind down and transition away from work-mode. Think of it as your evening commute. Close your laptop, get away from your work space, take the dog on a long walk, make yourself a drink, fold the laundry (surprisingly meditative), or whatever helps put a button on your work day.
Working from home can feel a bit claustrophobic. Don’t let it. Create a designated, ergonomic, efficient space where you can be productive for long periods of time. It should be quiet, with good light, fresh air, and have a zoom-friendly background (don’t make basic zoom mistakes like these). Our bodies, as well as our brains, are designed to be mobile according to a recent study from UCLA, so change it up a bit throughout the day. Even if you’re in a tiny New York apartment, go from your desk, to the window, to a stool in your kitchen. Perhaps most importantly, get away from your screen for a few minutes every hour. Go for a quick walk around the block, get the mail, pick up your lunch rather than having it delivered. Speaking of lunch, you should take a scheduled break and eat lunch (away from your laptop). Literally stretch; you’re in your home and (presumably) no one is watching. However you do it, the objective is to use the freedom you have to be in your own space in order to feel better than you would in the office.
If you’re feeling “trapped” working in your home, you certainly aren’t alone. The CDC has a page dedicated to mentally coping with quarantine, but there may be something bigger going on. If you have a roommate (different from a partner/spouse), maybe there’s not enough space for both of you. While the dynamic was likely fine when you only saw each other coming & going, it might be too much if you’re both at home 24/7. Maybe your actual space isn’t conducive to regular productivity (perfectly fine for nights and weekends, but just isn’t going to work in the new normal?). Take the time to figure out what’s really going on, but be willing to change your situation once you understand where the friction exists. It could be a good time to consider relocating, altogether. The world changed, so it makes sense to rethink the choices we made a year ago. Plenty of people are dealing with this, which explains the rise in people moving out of small, expensive apartments in cities, to larger digs in the burbs. Relocating to another city might be the right call to maximize your budget, but could create other challenges. Take your time, figure it out, then make your move.
These changes take commitment and time to adjust to, even for us freelancers. We’re all trying to figure out how to live better with less space these days. But working from home doesn’t have to be dull monotony or claustrophobic panic. Implement these tactics to help liven your day and ease your mind. The more you use them the better you’ll understand the right way to work from your home.