Working from home as a freelancer. It’s an attractive prospect, isn’t it? No more sitting in a sparse, cold, neon-lit box every day. No more sharing your space with the same people every day. No office chatterbox bleating on and on about their thrilling personal life. No mysterious thief stealing your lunch.
Instead, you’re free to choose what you do and when you do it (to an extent of course – no one escapes deadlines). You can recline on your sofa, not an economy-plastic office chair. You’ve got your own coffee maker, and your home phone, and your TV, and your social media access, and you’re always in to sign for packages, and… what was I talking about?
That’s the trouble with working from home. It’s filled with distractions – and not just fun distractions. There’s daily housework, family commitments, that home renovation project that you keep putting off…
How do you keep your concentration & motivation on a day to day basis? Here are a few pointers for those just starting out with freelancing from home.
Get yourself a real desk
Not the kitchen table, or the dining room table, or the coffee table in the lounge. Clear a space in one of the quieter rooms in your home, buy a desk and a chair (they don’t have to be too fancy) and set them up in your new working space.
For now, just stick a computer, your work phone and maybe a lamp on the desk. If you deal with lots of paperwork, a storage tray with shelves is a good idea too.
Don’t be tempted to fill the desk with everything you think you might need. Post-it notes, for example, might seem essential – but what will you use them for?
If they’re just for writing down reminders or contact details, you can type them on the computer, where they’ll all be in one place and within easy access – not strewn across the desk on colourful bits of paper.
Put some clothes on
Why change out of your pyjamas when you’ve got no boss, colleagues or clients to see you in person? Here’s why – staying in your nightclothes (or your, er, birthday suit) is something you might have done on lazy weekends when you had no one to see and nothing better to do than stay in bed.
Doing the same now still sends the same message to your brain: “It’s okay to be lazy today – why bother getting dressed?” And if you can’t be bothered to get dressed, why bother to work at all? Even if you’re not consciously avoiding work, you’ve created an atmosphere where completing tasks just seems like too much effort.
There’s no need to break out the shirt and tie. It’s okay to dress more casually at home, but making the effort to get dressed rather than just tumbling out of bed demonstrates to yourself that you’re ready to tackle the day proper.
This works the other way too. Change back into your PJs once the working day is over, and you’ll be signifying to your subconscious: “My leisure time has begun and I can spend it however I want” – perfect if workaholism is eating into your personal life.
Don’t invite friends over – unless it’s for lunch
But the day will fly by when you’re surrounded by your favourite people, right? Probably, but you’ll won’t be getting anything done. Friends are absolutely a distraction – even if your productivity goes unaffected, the quality of your work will suffer.
Assign yourself an hour’s break at the same time each day, and arrange to see your friends for lunch. If they want to meet up outside your break, get them to give you a ring and find out if you’re free first.
If they turn up unannounced, tell them politely but firmly you’re busy and you can only spare 15 minutes before you must get back to work. Schedule a more convenient time to meet up again, such as an evening or weekend.
Stay off social media
Yes, that does include LinkedIn. Even if you’ve set it up for business purposes, a social media account will still pull you away from the work you need to be doing.
The trouble is that social media is immediate and (seemingly) ephemeral. There’s the pressure to see what people are talking about now and provide your own response now, right this second.
But those posts will likely still be there for you to read later. So, if you have a social media account open on a tab in your browser, close it. If you have alerts set up on your phone, switch them off.
If you come across an article or video you want to share, make a note of it and post about it after work. Consider using automated software such as Hootsuite to schedule posts, so your account can still appear ‘active’ while you’re doing other things.
Sometimes social media will demand more of your attention – such as when customers post complaints on your account page. You could try checking your accounts for 30 seconds every hour to see if anyone has posted anything directly to you – but make sure any non-urgent posts are responded to at the end of the working day.
Video chat with remote clients
Email is great for conversing with clients who live further away, allowing you to share ideas and project progress in a visual way; something which you simply can’t do in a phone call.
But it’s not the most personal means of communication, and it can sometimes feel like your clients are just words on a screen. Suddenly, procrastination doesn’t seem so scandalous, and your concentration on the task in hand can falter.
Using video conferencing software & services (such as Google Hangouts) to interact with your online clients is a great way to combat this complacency. It’s not only great for brainstorming and demonstrating your plans – it’s also a great reminder that your clients are real people who are counting on you to deliver amazing work. Don’t let them down!
Ultimately, staying focused in your freelance career relies on good organisational skills and self-discipline. Master those and working from home will barely feel like work.
I am good at managing my schedule, so I can usually get projects booked in without much lead time. Let’s get our heads together and get your project done.