If you’re reading this article and you work from home, it probably won’t be much surprise to you that one of the hardest elements to master is the ability to maintain your freelance mental drive and stability required to push forward in what can otherwise be a difficult, lonely workspace.
I consider myself to be somewhat of a stay at home professional. Like a good number of Speckyboy’s readers I have forged a career from my home office. Yet I could not have done so without learning some really key tips and tricks along the way to keep my mind in the right gear, and on the right road (and in some cases, on the right planet!).
I’d like to share with you the following article of easy-to-implement ideas that have helped me along the way, in essence as a shortcut to the knowledge of how to keep yourself alert, motivated and with a happy outlook in your working life as a home based entrepreneur.
Embrace Your Desire To Escape
Every time someone asks me why I do what I do I find myself saying something along the lines of "well it means I can go surfing, or play tennis if I fancy it one day". That is entirely true, but making that reality as positive as the theory had previously been a struggle.
The fact is: doing something you enjoy on a day you think you should probably be working can make you feel very, very guilty. If you’re anything like I was you can’t help but think to yourself that you’re being lazy and workshy. You know you’re going to enjoy taking some time out, but the build up to it is not often a happy one, it almost always makes you feel restless and unproductive.
Once you recognise this pattern in your own behaviour – you can begin to make some changes. Set some monthly goals – so this month I will take 1 day off to rest, and 2 days off to hit the waves. Doesn’t sound so bad, just 2 days in a month. In fact that’s slightly less than you’d receive from a full-time employee position. You need to allow yourself to be excited about these things, look forward to the next day that it’s so sunny you decide to go to the beach. Don’t beat yourself up about it, its all part of the schedule!
Lunch & Break Times
I eat out for lunch, every day. I do it because it means I get out in the world, lift my head up, see the sky and hear the people and you’d be surprised at how effective a tonic that can be for those who’ve felt the pressure of the home environment bearing down on them each day.
I started this as a young chap with barely any money to spare. I didn’t turn the heating on in the evening because I couldn’t afford it. But I still went out and had lunch every day in town with just a £2 budget (there’s no better way of finding out where all the best bargains are than having a very restrictive budget).
I’ve worked in retail before and sometimes it seems like you’re on a break when you only just had one five minutes ago. This is due to the rules for the number of hours you can work before you are legally required to take a break and the science under-pinning these laws is about looking after your mental health.
So don’t starve yourself of breaks at home. Don’t feel guilty about that daytime tv programme you like to watch, factor it in. Or even better, go for a wander for 20 minutes or so, nothing like a bit of vitamin D from the sun! Breaks are another thing that used to make me feel guilty about not being productive enough. I soon learnt that with the right amount of ‘me time’ I can actually be far more productive with the hours that I do spend in front of my desk.
Look After Your Body
I know, I know, I sound like your doctor! But here’s the difference, I’m a practical man, here is something you can do to keep your body healthy during work hours.
Find a snack or three that you love, that’s healthy. It can even be something you just find acceptable, as long as it’s good for you. For me its carrots, grapes and dried fruit. Carrots if I want something to bite into, grapes if I’ve got a sweet tooth and dried fruit for variation.
We all feel the need to snack, and we need the continual flow of nutrients to keep our brains well fed(!). With healthy food, you can usually eat whole bags for hours on end, satisfying your cravings for food and keeping your body ready for the day ahead, moment by moment.
It is an over emphasised point, you don’t need me to explain this one, but think of a way of getting exercise that doesn’t cost you much in terms of effort.
I personally combine this with the points above – heading into town for lunch and going for walks on break times, but that in itself isn’t really enough for me.
I’m willing to bet that you won’t meet many successful people who don’t exercise early in the morning before work. I don’t personally think the gym is a good environment for this (nothing worse for feeling like you’re on a treadmill ;) ) so when I’ve got little motivation for the day I pull myself out of bed half an hour early and put my running gear on.
When I first started this I thought to myself, ‘this is early, its cold and I don’t want to do it’. But after a few weeks I began to actually look forward to it. Exercise is addictive, you’ve just got to get started. Make yourself do it, reward yourself with an iced bun when you return – its the stimulation you want in this case, not the weight loss!
Look After Your Mind
Learning Something New
I think its crazy how easy it is to overlook this one, and how devastating not paying attention to your mind’s needs as well as your body’s can be.
Sometimes working from home using the same graphic design software or web design frameworks over and over can be truly and utterly droll. But its your job right? Spot on, but as a professional, you have a responsibility to yourself to be on the forefront of your industry. So why not get involved in the latest, newest, untested technologies? Dig deep to find a use for them, be part of a community like Stackoverflow or Dribbble.
Learn, learn, learn and learn. If there is nothing in your industry you’d like to know more about then choose a related industry. Use something that makes it fun and interesting, a platform like Codecademy or Treehouse. Learn French at Busuu. It really doesn’t matter what it is, all that matters is that it intrigues you, and you can engage with it for an hour before work starts every few days.
You might not technically need to know it to be the best at what you do. You might however, need it to stay in the game long enough to be recognised as the best at what you do.
Let Yourself Be Yourself, Oddities Required
Smile at Yourself Daily
I asked my friends to pass on tips of their own whilst researching this article and most of their answers fell into this particular category. We all have our own little oddities, the things we find amusing, our guilty pleasures. We have them for a reason, they help keep us sane.
I personally keep soppy old cards with pictures of kittens and puppies on my desk (from aunties and uncles who haven’t yet worked out I’m no longer 5 years old!). Why? Why not. It makes me laugh, and somehow their existence is proof that no matter how much of a Precious Andy (read: nuisance) my client is being, its all OK.
Some ideas from the list of oddities put forward by home working friends:
- "Making a list of all the things I’m not going to do that day", Hamesh.
- "Role play with cold callers", James.
- "Asking my 4yr old about his life problems", Ellie.
They might be a little ridiculous, but these are the sort’ve things that make you laugh to yourself, under your breath, even when no-one else is around. You just can’t help but find it amusing – even if everyone else thinks you’re nuts. Don’t hide these things away under the guise of being a professional. An office environment without laughter is without doubt a bad place to work – and it’s not something you should surrender in your home office either. If you’re short on material, try Funny Typos. Laugh out loud, I dare you!
The Essence of Home Working Happiness
In my own experience, somewhat conversely, the underlying issue for most of the problems that stem from working at home are to be found in the very benefits of doing so. A home working environment will only ever be a happy place to exist when you allow yourself to be happy and enjoy the time you spend away from your actual desk.
Its fair to say that my life is better for each of these little tricks, I’ve found a place I can both inhabit personally and use as a productive environment for web design. It’s time to swap your oversized stapler for a picture of a puppy and smile next time you get a cold call. Take a peek into the latest HTML developments or learn a bit about game design. Go out for lunch and get hold of some super attractive jogging or cycling gear.
You may still be utterly crazy at the end of the day, but in the end, its better to be the person randomly giggling to themselves than the person wondering why, and how that person manages to stay so darn happy :)
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- There Are Questions Even a Grumpy Designer Can’t Answer
- Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Smaller Web Design Projects
- Being a Freelance Web Designer Isn’t for Everyone
- The Bright Side of an Increasingly Homogeneous Web
- Techniques for Documenting Your Web Projects