How to Work from Home Without Losing Your Mind
In my 10+ years as a freelance web content writer, I’ve worked in just about every location imaginable.
I’ve worked from home in six different houses – one of which involved converting an unheated walk-in closet into my workspace (most, thankfully, have had enough space for a separate desk setup with heat!).
I’ve worked on-the-go from coffee shops, from the dining cars of trains, from friends’ houses, and from hotel rooms in multiple states while traveling on business and pleasure.
I’ve rented private spaces, worked out of five separate co-working offices, and tested combo spaces that involve private offices within co-working facilities.
All of that is to say that I’ve had a long time to develop my personal preferences on where and how I work. I now know, for example, that I’m not good at working from home – that I do better when I have a separate, dedicated workspace where I’m forced to go out and interact with people.
I’m fortunate to be able to afford a private space, but I know that’s not a reality for all freelancers. So if you’re still rocking the home office – whether by choice or by necessity – here are a few tips on how to work from home without losing your mind:
Love Your Workspace
This is a simple one. If you hate your workspace, you’re building resistance into your day unnecessarily. Not only do you have to sit down to do work (no fun!), you also have to overcome your hang-ups about the specific place where you’re going to do it (double no fun!).
You don’t have to have a space worthy of Architectural Digest to be productive, but a few simple changes can help turn your workspace into one that inspires productivity, rather than resistance.
- Kill the clutter. Clear workspace, clear mind. I’m guilty of turning my desk at home into a dumping ground of unopened mail, random paperwork pulled from my briefcase, and dirty coffee cups. The end result? A completely uninspiring environment. Just picking up makes a huge difference.
- Keep it separate. The mindset of having a separate space matters (and we’ll talk more about that in a minute). But keeping your workspace separate from your bedroom, your kitchen, etc, will also help reduce the amount of clutter piling up there in the first place. No unnecessary foot traffic = no opportunity to deposit things that should be put away elsewhere.
- Decorate. You don’t need to go all Chip & Joanna and shiplap-up your office, but a few decorative touches can turn your space into a place you want to be – not just one you have to use.
Need a little inspiration? Check out the office porn at the links below:
- House Beautiful: “20 Impressive Home Office Ideas That Will Increase Your Productivity”
- RealSimple: “17 Surprising Home Office Ideas”
- Architectural Digest: “50 Home Office Design Ideas That Will Inspire Productivity”
(Unless you’re on deadline. If you are, save this inspiring, but “oh my gosh I can’t stop clicking” activity for later.)
Use Mental Triggers to Your Advantage
Now that your space is setup, the biggest hurdle you’re going to have to overcome is transitioning from a “home” mindset to a “work” mindset.
Anyone who’s ever worked from home will recognize the temptation. You’re at home! Why not sneak a load of laundry in before you get started? Why not give the kitchen a quick touch-up? Why not treat yourself to a quick episode on Netflix before diving in?
It’s a slippery slope, though. One episode turns into half a season. A quick load of dishes turns into the pantry clean-out you’ve been putting off for months. All of a sudden, the work day is gone and no actual work was done.
To prevent this from happening, you have to be ruthless about turning on your “work” mindset – and keeping it that way. Mental triggers can help. Give the following a try (as cheesy as some of them sound):
- Light a scented candle or apply the same lotion when it’s time to begin work. The scent memories associated with them will help your mind easily transition into work mode.
- Make a list of rules for yourself, print them off and post them near your workspace. Set clear expectations for yourself – think things like, “Between 9:00am and noon, I focus on my work” or “I do not check Facebook between noon and 3:00pm.” If necessary, come up with negative reinforcements you, your partner, or an accountability buddy can help enforce if you don’t follow your rules.
- Read a simple affirmation out loud whenever you sit down at your workspace. For starters, try the following: “I am sitting down now to work. My work is important, because it helps provide for my family, and it’s important to me that my clients feel taken care of. I am choosing to use my time wisely. Everything else can wait.”
- Use my “reverse Pomodoro” trick if you struggle to get into a productive flow.
What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. Pay attention to your own habits and triggers. Do you get off-track if you don’t sit down to work first thing in the morning? Do you have trouble coming back to work after lunch? Test different mindset triggers, based on where exactly you struggle.
Put on Your Damn Pants
This mindset trigger is so important it deserves its own category. Put. On. Your. Damn. Pants.
Yoga pants are a trap. Sweatpants are lies you tell yourself. You don’t have to go full business casual every day you work from home, but you do need the mental delineation that comes from getting out of your pajamas and getting dressed like an adult.
Test it out for yourself. Spend a week working from home in whatever you woke up in. Then, spend the next week putting more effort into getting dressed like a “normal person.” I can almost guarantee you’ll see a difference in the way you think about your work and yourself when you put more effort into your appearance.
Set Boundaries on Your Time
Be aware that working from home can have the unexpected side effect of turning all of your time into working time. When you work from home, your home becomes your workplace – and if you’re always home, shouldn’t you always be working?
It’s really easy to slip into an “always on” mentality when you work from home – and that’s not a healthy thing when you rely, as writers do, on your ability to come up with new and interesting thoughts. You need down time as a writer, and that’s not always easy to achieve when you’ve turned your place of rest into your place of work.
So although being a full-time freelancer means you can work whenever you want, I’ve always found it best to set strict working hours for myself. Despite working my ass off to escape “the 9-to-5,” I actually prefer limiting my work to those hours.
It’s not always possible – especially since many of my clients are international, and therefore, calls have to happen in the evenings – but I need to know that my evenings won’t be filled with work in order to properly recharge for the next day.
Not just a hit movie from 2017, “Get Out” is also important advice for work-from-home freelancers.
Working from home generally limits your social contact. No more “water cooler” chit-chat. No more gossiping with Heidi from HR about how Russ in R&D can’t get his shit together. And unless you’re the ultimate introvert, being stuck alone in your own head all day can get lonely.
So get out. Go work from a coffee shop one day a week. Sign up for a local co-working space. Join a Meetup group in your area. Take up a recreational sport as an adult. Find something to do that gets you out of your house, out of your head, and into contact with other people.
Think of this as a prescription. Do it before you’ve hit your loneliness breaking point and the quality of your work and your life suffers.
What other tips have made a big difference for you as a home-based worker? Leave me a note below with your comments: