If you’re thinking I’ve regressed 10 years and am about to recount school revision tips, never fear. This is just a few hints and tips for those currently or considering embarking upon a career based at home. Freelancers, self-employed entrepeneurs, consultants, fellow bloggers; whatever it is you do, working from your living room is an amazing thing that comes with its own challenges and compromises. Having been self-employed for almost a year now, I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt so far and a few of the things I’m still struggling to balance in the hope this will help me out too…
Home Worker at Heart
I should start by saying, there is a big difference between working from home and working for yourself from home. People who ask ‘how do you motivate yourself’ tend be to employed by others, whereas fellow freelancers ask ‘how do you switch off’ which for me is definitely the bigger struggle. When your boss says you can work from home for the day, it often ends up being essentially a sick day with emails and a chance to indulge in the crappy daytime TV we all love to hate. However, when you’re your own boss, the pressure is totally different and I would argue greater than ever. I work myself harder now than any boss did as it’s up to me, myself and I to make things happen and keep those pay cheques coming in.
I do think some people are made for working at home more than others. Personally, I’ve always wanted to be my own boss and it suits me better than any other role could. Before I started blogging full-time, I was that person that asked every freelancer or start-up owner 20 questions on how they made it happen. I love being in the comfort of my own home, managing my own hours and days and generally being in charge. I’m a bit of a home person and don’t really go stir crazy if I was to hole-up and work on my sofa all day. In fact, I love and relish the rare days that actually happens! Others go completely mad and need to rent desk space or share a studio with others in order to feel proactive and have company, so I think it does come down to what type of person you are. And no, I never get lonely not working in an office environment. I have meetings almost everyday where I’m either catching up with work friends or meeting new people, both of which are great. Plus, you’re on email and social media so much during the day, you don’t really have time to feel lonely!
Background Noise Never Hurt
I’m not good with silence and am actually more settled and productive when there’s a bit of background noise, so I always have the radio or the TV on when I’m working at home. It doesn’t work for everyone, but for me, I like having something on TV that I enjoy, but not totally gripped by, as it makes doing admin-y chores on my laptop a bit more bearable. Make your own rules; you’re not in an office anymore so if you want to have This Morning on in the background or listen to Grimmy over breakfast at your desk while you edit photos or write emails, do it. Just don’t put on that must-see episode of the latest boxset as I can guarantee you will either not work or not watch, neither of which is that productive.
Book Breakfast Meetings
I was in two minds about this for a while. One fellow blogger once told me they deliberately never book breakfast meetings because, well, why should we have to get up early when we don’t have an office to get into. And for a while I thought maybe I too should milk the whole working-from-home thing and only do meetings from lunch onwards… However, I’ve come to the conclusion, a breakfast meeting is the best of the lot. Showering and putting on proper shoes and clothes other than lycra-based loungewear is compulsory, and you’re then back home by mid-morning raring to go. Plus, with the U.K weather being what it is in the winter, it’s much easier to leave the house for a meeting in the morning light than the 4 p.m darkness, trust me. Get out first thing and be set for the day.
My favourite places for a plate of eggs and work chat in in the mornings are Granger & Co, Riding House Cafe, Chiltern Firehouse, Charlotte Street Hotel and Ham Yard.
Join a Gym
It’s taken me a year to realise this, but you will not do yoga in your living room-come-office or suddenly get down from your desk and do some stomach crunches when you’ve got a to-do list as long as your arm. That inbox is never empty and there’s always something that needs doing, thus exercise or indeed moving any part of your body at all is usually forgotten. And with no commute at either end of the day, you can’t even pretend you’ve had a brisk walk. As much for your mental health as your physical wellbeing, get out, join a gym, book a class and schedule exercise like you would a meeting.
Find The Balance
This is a constant battle for me and I do find turning off from work hard, if not impossible, lots of the time. It’s all too easy to sit with your laptop until bedtime and do the whole ‘well seeing as i’m sitting down any way I might as well just…’ routine. Our place only has one bedroom which means work pervades every bit of my space, from the sofa, to the kitchen table, to my bed, where I normally start the day by dragging my laptop into bed with me to go through emails. It’s not as though I hate it, quite the opposite; I just think it’s quite unhealthy. We’re plotting a house move later this year and hoping to have two bedrooms, one of which can become a study, and I’m tempted to invest in a desktop computer in order to keep work contained to one room and shut the door on it at the end of the day. That may sound like extreme lengths, but I feel like its sometimes good to instil a bit of routine like in a ‘normal’ job. And while I’m happy to work every day of the week for some length of time, I do think it’s important to take control of your weekends and shut the laptop down for a while, especially when there are friends, boyfriends and family that need some TLC and attention.
You’ll Have Less Time Than Before
Yep, that is the cold hard truth folks. Before I went freelance I had visions of solo visits to exhibitions and strolling round the park with a coffee on weekday mornings. Little did I realise this would never happen. You’ll be busier and have less time than you did before and if you do decide to go on a weekday jolly, it takes a little while to make peace with the weird conscientious guilt that kicks in about an hour after leaving the house… Friends and family will think you have oodles of time on your hands and ask you to book things, buy things and research holidays (or if you’re like me you’ll offer, only to fail miserably), but you’ll quickly realise you’ve become that person we all hate that is just.so.busy. Ugh.
A Different Kind of Holiday Mode
You all know I love me a holiday. Exploring new places and visiting different countries makes me happier, more relaxed and feel richer than any platinum card ever could. One of the big draws of becoming self-employed for me was not having a limit on holiday days and being able to getaway for more of the year, even if that’s just being with my family in the great British countryside for a week rather than a humble weekend. Now I get to travel more which I love and appreciate always, but holidays have had to become a little different for me…
Whereas they used to be 1 or 2 weeks (if really, really lucky) of blissed-out nothingness, no emails, no Facebook, nothing, there’s now normally a little work involved in order to balance out the additional time away. For example, last summer I got to spend almost 3 weeks in France with my boyfriend and his family and later, a group of school friends. I made this work for me by finding a few hours each day to take myself away from the pool, get my laptop out and catch-up. Yes, it’s not 100% holiday mode as you know it, but trust me, working in the shade next to a pool or on a terrace overlooking the sea is a million times better than being at your desk for 11 months of the year. There’s always a couple of trips throughout the year where both myself and Jamie make more of an effort to totally disconnect and unwind, but for the most part taking an hour to reply to emails is a small price to pay in order to travel more than you might normally be able to.
Another thing I’m not great at but it’s all about the trying right… But I will concede it is so much easier and more pleasant to sit down for the day when your space is appealing and ordered. Keep those receipts, file and back up invoices and hire an accountant if doing a tax return is the equivalent of speaking mandarin. It will save you time in the long run and soothe those middle-of-the-night butterflies that creep up on us all for time to time. But do it your way. Personally, I like putting pen to paper and making lists, writing schedules by hand and even do spider diagrams when needed! I know I’m supposed to be 100% digital given what I do but I’m old school like that and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it I say. Go to Muji, stock up on on box files, pen pots and perspex trays and keep your life in order to feel saner and more on top of things.
And if in doubt or you’re having one of those down-on-yourself days, just remember these wise words and embrace being your own boss whole heartedly.