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Home office? Here’s how to make the most out of it.Daniel Futerman
Home office pros & cons
One of the biggest perks of the freelance life is the freedom to work from home. I’ve been working from my home office for the past 7 years, and I love it.
I don’t have any hard facts to back this – but I’d estimate that 7 out of 10 freelancers work from home. Others might work from a shared co-working space or from a “proper” office not at home.
Benefits of working from home
Working from home has many advantages:
☑ More control over your time.
☑ Easier to balance work and family life.
☑ No commute to work.
☑ Less stress.
☑ It’s yours.
☑ No formal dress code.
☑ You save money.
Here’s an image of my home office, I love working here.
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. As you well know, when something sounds too good to be true, there’s often a downside to it.
Don’t get me wrong, working from a home office is amazing, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. However, to make it work, you’ve got to be able to do one thing: Work.
And that’s where the challenge lies.
Challenges of working from home
As great as it is to work from a home office, with the nature of it being your home, you are also exposed to distractions that you wouldn’t have if you worked in an office, not at home.
These distractions can include:
- Your spouse or kids needing your help.
- Sleeping in late.
- Doing your hobbies instead of working.
- Grabbing a snack, making coffee, grabbing another snack…
- Helping with household chores during work hours.
- Friends visiting your family members.
- Random household noises – TV, kids, vacuum…
You may be reading that list and thinking “those things sound like privileges, not distractions,” and you’d be right to some extent.
But when you’re trying to focus, be productive, and get actual work done, having your kids play next to you with a ball might be just a tad bit distracting. Don’t you think? 😉
It’s ok to say it. Working from home does have its challenges. If you’ve been doing this for a while, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.
Bottom line – working from a home office is amazing, but it can be challenging too.
But I’m not here to dampen your spirits, on the contrary.
Since I’ve been living this lifestyle for many years, I’ve found multiple tips, tricks, and mindset shifts that help me make the most out of working from home – and that’s what I want to share with you today.
If you want to be successful at working from your home office, keep reading.
7 Tips, tricks, and mindset shifts for effectively working from home
1. Have a dedicated office space
Companies who hire employees tend to provide them with the best working conditions so that they can work at maximum efficiency. That way the company gains the most value from each employee.
As a freelancer, you are the business owner and the employee. So the same principle applies to you, and in fact – it’s even more important. Because if you can’t focus and get work done, no one will get the work done for you.
So ideally, if your circumstances allow for it, you’ll want to have a room in the house that is dedicated for your office.
The benefit of having a proper room is that you can close the door, disconnect from the immediate distractions, and set a clear barrier between your office space and your home space.
I can’t stress how important this is. It’s the key to successfully working from home.
As much as it might sound cool to take your laptop and work from the couch, on the balcony, or in the backyard – none of those places allow you to be fully productive for long stretches of time. This is especially true if you work in the creative field (like myself) and need multiple displays or a good set of speakers.
In addition, by having a closed space you get the extra level of quiet that allows you to stay focused.
If you can’t allow yourself an entire room dedicated for your office, make sure to have a space in the house that is defined as your working area.
This can be a corner of a room with a desk, or anything else you can come up with. Just make sure that you’re in an area in the house that allows you to truly focus, make phone calls, and have the quiet you need for getting work done.
The key is to make sure this space is clearly defined as your office, and your household members know that when you’re there you’re at work and can’t be distracted.
2. Work vs. Home – Mindset Shift
Most freelancers don’t have defined (9-5) working hours. I don’t either.
And that’s fine. After all, that’s one of the main benefits of being your own boss. You work whenever you want to, as long as you keep your promises to your clients and meet your deadlines.
But not having defined working hours can be one of the biggest challenges for freelancers working from home because you are physically at home, but mentally you’re at work.
Even if you do have dedicated office space in the house, you’re still in the house. So sometimes it’s hard to make a clear distinction between work and home.
This can be especially confusing for your family members, because they may think “but you’re right here, why can’t you just come out of the office for a few minutes to help?”
This requires a shift in mindset, not only for you but for your entire family.
Even though you’re working from home, when you’re at work you’re at work. Not at home.
It can also be confusing for your clients. If they need to talk to you, when is the best time? When will you be in the office?
There are a couple of options to solve this uncertainty:
Option 1: Define clear working hours.
For example, start working at 8:00 am, break for lunch at 1:00 pm, and then keep going until 5:00 pm. During those times, your family knows you’re busy at work, and clients know you are available to talk.
While this option might work great for some freelancers, it’s not the way I choose to go.
Option 2: Be flexible, but work for at least 2 hours each time.
I don’t have defined working hours. I try to be in the office by 9 am, but my days vary all the time according to work, family, and events.
Does this mean I work less than other freelancers? Not at all. But instead of working straight through from 9-5, I spread my working hours throughout the day.
But I do have one rule – when I go to work, I stay in the office for at least 2 hours each time.
I do this because of what I mentioned earlier – it takes time to get into “the zone,” and I found that by working at least 2 hours straight each time, I maximize my productivity levels.
When I go to my office I say goodbye to my wife and kid, and they know that I’m not available for the next 2 hours. And my clients know that the best way to reach me is via email, and if we need to set a call we use tools like Calendly to fix a time.
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3. Invest in your home office
You spend hours and hours in your office, so why not invest and make the most out of it?
Since money is involved here, you might not be able to get everything you want at once. But you can gradually add things and make your space better – both the way it looks and its functionality.
But with that said, there are a few things that I consider most important and I wouldn’t wait on purchasing them (and don’t forget – your office equipment is tax deductible).
I explain in detail how I decide what to buy and when to buy it in this post: Must Have Tools for Creative Freelancers
1. Get a good computer.
You might not need the best computer out there, but you need to get a computer that is capable of keeping up with whatever it is you do.
I do video and animation work that requires heavy duty computer resources. So when I started my business back in 2009 I got a super-computer, and through the years I upgraded its internal components to keep up with the rapid pace of technology.
Get a computer that allows you to get work done without holding you back.
2. Have an excellent internet connection.
Nowadays we are dependent on our internet. We communicate, connect, collaborate, get work done and more and more all via the internet.
In fact, the internet is one of the primary reasons for the global shift towards remote work, allowing freelancers to work from home with clients around the globe.
To stress my point – I’ve worked with clients from all over Europe, Canada & the U.S., Australia and even China. All from my humble home office.
Without the internet, I wouldn’t have met 80% of my clients. So a fast and reliable internet connection is essential for your business.
And when it comes to your home office, I’d highly recommend connecting to the internet via a cable, and not via Wifi, as you’ll get much faster and more reliable speeds.
Since I need a lot of speed for sending large video files to clients, I have a connection of 100MB which serves me well. In general, I recommend having at least a 20mb connection (but the more the better).
You can use SpeedTest to check your current internet speed.
3. Get a good chair.
If you’re in the creative field, chances are you sit down during most (or all) of your time at work.
This can cause bad back pain and bad posture over time.
If you’re not comfortable sitting in your office, you’ll find yourself getting up often to walk around and stretch your body.
Problem is, once you get out of “the sweet zone” (that point in time when you’re at maximum focus and productivity), it’s really hard to get back into it.
When you get up to stretch and walk out of your office, you expose yourself to all the distraction we talked about earlier.
If you invest in a good chair, you’ll be able to sit comfortably for longer and gain extra time in the zone.
If you constantly find yourself crouching in your chair, you’re probably not sitting right. This might be because of the chair or because you’re not sitting correctly.
To fix your posture, you can try using tools like Upright. I have the 1st gen version, and it works great. They are currently crowdfunding their second generation product on Kickstarter. It’s been only a few days, and they’ve already crushed their funding goal of $25,000 (showing there’s high demand for this).
4. Keep it organized
No matter what field you’re in, you will have documents, papers, binders and so forth.
Instead of it all piling up on your desk making it hard to work, get yourself a cabinet or any form of storage space, and organize everything nicely in there.
Walking into an organized office helps you focus and concentrate, plus gives you a good feeling knowing that everything is in its place.
5. Make it yours
You spend hours in your office, so you should enjoy being there.
You can do things like paint the walls, get a carpet, put art on the walls, and get a few plants.
If you’re in the planning stages of your office, try to see if you can find a room or location with a window. It’s great to be able to see the blue skies, plus – it helps you know what time of day it is 😉
Here’s a full list of all the tools I use for my freelance business.
4. Be productive
Your time is worth money, so when you’re in your office, you need to be productive and get work done.
I shared an extensive post with my Top 12 Freelance Productivity Hacks a while ago so I won’t go into detail here, but as a reminder, here are a few of my favorites:
1. Start your day with writing down your tasks.
2. Keep an organized to-do list.
3. Use keyboard shortcuts.
4. Set your notifications to Do Not Disturb.
5. Apply the forced deadlines technique.
6. Handle emails in batches.
7. Block access to social media.
8. Track your time.
5. Noise vs. Focus
Noise is one of the most distracting things of all. When you work in a noisy environment you can’t fully focus & concentrate, no matter how hard you try.
To help tackle this issue, try listening to music or ambient sounds with a pair of headphones.
My favorite tool for ambient sounds is Noisli.
I wrote about this in detail in my freelance time management post.
I’ve said this many times in the past – I strongly believe that if you’re passionate about what you do, you’ll find it much easier to get yourself to work.
Without passion for what you do, you’ll find it very hard to battle the constant distraction of working from home. If you don’t enjoy what you do, you’ll always look for the easy way out.
But even if you’re super passionate about what you do, you’ll still face times when you’ll need to work on projects that aren’t interesting, plus handle the accounting, paperwork, and taxes. Things that generally don’t get you excited and pumped to keep going.
That’s where self-discipline kicks in.
Remember – you’re your own boss. If you don’t do the work, no one will.
So even during the times when you’re not working on an exciting project, you need to get the work done.
7. Get out of your office.
I know what you’re thinking.
“What’s that?! Get your of your office? Didn’t you just go on and on about why it’s important to get in your office?”
You’re right, but here’s the thing.
Working alone, and from home, has the potential to get lonely. It’s less of an issue if you really enjoy your work, but it’s still something that can happen to anyone who works for large amounts of time on his own – having most of his communication done over the internet.
Here are a few things you can do to get out of your home office during the day:
- Attend conferences and events.
- Have meetings over lunch in a restaurant.
- Work from a coffee shop.
- Meet with friends.
- Head out to the store to buy a few items on your grocery list.
I’ve been working hard lately on writing my book, and since I don’t need my super strong computer for writing, I’m able to head out of the office and write in coffee shops. It’s great fun.
The point is, get out, breath some fresh air, network and socialize with people in real life.
Takeaways: Keys to successfully working from home
To summarize, if you want to successfully be able to work from home, here’s what you need to do:
- Have a dedicated office space.
- Define clear rules for interruptions.
- Set working hours.
- Work at least 2 hours at a time.
- Make your home office productive and enjoyable.
- Develop self-discipline.
- Get out and have real contact with people.