How to Win at Working from Home

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Last week I posted an article about the absolute disaster I made of working from home when I first started freelancing and went over some of the reasons why I’ve recently packed in my office to try it again. Thankfully this time round has gone much much smoother, but it’s not been a roll of the dice, this time I knew the pitfalls and have put a few tactics in place to help me sidestep them Indiana Jones style.

1.Make sure your Home Office is a Home Office.

Duh right? But seriously, do not think you can run a successful business with your laptop on your knee sat on the couch in front of the TV.

The temptations surrounding you when working from home are insane. I mean think about it, this is literally the space you have created for yourself to chill out in, relax and just entertain yourself. Those things are generally not conducive to work.

“Those people are wizards and sorcerers and you shouldn’t trust in their dark magics.”

I’m sure there are people who can do it, who can sit there with a box set on and just churn out work in their lazy boy, but those people are wizards and sorcerers and you shouldn’t trust in their dark magics.

So give yourself a set space that is designed just for work. A space that you can leave when you’re done and is away from any obvious distractions. Now for most people this is a spare room, a place where they can physically shut the door and then they’re in work mode (a good message not only to yourself, but also to anyone you live with). That’s what I do and I really think it’s the best option. But that’s not always practical I know, an actual home office is a luxury that not everyone can realistically give themselves.

“I’m sorry little Billy, but daddy needs your bedroom for work… you can live under the stairs now, just like Harry Potter! It’ll be fun!”.

But it doesn’t really have to be a room. Just make it somewhere you only go when your working. A seat at the dinner table you only sit at during work hours, hell maybe you could even schooch in under the stairs yourself. Just try not to be in the main rooms you relax in, lounge and bedroom (bedroom especially!), but if you have to, just make sure you have you’re back to the tv.

2. Get a Morning Routine.

The first few morning working from home you’ll stick to your standard routine and everything will be fine. Then on day three maybe you’ll realise you could have the computer booting up whilst your in the shower. Then on day four you’ll notice it switched on and maybe just check your emails before breakfast. Before you know it, sitting down at the computer is the very first thing you’re doing in the morning and you’re finally getting round to having breakfast and a shower around 2pm.

Have a morning routine and stick to it. Do not even think about work until you have showered, eaten, brushed your teeth and got dressed.

3. Let Your Clients Know.

If your clients are used to you working from an office then let them know you’re switching to working from home. Sure the vast majority of my clients I’d meet at coffee shops in the city, but there were one or two that would pop around to the office just to see how thier project was coming along. If suddenly they call you up asking for an impromptu meeting it can look a little weird saying, “oh yeah, no I don’t work there any more… yeah I work from home now… you can’t really come round… sorry”.

“Just to give you a call and you’ll arrange a place to meet. Simple and whole lot less awkward”

Instead be totally up front with them, it doesn’t matter what reason you give them, or even that you give them one. Just a quick heads up to let them know you’re switching to a home office, so if they want any meetings in the future, just to give you a call and you’ll arrange a place to meet. Simple and whole lot less awkward.

4. Get a Portable Solution.

This is kinda linked to that last point – say you’ve let your clients know that your new workspace is out of bounds, does that mean they can’t see how their project is getting on? That’s never a good call.

What you need to do is be able to rely on a means of showing your clients work progress from anywhere. There are a tonne of ways to do this, and most likely you’re doing one already.

A simple one is to pop some of the work in progress into a Dropbox folder and share it with them so they can keep track of things from their end. Or even a Skype video chat can be just as effective. To be honest, you should probably be doing something along those lines anyway.

Sometimes though clients may want to meet in person and talk over how a design is progressing. If you’re like me and work mainly from a desktop computer that can be a bit tricky and it only takes one meeting hunched over your iPhone to realise you need a better solution than that. My solution is to switch to using a MacBook as my main computer, however after a good bit of research Mac Rumours is recommending I hold off on my purchase for a few months until the processors are updated. In the mean time I’ve actually been using an iPad for meetings and it’s a very decent alternative. Obviously you can’t edit files during the meeting, but it has a large enough screen to show off any images your working on in detail (especially the new retina versions) and it’s decent platform to show off any websites you’ve been developing as rotating the iPad will in most cases switch between a desktop (horizontal) and mobile (vertical) version.

5. Exercise.

So I don’t know about you, but I seem to exercise way way less when I’m working from home. A lot of that comes down to the fact that when I had an office I used to cycle the five miles every day and once I got there the gym was just a five minute walk away.

“So what’s the alternative? No nothing? No. You’ll get well fat an none of the pretty girls or boys will want to kiss you.”

It may be the case that you need no motivation to go work out, working from home may even make things easier for you (I know that was the case for Ashley Baxter when she recently made her switch), but for me, now that I’m at home though it feels like leaving to go exercise is somehow eating into my work day. Plus the nearest gym is about 20 minutes away, so I’ve lost 40 minutes in travel before I even do anything.

So what’s the alternative? No nothing? No. You’ll get well fat an none of the pretty girls or boys will want to kiss you.

There are loads of options really, but at it’s core it just comes down to setting aside the time. It may work out that incorporating some exercise into your morning routine is the best way to go, or maybe it’s what you do to give yourself a break and hit restart. Maybe it’s how you reward yourself for a days hard work… although I’ll don’t think I’ll ever understand that logic. It’s what works best for you, just get a system in place.

One thing I’ve been doing personally that I would recommend is downloading a few minute workout app. There are tonnes on the market right now (I use 7M Workout) and a lot of them are very good. These are basically intensive workouts that take between 5 and 10 minutes and they’re a great way of quickly slotting some exercise into your day. Just get into the habit of doing one every day. You don’t need to plan time for 5 minutes (you’re absolutely kidding yourself if you try and make out like you work so hard that you don’t have 5 minutes to spare in day, and trust me – I’ve totally tried) so you just jam it in the next time you get up to make a coffee.

A lot of them adjust to your level of fitness so you’ll always be getting your heart rate up and a bit of a pant on. Trust me on this – I originally went into this thinking how hard can seven minutes of workout be? I’ll breeze through this and then I can at least tell myself I’m doing something.

At the end of the first session I was fucking knackered.

Right now my plan is do one of these everyday and then try and hit the gym or do some other major exercise activity twice a week. I’ll let you know how I get on.

6. Have Water with your Coffee.

I have no idea what it is about being at home, but I drink way more coffee when I’m here. Maybe it’s because I had to go downstairs at the office to get a coffee, or having the knowledge that if I used the last of the milk I’d have to go out and get more, but I just did not drink nearly as much as I am doing now.

“I realised my hand was shaking too much to actually sketch. I was wired.”

I didn’t even notice at first but then I got an illustration job in and I realised my hand was shaking too much to actually sketch. I was wired.

What I’ve started doing now is grabbing a pint of water every time I get a cup’o’joe, and I can’t get another until I’ve finished the water. This has helped me out a lot, a feel much better (in my back especially) for having all the extra fluid on plus I get loads of extra breaks now with trips to the bathroom.

7. Put Fruit on your Desk.

When I worked in an office I used to take three or four pieces of fruit to work with me every day, I sat them on my desk and just snacked on them whilst I was working. I read somewhere that it’s a good idea to snack throughout the day rather than just slamming it at three main meals, something about keeping your metabolism ticking over. I don’t remember properly, but it meant I never really felt hungry and didn’t turn to snacking on crisps or chocolate or… who am I kidding? There was a Pound Bakery literally 60 seconds from my old office that did two pasties for £1. They were probably made with 50% carcinogens and 50% grey matter but when you’re working late and getting hungry they’re seriously tempting, so having the fruit right there meant it always won out and is probably the reason I’m alive today.

Working from home though I have no need to throw some food into my bag every morning, the kitchen is just there. However that also meant no fruit on the desk and I am eating way less healthiness because of it. I recently saw a report saying that we should now be eating eight pieces of fruit or veg a day and I was like “well yeah… doesn’t everyone already?”. Turns out that not having fruit sat on desk means I just don’t seem to eat it now and suddenly the report made sense. So put your fruit bowl where you work or at least grab a few apples in the morning and pop them on your desk.

FYI this will probably have zero effect on your productivity, but I just worry about you.

8. Have a Start Time.

This is the thing I struggle with the most. I hate waking up, actually no, I hate getting up (I can happily wake up and then play on my phone for an hour). Having to go to an office to work always meant you had that knowledge that it would be x amount of time before you actually started work. So whenever you do get up, it may be a hour and a half before your done with getting ready, travelled to the office and actually sat down to work. It made me feel like I was always late and it was an incentive to get moving in the mornings.

“That kind of knowledge is just snooze fuel.”

Now that I’m at home though I know that I can literally start work about three minutes after I get up if I really need to. That kind of knowledge is just snooze fuel. I haven’t got a locked on solution for this one other than setting my alarm and telling myself I need to be sat working by 9:30. I started at 10:15 today so I have a still have a ways to go. I’m going to test some wake up techniques over the next few months and let you know how they go, but in the interim just be aware that you need to set yourself a start time.

9. Have a Finish Time.

Actually I lied to you before, this is the thing I struggle with the most.

Yeah I work late a lot. I enjoy what I do and I have a hard time switching off. A lot of the time it’ll rock round to 7pm and I’ll think “you should be stopping now… take a break and go watch tv or play a game or something” but honestly – I’d often rather keep doing what I’m doing, I actually enjoy it more.

If I were Gary Vaynerchuck I’d tell you that “this was an awesome approach to business and that you should work even harder and try not sleeping too!”, and yeah there probably is some merit to that super powered businessman approach, and from time to time it could prove to be a benefit, but on the flip side think of this.

Say you love Disney Land (or whatever you actually love). You go there and it’s magical and incredible and everything you ever expected. It’s literally the perfect place and you want to stay there forever. Then say you did? How long before it would start to loose it’s shine? Before it became irritating? Before it became monotonous? (This analogy doesn’t apply to Mark Brickey btw).

“Obviously though if you have a deadline ignore this shit and churn that mother out into the dark.”

We do something we love for a living and that’s a major major deal. I bet the majority of people out there fucking hate their job, and I just cannot understand how they do it. The fact that we’re inspired and excited by what we do is by far our absolute most precious asset and we should do everything we can to protect that. Even if it means not doing it all the time so that it stays special.

Obviously though if you have a deadline ignore this shit and churn that mother out into the dark. I’ve got your back.

10. Make Time for People.

Working from home often means working alone and if you don’t give yourself reason to leave the house you wont.

I love working alone. Honestly I love my own company and just cracking on with something really tough in absolute silence, in fact stuff like writing a post like this I literally cannot do unless it’s totally silent.

That being said though, I love spending time with people too, which is something maybe I forgot when I first made the switch to working from home. I was so psyched to be working in my own bubble that it was maybe about four days before I realised I had not actually left the house. Not at all. In fact I had barely even said a word.

Oh actually! Yes – point 10.5 – Talk in the Mornings! I forgot about this when I was planning this article but I’ve just remembered it now. So I was working on my own and had no reason to talk so I wasn’t doing right? Then one day I get a call from a client and I answer the phone and it’s sawdust that comes out of my mouth – I can’t even speak. You know when you wake up and the first few words you say don’t sound like you because your vocal chords are getting all warmed up again? Yeah it was like that but even worse. It took me maybe ten seconds to actually squeak out “hello”.

So solution – sing in the shower! Yes – it’s totally a good call, solves this problem, wakes you up and gets you thinking about what you’re going to do with all the money after you win the next season of X-Factor.

“Don’t try and live vicariously through Facebook, make plans and meet up with friends in person.”

So back to point 10. I’ve kinda gone off the rails here a bit, but basically you need to make time to go out an socialise with people. You have no co-workers now and even if they had nothing to do with your business, just saying hello in the mornings was an important interaction that you’re now missing. Don’t try and live vicariously through Facebook, make plans and meet up with friends in person. I know the last two points were about having a start and a finish time, but really you do have a lot more wiggle room now to accommodate spontaneous chats over coffee or afternoon Playstation sessions, so take advantage of that and spend time with people.

Hopefully there’s some advice here that will help you on your quest for a balanced home work life, but by no means consider this list exhaustive. This is just what’s been working for me, and only so far at that. If I come up with anything else I’ll let you know, and likewise, if you’re reading this and have your own slice of advice on working from home then let me know! We’re all in the same boat here, and thankfully we don’t have to commute.

Photo Credit to Jeremy Levine

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is owner of Hunting Town Design, a small design house based in Manchester UK specialising in Graphic Design and Illustration. Alex is also the founder and editor of The Design Range. Find out more about Alex on his website or follow him on twitter.
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