It's been two months now since I began freelancing full-time. Lately, I've been getting lots of questions from my friends, family, and people I meet in the community -- what's been your biggest challenge so far? Has anything surprised you about working for yourself?
The answer to the latter is yes. A lot of things have surprised me about going out on my own, but there's one response that stands out to me most: working from home. The thing I thought I would enjoy the most and would be one of the easiest aspects of freelancing is actually one of the hardest.
Don't get me wrong, working from home certainly has it's perks and today, I wouldn't trade it. However, when you're working where you live, there are certain distractions you have to deal with and it can be difficult to get into the right mindset when you're calling clients from the kitchen table.
In my short amount of time doing it, I've learned a lot about how to work efficiently everyday from home. Here are few things you can do to ensure you make working from home just as productive (or maybe even more productive) than working from an office.
Here are 12 productivity hacks for working better from home.
1. Wake up early.
Let me guess, you're not a morning person ... Well, in all honesty, neither am I. But trust me when I say it, waking up as if you have to be somewhere every morning will get you moving and help you start your day on the right foot. There's a lot of writing and research out there about the importance of perfecting your morning routine and how it positively impacts your productivity and mental output.
While I'm still in the process of testing out different routines and ways of going about my morning, I've found that there are certain things I can do consistently to ensure I have a productive day. Waking up early enough every morning to read, look at my goals for the day, and make coffee (before I start work) is one of them.
2. Plan out your to-do list and schedule the day before.
This one is tough, especially if you work late into the evening or have big projects to tie up by the end of the day. However, planing out your next day's goals and to-do lists the day before, is one of the most important things you can do for yourself if you're working from home.
I've found that it's extremely important to wake up with objectives and goals already in place. That way when you're thinking about what you should get started on, your answer is already there and you're not distracted by other household chores or tasks.
3. Create a designated work space.
We've all seen those Pinterest boards of impossibly perfect home-office spaces, complete with ambient lighting and trendy furniture. Unfortunately, those pictures aren't even close to the reality of most freelancers working from home.
Instead of wasting hours searching for the perfect desk and decor on Overstock, do what you can with what you've got. Even the tiniest apartments can be turned into efficient workspaces! Just make sure you have an area that you've designated as your own and that you can begin to associate with work. And no, the couch doesn't count.
4. Dress for the office.
In other words, lose the sweatpants.
Even if you have days where need to be heads-down and don't plan to leave the house, put on some clothing that makes you feel confident and dress like the professional that you are. It will help you get in the right mindset and will make you feel more productive in the long run.
5. Schedule coffee and lunch meetings.
For an extrovert like me, one of the harder things about leaving an office job was leaving all the people. Working alone everyday can be hard for those of us who are more outgoing and need social interaction to stay energized.
To balance this out, I set up in-person client meetings when possible, and make an effort to schedule coffee or lunch meetings with people in my network every week. This keeps me motivated and also helps break up hours spent writing alone with some face-to-face conversations.
6. Stay active.
This is important no matter where you work, however working from home has slightly changed the way I fit in physical activity and exercise to my daily schedule.
When I worked at an office, I would often work out at home. If I didn't have time to get to a yoga class or go to the gym, it was easy to do some quick exercises in my living room. But now, when I need physical activity, I also need to get out of the house. I make sure that I do something active everyday. Even if it's just walking down the street to go to the grocery store, making exercise a priority is more important than ever.
7. Find a co-working space when you need it.
As I write this, I'm currently working from a nearby coffee shape, my second office, as I often refer to it.
It seems that no matter where you work -- home or office -- sometimes, to be the most productive, you just need a change in environment. Be open to this and allow yourself some flexibility to work from a coffee shop or a local co-working space. We're lucky that as freelancers, there is no shortage of options available.
8. Over-communicate with your clients, co-workers, and/or boss.
It's no secret that remote teams are becoming more and more prevalent in our professional world. I could go on and on about the advantages of this structure, but one disadvantage is not having access to face-to-face communication with your clients or team.
As a freelancer, I've worked with a number of clients who I've never even met in person. However, we've developed great working relationships because we communicate well and we communicate often. When you're in a remote situation, it's always better to over communicate. Be detailed, thorough, and clear with all of your email conversations, and make yourself available via phone and Skype as much as possible. It's worth it and will help you build those lasting relationships that are important to a successful (and enjoyable) freelance business.
9. Establish routines.
We already talked about establishing routines for the morning, however, there's something to be said about routines and schedules on a larger scale.
Whether you spend 11am every morning working through your inbox, or only schedule meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays, there are certain habits you can get into that will make working from home even more productive. Consistency is important in any business, so why not do it for your own? You and your clients will notice the difference.
10. Be clear about when you're working, and when you're not.
Sometimes, working late at night is impossible to avoid. And I'll admit, as a freelancer, working late to get extra writing done, or altering my schedule to accommodate for meetings or travel is a luxury I often feel grateful for.
However, I feel most productive when I set clear working hours for myself. Shutting my computer off by a certain hour each night, and not plugging it back in until a certain time the next morning, keeps me sharp and creative for myself and for my clients.
11. Protect your time, just as you would at the office.
Just because you're working at home, doesn't mean you have to answer the phone or walk your neighbor's dog if you don't want and/or don't have the time. Think about it ... if you were at an office, would you say "yes" to helping your second-cousin twice-removed move apartments on a Tuesday afternoon? Probably not.
I'm not saying you shouldn't help out a friend or neighbor when they need it. We all make adjustments in our work schedules for that sort of thing. However, don't be afraid to say "no" when it's the more responsible answer.
12. Always be looking for ways to improve your work environment and process.
The first thing I tell people when discussing my new career move is that I've learned more in the past 2 months than I ever thought possible. As you put together your home office space and make working from home a reality, be open to trying new things and finding news ways to improve your systems, routines, and overall environment. If you take the time to reflect, you'll likely learn something new and applicable each and every day.
Alright, now it's your turn. What are your productivity hacks for working at home? I would love to hear your thoughts and advice in the comments!