In 1999, I started doing small paid projects and teaching, in addition to working as a paramedic. I started working on my own full time in 2001. Now, my business has been around for over a decade. That’s more than ten years of paying the mortgage, meeting the bills, and living life.
Right now I’m reflecting on what is perhaps one of the most important, but least talked about, aspects of being autonomous.
As I reflect, I can hear thumps and bangs on the floor above from our twins, as my wife explains with some patience not to throw the still raw scrambled eggs on the floor. I couldn’t understand what he was saying – I knew it was scrambled eggs because I had to take a bathroom break, which means walking up the stairs, walking through the kitchen, greeting the kids with their egg bowls, and then walking back . ladders.
If you work at home, you know how difficult it is to stay focused and do real work. Whether you have children or not, there are so many wonderful things to catch your eye, whether it’s the bathroom that needs to be cleaned, the closet that needs to be rearranged, or a sofa that needs to be laid down.
It took me a long time to get into the routine of working from home productively. At this point, I can’t imagine leaving home fifty hours a week to go to work elsewhere.
In honor of the years I’ve been doing this, I thought I’d share ten ideas on how to live life as a freelancer.
1. Don’t be too disciplined.
There is a lot to be said for discipline and focus, and yet there is a lot to be said for going with the flow.
There is so much you can do in a day, a week, a month, or a year. And it is less than you imagine, mainly because creativity needs white space, space for doodles. Not just non-work related downtime, but work related downtime.
If you try to be too disciplined and focused, you will lose the juice of creativity. So you spent an hour at your desk doing nothing, okay. Now move on to twenty minutes of focused, productive work, and you’ve done an amazing amount.
2. Be careful at the grocery store.
Between challenging projects or in between, it’s easy to head into the kitchen for a bite to eat. I find it very difficult to resist every second to eat what I shouldn’t.
However, if I don’t buy it and it’s not at home, I don’t eat it. Simple enough. I try to get healthy snacks that still satisfy me. Current favorites include roasted seaweed, medjool dates, Oskri bars, and Pine Mountain Ranch jerky.
3. Make appointments outside the home.
I can get into ruts where literally DAYS go by without leaving the house. Well, not so much now that we have kids, but before the boys arrived, in the dead of winter when it rains continuously, on Thursday morning I realize … hey, I haven’t been out since Monday.
It is not healthy. Don’t depend on your willpower. Make dates to go out.
4. Give your business its own space.
My company email is not reaching my iPhone. My company’s phone line only rings in the office downstairs. In fact, almost everything related to my business stays in the downstairs office.
Regardless of how you choose to interact with your business, give it your own space so that you at least have a choice. If your business completely takes up all of your living space, then you can’t choose what works for you. Your business needs its own phone, desk, filing system, bookcase, and, if you can, a room with a door that locks.
5. Take a nap when you need it.
Sleep is very important. And when we live our busy lives, sometimes the night’s rest gets affected. If you are in an office, you cannot take a nap. Working from home, you can. Should. Really.
6. Learn from others.
Other people have been working from home for a long time. Charlie, Michael, Sarah, Molly are doing an amazing job.
And, if you want to step it up, you may even want to have an “Inspired Home Office.”
7. Know yourself.
When you start working at home, you may not know yourself, but if you pay attention, you will soon know. When are you most productive? When does it tend to lean? What works for you?
Some people love working in a cafe, others don’t. Some love to work early in the morning, others prefer later afternoons, some late at night.
Do you need paper to scribble? A big blackboard? Do you need visual reminders? Does clutter bother you or is it an inspiration for your creativity?
For me, I can tolerate a certain amount of clutter and still focus. Periodically I clean everything to make it clean and clear, but that’s not how I live and it works for me. I also tend to be productive early in the morning and, oddly, later in the afternoon. After 7 p.m. I’m pretty toasty, work-wise.
8. Get help with your office.
After getting some examples (# 6) and learning about yourself (# 7), seek help.
For me, I can do a certain amount of cleaning or organizing on my own, but for larger projects I need help. Even if it’s just my wife sitting and talking to me as I start.
Don’t do it alone.
9. Leave it if it doesn’t work.
If you’ve been trying to work at home for a couple of years and find that it’s not working for you, try an alternative. Rent a small apartment nearby. Try a co-working space.
If you need the total approach that a completely separate space provides, go for it. It is an additional expense, but so is owning a home large enough to have an additional office.
10. Enjoy it.
Ten years later, it still amazes me that I can set my own schedule completely. Are you taking Tuesday morning off to climb trees with an arborist friend? Decide to work a four-day work week?
Yes, sometimes I work on weekends, afternoons or long hours when projects ask me to. But much more often I enjoy my schedule.
Now excuse me as I go upstairs for a couple of medjool dates and to play with my kids for a while. I’ll be back in a bit.