When you’re stuck in a cubicle, all you can dream about is the freedom of working from home. Your own office, your own tools, your own decor…oh, it’s simply glorious!
Then real life smacks you in the face: you’re distracted by a steady stream of interruptions, your backside hurts from sitting on your hard kitchen chair all day, and someone moved those notes that you absolutely must have for your client meeting.
But before you justify the financial burden of renting office space to escape the challenges of working from home, follow these tips to make your home office a sanctuary of productivity and efficiency.
You can also check out “8 Tips for making the most out of working from home”
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Create some space
I’m not saying you’re never allowed to lounge on the couch and sketch ideas for a project while enjoying the fireplace or watching your favorite movie, but you need a real office.
As a freelancer, you need four walls and a door that you can enter and say to yourself (and others), “I’m at work now.”
Your office should be a welcome, comfortable, calming place for you. (Whether that’s fresh flowers, hockey memorabilia, or inspirational quotes, I’ll leave to your tastes.)
In addition, choose equipment (chair, desk, keyboard, mouse, and monitors) that you’ll be comfortable using all day every day, even if they’re a little bit more expensive than you were thinking (use the $3 per use principle). Spread the purchases over time if need be.
Ultimately, if you dread entering your office (no matter the reason), you won’t enjoy “going” to work. Fashion your office such that you smile when you walk in!
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Note: Sometimes you just need a change of scenery for the day, and that’s okay.
Now, just because you’re smiling and comfy in your office doesn’t mean that all of your distractions aren’t going to stop bursting into your space – literally – and interrupting your work.
You have to set rules about how family, friends, roommates, and pets should interact with you during business hours.
Not sure what rules to set? Here are a few of my favorites:
- When the door is shut, pretend I’m not here. Please don’t bother me unless it’s an emergency.
- If the door is open, feel free to enter! I may be working, but it is okay to ask me a quick question or ask me to join you for lunch.
- Please call before dropping by the house. I may not be able to stop working to spend time with you if you arrive unannounced. (Define your general working hours, especially if they are unconventional.)
- If I don’t answer your call/email/text/etc., I’m in the middle of a project and can’t respond right now. I will respond later in the day.
Talk with your family and friends about your needs. For example, it’ll be easier to get your family to agree to your closed door policy if you promise to have dinner with them nightly at 6:30 without fail.
How to apply your rules without feeling mean
In those first few days when everyone is adjusting to your rules, you may bump into some intentional or accidental resistance. Be firm but gentle in your reminders. Here are some examples:
Situation 1: Your family forgets what a closed door means.
For younger children, help them make a sign to hang on your office door to help them remember.
For teenagers, ask them to do a chore for you every time they interrupt you – soon enough, they’ll stop!
As a drastic measure (only in final desperation), lock the door.
Situation 2: Someone drops by unannounced and you’re in a creative groove.
Remember, you don’t have to answer the door even if they know you’re home. (If that feels really uncomfortable to you, tell them you were on a business call or had music on and didn’t hear the doorbell.)
If you do decide to answer the door, don’t welcome them in.
“John, hi! I’m so sorry, but I’ve got a conference call with a client in a few minutes and I need to finish preparing. If you can call ahead next time, I’ll let you know when I’m free to watch the latest episode of The Game of Thrones.”
You may feel rude, but you’re not – imagine yourself walking in unannounced at their job/appointment and expecting them to drop what they’re doing for you.
“It’s just like if I were to visit you while you’re preparing a legal brief, Aunt Emma. Sure, it’s not impossible for you to stop and have tea with me, but the interruption will cause you to lose your focus and work flow.”
Situation 3: When your door is open, your spouse comes in to chat with you for longer than you’d like.
First, remind your spouse that work time interruptions need to remain brief. Then schedule a specific time to discuss the longer topic.
“Honey, I’d love to talk to you about the kitchen remodel, but I just don’t have time right now. Can you give me an hour to finish this project and then we’ll talk? Come get me at 2:30.”
If that doesn’t seem to work, you might have to close your door more often.
Okay, so you have a great office and time to work…but now you’re playing Spider Solitaire and Words With Friends instead of working.
Time to remove your distractions, even if it means (eep!) removing games from your office computer. (Use a work login if your work computer and home computer share the same motherboard.)
Also consider using a different browser for work and play with bookmarks specific to each task.
This goes for other items as well – if you keep getting distracted by your TV, cell phone, tablet, cat, or logic puzzles, remove them from your office.
(Want to go minimalist? Check out this post.)
Clean up after yourself
Finally, clean up after yourself regularly. Establish a “home” for your office supplies, current projects, inspiration, and past projects. Then spend five to ten minutes tidying up before leaving your office.
When you return, you’ll know exactly where everything is and can easily start on a different project without accidentally putting client A’s sketches with client B’s project notes. Especially if you share your computer with your family, you don’t want red Kool-Aid spilling all over your printer paper.
In my opinion, this is one of the most undervalued and overlooked aspects of creating and maintaining a home office sanctuary that you enjoy working in.
PS – Don’t believe me? Check out this post for creating the ideal freelance design workspace.
Tell us about your home office!
Is your home office a sanctuary? What about your office makes you smile? Leave a comment on this post and tell us how you’ve improved your productivity and efficiency with these and other tips!
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