I’ve been working from home for the past two and a half years, ever since I moved to Manchester and went fully freelance to combine work on both my blog and my business, and design a lifestyle that truly works for me.
Having the freedom to work as you choose is most people’s dream, however it’s not without its drawbacks. Once i stopped working in an office and started working from a desk in the corner of my living room, I quickly realised that working from home isn’t always the simple idyll it’s cracked up to be.
You need to become incredibly disciplined to stay productive and motivated when you work for yourself, by yourself, in your own space, on your own schedule all the time. There are so many possible distractions — from the pile of washing up in the sink to the latest episode of The Good Place on Netflix — and making sure you stay on track and accountable to your goals can be tricky.
Over the past 30 months I’ve really honed my working week to make the most of both my time and productivity style, and thought I’d share a few tips I’ve learnt along the way. The most important thing to remember though is that everyone works differently and has their own strengths and skill-set, so not all of these tips will resonate for you. The key thing is to find your own best way of working outside of the shackles of the corporate 9 to 5, and experiment with new ways of working to help you thrive and establish a working lifestyle that works for you.
When it comes to goal setting I’m the first to admit I’m always up in my head about what I want to achieve long-term and rarely commit my heart and my mind to a long-term vision of how I want my business to be. I think part of the appeal to me about being a freelancer is the freedom to pick and choose, considering any options and opportunities that come your way. I’m not going to preach this approach as a good way to successfully grow and develop a multi-million pound business (far from it!) but for me it is the way I’ve been able to build a life that has worked, so far, for me.
I prefer far more specific and bite-size goals I feel able to commit to on a weekly or monthly basis, and have a running to-do list that only ever seems to grow, despite the number of things I check off each day. I manage this by placing specific emphasis on each task I’ve listed, from the ones that absolutely have to be done that day, to the ones it would be good to get checked off, to the ones i’d like to be able to incorporate if possible. As I say, this list grows and evolves over time, with some things falling by the wayside if I’ve left them too long and the idea now feels stale, and others growing in relevance and importance over time and becoming a priority.
Time blocking doesn’t work for everyone (or every task) but it’s the way I find works best for me to be able to tackle my task list successfully. It’s a simple concept; I allocate as a set time period to a task and block this out on my calendar, either on a monthly, weekly or daily basis, depending upon the task. for client work I generally have 4-hour morning or afternoon blocks allocated to specific clients on a weekly/monthly basis and set the tasks I plan to work on that week within this slot. My clients know when they can expect me to be working on their projects and when is best to schedule in meetings or calls for catch-ups. Everything else, from writing blog posts and scheduling social content, to styling and photography, then gets allocated a time slot around these client blocks.
Setting the scene
When I first moved to the fab flat, one of the things I was most excited about was moving my desk out of my bedroom and into its own dedicated space in the living room. It made a huge difference to my productivity levels not having my desk right next to my bed, but a few years on I can tell that I’d really benefit from having my office in a totally separate room in the flat, away from the distractions of the open-plan kitchen to my left, and sofa behind me. In an ideal world I would love to have a totally standalone office at the bottom of my (currently fictional) garden – wouldn’t that be the dream?!
I love the look of Summer House 24‘s luxurious log cabins and already have a pretty good idea on how I’d like to decorate it to create the perfect office/photo studio to work from every day, even in winter months. I think there’s something about having to step outdoors and ‘commute’ to work, even if it is just a few steps down a garden path, that helps you get in the right frame of mind to be productive and motivated. Having that kind of delineation between work and home space is becoming more and more of a priority for me – hopefully one day soon I’ll be able to make it a reality!
I think it goes without saying that if you enjoy your workspace, you’re going to be more productive. Where you work should be a space that makes you feel empowered and motivated. I think it’s really important to remove anything from the space that doesn’t spark joy (think piles of bills or stacks of unpaid invoices – grr!), and instead bring in a few biophilic elements such as potted houseplants or a scented candle, to help reduce your stress levels and boost productivity and creativity. Anything in your workspace that connects you to the natural world can help facilitate effortless concentration when your direct focus on a task begins to wane. Taking just a few minutes to connect with a pet, gaze out onto the garden or focus on the flicker of a candle can help your mind to free associate, and make those important leaps in understanding that too much focused attention can inhibit.
Ditching the 9 to 5
Many studies show that the average worker is more productive when they take regular breaks. I know that after an intense period of work my mind is prone to wandering aimlessly and whatever work I do when I’m in this phase of distraction is sub-par at best.
We’ve all been conditioned by the traditional 9 to 5 model of working that we only need to take a lunch break in the middle of the day, but I find myself far more able to focus on the task at hand when I allow my state of mind to guide me. If i’m feeling super focused I tend to get tunnel vision and hours can pass in the blink-of-an-eye whilst I work on the task at hand. At other times I can sense that my brain is only up to the task of working successfully for short bursts, and have learnt that I need to allow myself to take breaks in between to refresh and recharge; put the kettle on, do the dishes, start a laundry load or go for a walk round the quays.
A piece of advice I was given once that I find works well on days when I feel particularly unfocused, is to work for as long as my laptop retains charge i.e. start the day with a fully charged device, work until the battery indicator begins to flash, then step away from your laptop whilst it charges up to full power again. I like the analogy here, of your own personal battery being drained by work in the same way as your laptop, and both taking time out to fully recharge again. This way of working doesn’t work for everyone – nor is it necessarily practical to work this way every day – but it’s definitely a way of working I find useful once in a while.
Step away from the screen
I also find it useful to schedule in a couple of working days per month outside of my office; not just decamping to a coffee shop with my laptop, but instead taking a full day out for creative inspiration. I might visit a new city as part of prep for a city guide, visit a museum or gallery to see what creative vision it might spark, or spend time visiting all my favourite interiors stores looking for new brands, trends and angles to cover.
If you work from your own home you can sometimes go days without leaving the house, and if you live on your own as well you can sometimes go days without speaking to another human being!
Loneliness can be a real issue if you’re a freelance worker, but I promise you you’re not alone. There are so many people working on their own these days that support networks are popping up all over the place, and with a little bit of proactive networking you’re likely to find a local community of freelancers who regularly meet up to support one another with co-working sessions and other regular meet-ups, especially if you live in even a semi-urbanised area.
If you live in a more isolated location and fear you won’t find anyone to connect with locally who is in the same boat, don’t overlook the power of social media and video chat services to connect you to other like-minded souls. I’ve a couple of fellow freelance pals who I regularly have a friday coffee and a chat with virtually, skyping into one another’s living rooms for an hour or so and having a catch up about anything and everything. Just because we’re not physically in the same room doesn’t mean we don’t feel connected and supported during that time, and throughout the week we keep the conversation going in a freelancer’s WhatsApp group we use to brainstorm ideas and sense-check each other’s work.
It can feel daunting getting the ball rolling with something like this, but if there is someone you find yourself chatting with regularly on Twitter or Instagram I’d really recommend reaching out and seeing if they’d be open to a video chat. Chances are they will leap at the chance! If you’re too scared to make the first move in such a direct way, why not put the idea out to your followers in a tweet or insta-story and see if anyone bites? I’d suggest you’re likely to find your social calendar filling up in no time!
Do you have any top tips for how to work productively as a freelancer? I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments below!
This post is in partnership with SummerHouse24, but all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. All photography, excluding moodboard product imagery, © Kate Baxter.