Working from home tips: How to be productive and not get cabin fever

If I got a euro for every time someone asked me ‘do you work in your pyjamas?’ when I tell them I work from home…well, I’d make more money than I do as a writer. After ‘who do you write for?’ that’s easily the most common question I get asked about my job and lifestyle.

As I mentioned here, the freelance economy is booming and in the US, 10% of employees now work from home. Whether you’re a writer or a virtual assistant, the market for freelance, remote workers is growing but for the majority, cubicle life is forever what they think of when it comes to work.

Contrary to what that oh-so-realistic cultural icon Carrie Bradshaw has led you to believe, working from home – especially as a journalist – is less ‘lusting over Louboutins’ and more ‘hey, have you met my husband? He’s called Macbook!’ 

The harsh reality is you’ve still got the same job to do as your office-based buddies but without your personal Miranda Priestley looking over your shoulder to keep you in check. Unlike your cubicle counterparts who may only have a view of a rusty fire escape, your home is a Crystal Maze style obstacle course of distractions. Before you know it, you’ve got one eye on your emails and the other on Season 1 of The OC (“for research purposes”) or suddenly cleaning the fridge is the most urgent task. You’ll do pretty much anything to avoid getting down to business.

Depending on your situation, job and industry you work in, working from home can be the best thing to happen to your career, especially if you’re in any way socially anxious. But for a lot of people it’s difficult to get into a productive mindset in your tiny studio apartment.

Like quitting coffee, cigarettes or a bad boyfriend, good old fashioned discipline is crucial for working from home. I can’t teach you how to be disciplined but you’ve just started working remotely and you’re struggling to get work done at home, here’s a few tips for working from home and still being productive that work for me:

  1. Create a dedicated work space…and this is NOT your bed

In The Sleep Revolution Arianna Huffington says your bedroom should be a screen-free zone so, tempting as it is to hammer away on your laptop while tucked under your duvet, in the words of Grandmaster Flash, don’t do it. A designated workspace is a must to get into worker bee mode and be productive but you don’t need to build an extension onto your flat – a desk in the corner of your living room or kitchen will do the job. Sorry to sound like your mam but keep it tidy and add some pretty extras like a green plant or a citrus-y candle so it’s a vaguely appealing place to spend 8 hours. I’m naturally messy but I’ve learnt to keep my workspace clutter under control so it’s not like stepping into Francis Bacon’s studio each morning.

  1. Treat every day like a work day

Everyone talks about the flexibility of being a freelancer and, while it’s great that you can work in Starbucks or from a plane, I’ve found that mirroring the standard office hours is best for me. Of course this depends on your job but I deal with editors and producers who are on a roughly 9-6 schedule so, if a new assignment comes up at the last minute, you want to grab it and not find yourself writing ‘sorry I missed this amazing opportunity, Ms Wintour’ when you finally log into your emails at 7pm. It took me a painfully long time to realise this but the easiest way to get anything done is to treat each day like a proper work day. At the start, I took advantage of not having to stick to traditional office hours and would gallivant about town during the day but then work til Crazy O’Clock to catch up. I know, I know, this totally goes against your newfound not-having-to-leave-the-house freedom but get up early, get dressed, take a lunch break and stick to an office-like routine. Which leads us nicely to the next step…

  1. Watch your Work/Life balance

When you work remotely, it’s all too easy to put off your assignments during the day and do The Fun Things instead. As well as giving off the impression that you are hard at work and not still in bed, sticking to a roughly 9-5 schedule as much as possible will stop your sleep pattern being disrupted. When I started working from home, I found it impossible to switch off because you can’t just walk away from the office when you live in it. I would end up taking one quick look at something online and then find myself slamming the laptop shut at midnight. Setting yourself a routine – whether that’s 9-5 or whatever works for you – and being disciplined about knowing when to switch off – will stop your work slowly taking over the rest of your life. Read my digital detox tips if you’re struggling with this one.

  1. Change your scenery

Even if you’ve got yourself set up with a cute office space, working in the same spot day in, day out is enough to make anyone go a bit Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Mix it up and try working in a quiet hotel lobby, that new intimidatingly hip café you’ve heard about or try being inspired by a meeting space in a gallery or museum. Once you’ve got wifi, caffeine and a socket, you’re good to go. The isolation factor is something I find people don’t really talk about when it comes to freelancing but it’s easy to feel a bit like Sandra Bullock in Gravity when you’re a lone wolf working at home a lot. Pathetic as this sounds, the chatter around you in a cafe could just keep you sane. Speaking of which…

  1. Stay in the loop (and bring biscuits)

An unexpected benefit of being away from the office is that you escape workplace politics and negativity (even if you secretly miss those bitching sessions with Mary in Accounts). The downside is you’re usually the last to hear about a new opportunity, promotion or someone jumping ship. Some work experts argue that working remotely can cost you career-wise as a result and I’ve definitely experienced this myself. It’s all well and good being active on social media or replying promptly to emails from the boss but the personal connection still rules the workplace, even the remote one. To make sure you’re always on their radar, make a real effort to go to office lunches, nights out (yes, even the dreaded Christmas party) or just pop in every once in a while – preferably with biscuits in tow. Befriending your workmates and making sure they see you as more than just a name on an email is vital so you’re the first person they think of when a new job pops up. Plus, it’s good to leave the house every once in a while. Or so they say…

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