Working from home. I've done it for six and a half years now, and I'm still flailing about when it comes to finding a rhythm. (But that's true across most areas of my life, not just the work-at-home part. It's my ongoing challenge.) As with most things, even the good ones, pitfalls appear in this freelancing lifestyle. It's not all bon-bons and pajamas, you know. Still, I'm not complaining, because it sure beats packing a lunch and putting on pantyhose every day. Hell, I don't even have to wear pants if I don't want to. (Though, as you'll see in a bit, I usually do.)
As I search for the rhythms, rituals, and systems that allow my creativity, sanity, and productivity to flourish, I've been thinking about the things no one ever told me before I embarked on the solopreneur path.
1. Stock up on toilet paper. You will go through a LOT more of it when you're home all day long. This is especially true if you're a woman. First of all, our bladders are smaller than men's, so we make more trips to the loo. Second of all, we can't just shake and go, if you know what I mean. (Note to self: Research whether toilet paper is a deductible business expense.)
2. Stock up on coffee, tea, or whatever is your cup of -- well, you get it. If you used to get your caffeine fix from the office stash, you'll now need to buy more of your favorite beverages for your home use. (Obviously, this point leads right back to point #1 above.) You may not necessarily drink more coffee than you were drinking before, but you might have to start buying more if it yourself.
2a. Other things you will use more of: utilities (water, electricity, gas) and dish soap (for all of the extra dishes you'll dirty by eating more meals at home). On the flip side, your transportation costs will probably go down.
3. Leave your house! It's totally possible to not go anywhere for days on end (especially if you don't have kids -- or much of a local social life) and thus turn a little wiley-eyed and crazy. Your husband may one day suggest (only half-jokingly) that you get a paper route just so you are forced to leave the house once per day. I say, skip the paper route and do one of these instead: Go for a walk; the fresh air will help you to think. Take yourself out to lunch every once in awhile, or meet-up with someone for a meal. Run errands on sunny days so you can get some Vitamin D. (This one applies to those of us in grey climates.) I even saw some people on Facebook discussing the idea of picking other people's kids up from school to force themselves to leave the house. That's more than I want to commit to, but it's definitely an option.
4. Consider an alternate workspace. Combine points one through three above into a trifecta: Leave the house, have someone else make your coffee, and save a day's worth of toilet paper! Scope out a coffee shop or café to work in on the days when you need a change of pace. Or try a local library (though you may have to leave the coffee at home. I've been yelled at for having a hot beverage in the library -- while standing at the front desk. I think the librarian would have blown a fuse if I'd tried to sit down at a table with my to-go cup.)
5. There are no vending machines in your bedroom. And unless you live in a hip urban condo building, there is no grocery store, restaurant, or café on the first floor of your dwelling. If you live in rural-suburbia, as I do, there may be no food purchase option within walking distance. (Unless you want to walk the two miles to the gas station convenience store.) This means you need to keep healthy, tasty, and easy food on hand for snacks and lunches. And for dinners, too, because working from home means you can easily look up at the clock and discover that it's after 7:00pm and all you have in the kitchen is a sink full of dirty dishes.
[I first detailed the three levels of eating options over here. Code Green: Schedule time into your day to cook something and take a break to do it. Level two, or Code Yellow: Have food in the house that's ready to eat, such as fruit, leftovers, sandwich fixin's, or a frozen meal option. (I like those by Amy's Kitchen and Kashi.) Code Red: Have cash on hand to order an emergency pizza or sushi for delivery. (Or consider leaving the house to pick up some food somewhere. Remember: Leaving your house is a good thing!)]
6. Take a shower. Get dressed. Feel pretty. These three are supremely important steps if they're what it takes to make you feel good and happy during the day. Feeling good and happy is good for your work. Maybe you don't need to feel clean and cute every day. But if you do, know this about yourself and make it happen. I don't mean you have to dress up. I certainly don't mean you have to wear pantyhose. Just throw on whatever makes you feel good: a dress over your favorite jeans, wide-legged comfy pants with a soft tee-shirt, or yoga pants and a tank top. Just because you might not leave your house doesn't mean you have to feel like a fugly mess. On the other hand, if you like to rock out in your PJs and bed head, go for it. And if pants aren't your thing, skip 'em. This is all about what works for you. (I should note that I don't have wee ones at home with me. I realize this makes the whole showering and getting dressed thing much easier.)
7. Find your rhythm. I need to establish daily, weekly, and monthly rhythms so I know when it's time to work, when it's time to do laundry, and when it's time to relax. This is harder than it should be when working from home. Living and working in the same place is convenient and flexible, yes, but it's also confusing and boundary-blurring. When any time is a time to work, there's never a true time to relax. I suck at this one, but I'm trying to find what works for me.
8. Create a dedicated workspace, even if it's just a corner of the dining room table. Ideally, dedicate a room in your house to your work. This will help to ease the blurring of boundaries in #6. Make that space sacred and special, in whatever way works for you, which leads me to the next point.
9. Clean, organize, and beautify your workspace -- and consider this part of your job. Unless you have a housekeeper or a partner who does it for you, no one is coming by your office after hours to empty the trash, dust, vacuum, and tidy-up. The office manager isn't going to hang a new painting on the wall. Oh wait, you're the office manager, which is an extra duty, but it's also awesome because you get to customize your work space. What do you need? Bare, white walls? Lush artwork? Photos of places and people you love? Good lighting? Make it happen. It's important.
While you're at it, consider following these three steps (clean, organize, beautify) for your whole dang house. You're going to be spending a lot of time in your domicile, and the state of things there will seep into your work. If you're easily distracted by messiness, keep your studio and the rest of the house tidy. (This is another reason that I like having a dedicated room for work. Even if the rest of the house is a seething, riotous mess, I can have at least one small space of calm for my work. I can clean the studio, shut the door, and worry about the rest of it later.) If you thrive in chaos, disregard this. (No sarcasm there, seriously.)
10. Move yo' body. When your commute is measured in feet instead of miles, there's no option of biking or walking to work. And there's not even any walking to and from your car. When my body is stiff, achy, and sluggish, so is my mind. I combat this by taking a walk, doing some yoga poses or stretches, or vigorously cleaning the bathroom. (I'm not kidding.) I've even been known to go to the gym. And these days, I'm known to put on roller skates and hit people.
(In fact, it's this last point that has me thinking about how I need to move even more throughout my day. Most of my roller derby practices are late in the evening, around 8:00 or 9:00. If I've spent all day sitting at home working, I'm extra slow and creaky when I get on my skates. The exercise is easier if I've forced myself to move and stretch more earlier in the day.)
11. Move your workspace. This is related to several points above, but it's different. In addition to creating a dedicated workspace in your house and occasionally going out to your alternate work place (café, library, etc.), I also recommend mixing it up by working somewhere else in your house besides your office or studio. For me, this is at the dining room table, on my living room couch, or in my guest room. I move around whenever I need a slight change of scenery or a shift in energy -- or when the studio itself needs another round of editing in 3-D.
12. Use the phone. Working at home can be isolating. You might feel like a hermit, which you may or may not like. In addition to remembering to leave the house from time to time, you might also want to use the telephone or Skype to talk to another real, live human being sometimes. If you have a few friends who also work from home, schedule a chat with them. Consider this your virtual meeting at the water cooler/passing in the hallway time.
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Right now, as I write this, I'm eating salt and vinegar potato chips and working at my dining room table because my studio is too messy to work in. I cleaned off this table by putting a pile of papers on the couch. I don't know if I have anything here to make for dinner, and it's already 8:00pm. I have a load of wet laundry sitting in the washing machine waiting for me to deal with it, but I keep putting that off to get a few more work things done. Earlier today I opened the last pack of toilet paper and also noticed that I'm almost out of coffee filters. I left my house long enough to walk across the street to the mailbox, but I didn't go any further than that on foot and I haven't driven anywhere either. I also haven't talked to anyone, unless you count Facebook and texting. On the plus side, I did shower today, I'm wearing clothes that make me happy, and I had yummy leftovers for lunch.
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p.s. My husband is on his way home from work with emergency sushi and Thai food. That gives me just enough time to switch over the laundry and think about washing the dishes in the sink.