Though I’ve worked as a freelancer before, I only started doing so full-time a few months ago. While some find comfort in the routine and physical work/home separation of an office job, the freedom that comes with self-employment can be intoxicating. From wearing your sweatpants until 6 p.m.—at which point you realize you can just keep wearing them—to doing work while on the toilet, the advantages of working at home at first appear to be endless.
“Appear,” however, may be the key word in that sentence. The more time you spend working from home, the more you begin to realize that these supposed “advantages” can become bad habits ready to turn any unsuspecting freelancer into an anti-social bridge troll.
To avoid this lonely and greasy (from not showering) fate, I’ve come up with a few strategies that get me out of the house—not to mention out of the bathroom—and working with others while maintaining my freelancer’s freedom. Let’s start with the basics…
1. Shower and get dressed in the morning.
It sounds so simple you’d think it would be intuitive, but it’s not. Part of the charm of working from home is that you never have to worry about anyone giving you stink eye for wearing the same outfit infinity days in a row, after all.
But all of a sudden, when it’s 3 p.m. and you still smell like stale sleep sweat and realize you haven’t gotten a whiff of fresh air since you opened the window four hours ago to make sure that sound you were hearing out back was just the restaurant downstairs hosing off baking sheets and not small kittens screaming (it really sounds like that, I promise), you might find yourself thinking, “Damn, I really should have showered this morning.”
While many suggest a cold shower to jolt you awake, I find it’s more the transition from sleep-mode to awake-mode that the a.m. shower facilitates, regardless of the temperature. Without that hygienic marker to signal to your brain that you’re awake, you might just stay in bed all day with your computer balanced on your stomach like you’re a literate, typing otter.
2. Pretend like you have a commute.
There’s something about making a physical trek to the office that helps put you in the mindset to start working and stop lazing around. Don’t get me wrong—avoiding rush hour on the subway keeps me out of the crosshairs of many an unpleasant morning squabble, like over who’s taking up too much space on the pole or who’s talking too loudly for a group of people who still haven’t had their coffee yet to abide. Still, switching locations can be important for establishing the difference between home and work zones.
To trick myself into thinking I have a commute, I usually get up when my boyfriend heads to work, and if I’m lucky (aka, if he’s not running 30 minutes late), he’ll let me walk him to the train in the morning. You can do this even if you don’t have a significant other with an office job, and you can extend such a walk by exploring your entire immediate neighborhood until you realize, “Oh no, I’m almost late for work!” Then you can rush back into your apartment, grumble to yourself about “the commute,” and get started answering emails! It’s good to get to work on time.
3. Pick out one staple coffee shop and a few alternatives.
A reliable coffee shop workspace gives you an out-of-home office. Establishing a go-to means you’ll always have a public place to bring your laptop with WiFi, free tables, outlets, and coffee that costs under $2 (maybe $3 in New York) and isn’t Starbucks.
When choosing the ideal coffee shop go-to, you’re looking for a place where other people do work, so you don’t get too distracted by raucous conversation, and where the baristas expect you to do work, so you don’t get kicked out after two hours and can find a place to sit that doesn’t have a laminated note card on it stating, “This is a no laptop zone.” I would also suggest getting to know at least one barista there so you can have regular “another day at the office, eh?” conversations with someone.
4. Find some WFH buddies.
You’re likely not the only freelancer you know. Even if you don’t have any full-time WFH friends, you definitely know people whose bosses let them take a day here and there to grind away from the comfort of their own homes. Make semi-regular (doesn’t have to be frequent) meetings with these people so you can work side by side and watch each other’s laptops when you go to the bathroom at your go-to coffee shop.
5. Take advantage of your friend’s co-working office space.
In 2017, everyone who works in a major metropolitan area has at least one friend whose job exists at a co-working space, be it WeWork, Wix, Regus, Workbar, Impact Hub, NextSpace, Grind, you name it. While these cost money to join, they are free to attend as a guest to someone who already works there.
Use this tip sparingly, and save it for days when you’re itching for a 4 p.m. free beer and ping pong break. Or use it if you enjoy the show Silicone Valley and get a hankering to listen a group of bro-y tech dudes pat each other on the back for being “just like that show, man!”
6. Establish multiple locations in your home where you can do work.
One home office just isn’t enough. Sometimes, you need your kitchen and your bedroom to also be home offices so as to provide alternative scenery on days when you really can’t be bothered to leave the house.
I have a dedicated “office” portion of my apartment where I sit if I’m not eating or really need to concentrate on a job. Otherwise, if I’m casually researching or eating or working on an otherwise low-pressure assignment, I’ll move to the couch or snack at the kitchen table while trying to avoid smearing food grease on my computer. Having different spaces in your home dedicated to different levels of concentration can help you transition from one assignment to the next when you don’t have a manager to tell you that it’s time to move on from project A to project B.
7. Never do work on the toilet.
One cautionary word: Hemorrhoids (if you’re curious enough to click, scroll down to the “Causes” section).
The irony is that as I write this, I’m wearing sweatpants and the t-shirt I slept in last night. I haven’t set foot outside yet today, and it’s well after 3 p.m. But hey, once the temperature sinks below 40 degrees and the sky morphs from summer’s vibrant blue to late fall’s dull grey, comfort trumps stir crazy avoidance any day.
Feel free to set aside all of these tips until it’s spring again.
Image via Flickr/Nick Keppol