How to survive (and escape) working from home as a creative freelancer

in Tips / Freelancing

Working from home can be wonderful. No commute, no need to shower or dress, very few overheads. It can also be an utter pain. There’s the isolation, the difficulty in separating work from home life, and the lack of productivity and motivation. So what to do?

There are plenty of options – even for the budget-conscious freelancer. From establishing the right routine and going virtual to seeking the occasional hot-desk away from home to change your work environment, we’ve covered some of the best tips and tricks to help you stay focused wherever you choose to work, so you can enjoy a more productive, more professional and more varied freelancing life:

1. Get your morning routine right

If you want to be a super productive, super happy homeworker then you have to establish a solid morning routine. For me, that means following a strict set of rules:

  • No booze on a school night: You’ll get an amazing night’s rest and wake up early and refreshed, ready to tackle anything.

  • Take some time to stretch after getting up: Nothing too elaborate. Just enough to wake up your muscles and stretch out your body. Take lots of deep breaths.

  • Shower and dress as though you’re going to the office: It really is that simple. If you dress the part, you’ll feel professional and “at work”.

  • Spend a little “me” time before you head to your desk: Read a book, enjoy some relaxing classical music or go for a morning walk – anything to start the day on a happy note.

  • Avoid too much information: That means reading or watching the news, browsing your favourite blogs or checking social media – you don’t want to overload your brain before you’ve even begun.

  • Eat a decent breakfast, and a healthy one at that: You’re working from home so you have the luxury of time (compared to those who commute) and that means you can make things like healthy omelettes or non-processed porridge with fresh berries. Sainsbury's offer some superb healthy recipes if you need some ideas.

2. Create the perfect work environment

Home is home. It’s a place that you’ll associate with free time and relaxation. As you’ll want to keep it that way, you’ll need to create a specific zone for your business. Somewhere that feels professional and can be shut away and hidden when the working day is done.

If you have the luxury of a study, then dedicate this room to your freelancing. If there’s no space, then find clever ways to rope off an area of your dining room or spare bedroom – just try and place your desk somewhere away from where you normally relax in the evenings, so you can switch off.

To really make your home office perfect, then consider the following tips:

  • Get the best setup money can buy: Your desk (IKEA is perfectly sufficient), your chair (Herman Miller’s Aeron is my personal preference – try Scott Howard for secondhand, reconditioned ones at a fraction of the price), your monitor (the bigger, the better – mine is a Dell U3014 with a 30” screen), your computer (Apple Mac, obviously), your speakers (get a premium subscription to Spotify), your desk lamp and even the way you accessorise the space.

  • Let in the light: You should preferably be somewhere close to a window. It helps enormously with productivity and happiness. Just make sure the sunlight doesn’t bounce off your screen.

  • Surround yourself with things you love: This might mean artworks by people you admire, or a shelf full of creative books that inspire you. Check out East End Prints for some seriously lush prints.

  • Go green with a wealth of desk plants: They apparently help to clean the air from pollutants as well as make you feel more productive. Waitrose have a few specimens you can order online.

3. Don’t become chained to your desk

If you work from home, you run the risk of doing too much and without stopping for a breather. That’s because you don’t have anyone to tell you otherwise. To ensure you don’t fall into bad habits, follow these essential rules of homeworking:

  • Take regular breaks: Set alarms on your phone to remind yourself to get up, stretch and perhaps make another cup of tea. Ideally, you want to have a five-minute break every hour.

  • Have a full hour for lunch: It doesn’t matter what you do during that time, just make sure it doesn’t involve work.

  • Get outside once a day to recuperate: It’s easy to feel cooped up if you work from home all day. Switch on your alarm and vow to go outside at some point to stretch your legs. Find a local park if the weather’s nice and take a book.

  • Stick to eight hours a day maximum: Scientists with big brains have told us again and again that working longer hours is pointless. That’s because we become unproductive after a certain amount of time. Burning the midnight oil just makes you an idiot.

  • Don’t stick to 9-5 if that doesn’t suit: Sit at your desk when you’re feeling productive instead. Just make sure you never work more than eight hours each day.

  • Understand the sheer and utter importance of downtime: At the end of each working day, pat yourself on the back for a job well done and then go and enjoy some R&R. It’s well deserved and absolutely essential if you’re going to be productive the following day. As for weekends? Consider them sacred and completely work-free.

4. Make life as easy as possible

Without the cost of an office or staff, a successful freelancer can enjoy many benefits to make their lives easier. If you work from home and you’ve got the budget, consider the following to help free up your time and concentrate on earning more money:

  • Hire a cleaner: Because one of the biggest distractions of working from home is sitting in a house that needs attention. And do you really want to spend weekends scrubbing the bathroom after such a busy week? Thought not.

  • Organise regular food deliveries: It takes just half an hour every weekend to plan the following week’s meals. Get into the habit of doing your shopping online, so you never have to worry about popping to the supermarket. If you struggle to eat healthily, get a subscription with someone like Abel & Cole who deliver boxes of organic goods to your door.

  • Hire a virtual secretary: Phone always going? Emails need more attention than you can spare? Accounting taking up too much time? Consider hiring a virtual PA to help out. They don’t have to be expensive. Shop around on your own doorstep and you’ll discover loads of freelance personal assistants, eager to help.

  • Get a separate work phone: Don’t use your home landline as your work number; you want to be able to switch off your phone outside office hours, so you can relax and separate work from home life.

5. Escape the home office once in a while

Working from home isn’t just a lonely existence; it can make you feel stifled, unproductive and lacking in ideas. What you need is an escape! The chance to break up your routine and find somewhere else to lay your work hat. The following tips should suffice:

  • Buy the best laptop you can afford: And ensure you’ve got access to the Cloud and all your software subscriptions, so you can work from anywhere.

  • Have a decent rucksack or bag: Make sure you’re able to carry everything you need for your mobile office. Check out Eastpak for some decent funky options.

  • Get proper insurances in place: You need to be covered should anything be lost, damaged or stolen.

  • Stay connected: Buy one of those wireless mobile routers so you can effectively tap into 3G or 4G networks if WIFI isn’t available.

  • Join a co-working space: When a coffee shop just won’t do, seek out a buzzing creative community. Because these days, co-working hubs don’t just provide desks and meeting rooms; they go the extra mile to help you grow your business. Take Huckletree, for example. They’ve got branches in Clerkenwell and Shoreditch, and have a load of services to help you develop new skills. And not just that either – you get to work in a community of collaborators and potential clients, so it’s the perfect solution if you fancy escaping the home office occasionally to be part of a thriving creative ecosystem. Check out their Freelancer options to get started.


And those are our tips for happy and effective homeworking. What works for you? How do you stay sane when freelancing from home? Share your tips and join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #CreativeBoom, or fill out our survey below.

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