The Homeworker's Guide to Happiness

“I wish I worked from home. It sounds like a great skive.”

“Do you spend all day watching telly in your kecks then?”

“Some of us need to get up and put a suit on. Some of us have real jobs.”

Since I started working for myself, I’ve heard it all. Freelance life is all slobbing around, lunchtime cocktails and the odd bit of typing. At least that’s what the 9-5ers say. Over the past three years, I’ve lost count of the amount of people who think self-employment is one long holiday. But I still remember the one person who got it right.

“I couldn’t work from home. I wouldn’t know when to stop.”

There’s a reason those of us who work from home are more prone to stress, depression and anxiety. It’s because spending all day on your own, working every hour you can, and worrying about where the next invoice is going to come from is bloody hard work.

Nothing I’m going to write here’s going to make the work any less bloody difficult. But it might help you be a bit happier. Because there are a few things anyone who works from home can do to make life that little bit less stressful.

Find a Space

If someone had said “freelance life” to me while I worked in an office, I’d instantly have imagined a laptop, a coffee shop, maybe the patio. Perhaps even lazing on the couch while getting the admin done.

There’s a problem with working anywhere though. It’s that when you can work anywhere, anywhere can be work.

And it’s really, really hard to relax and switch off when you’re at work.

If you get into the habit of working in the kitchen, or the garden, or the front room, all of these places become your workplace. When you’re sitting on the couch on a Saturday afternoon, you’ll start to wonder – “shouldn’t I be working?”

Don’t let work take over your life. Find a place that you don’t use for relaxing or socialising, and turn that into your workspace.

(Personal branding optional)

When you’re there, you’re at work.

When you’re not, you’re not.

Set a Schedule

Now you’ve found space, it’s time to talk about time.

When you’re relying on your own graft and drive to put food on the table, pressure starts to mount up. You work longer and longer hours.

Fuck the work/life balance. Work is life.

That way, my friend, madness lies.

If you want to be happy, it’s time for some tough love. Set some office hours and stick to them. You work 9am to 4pm, or 10pm to 6pm, or whatever time suits you. Just find a number of hours suitable to handle your usual workload, and build a schedule around it.

Then try and stick to that schedule at least three quarters at the time.

Some days you’ll be busy. You’ll need to work late. So do.

But make sure you balance that out. Nobody’s going to tell you to use up your 20 days’ annual leave, so it’s up to you to make sure that three late nights are balanced by three lunchtime finishes, or three lie-ins, or three days off.

Go For a Walk (Insane Beagle Optional)

Here’s a confession.

I did the first two things on this list on day one as a freelancer. I had a home office, and 9-5 office hours.

And I’d start work the second my wife left the house at 8am and finish whenever she insisted I come downstairs to eat.

Even with a dedicated work space, there’s no real cut-off to mark the start or end of the day. Say what you want for an 18 mile round trip to Manchester city centre Monday to Friday, it split the working day up in a way that opening the office door doesn’t.

Then this whinging bitch showed up in my life.

Now my work day has definite start and end points.

Work begins after I’ve been dragged to the local golf course to sniff the rabbit holes, and work ends just before I get dragged down the canal towpath to bark at the ducks.

Between walks is work time. Before and after, that’s my time.

Fortunately for your boot leather and your wallet, buying a dog is optional. But a quick once round the block is great for helping you switch from work mode to relaxation mode.

And it helps with creativity too.

Make Connections

Here’s the thing nobody tells you about moving from an office environment to working from home.

It can be incredibly lonely. No after-work drinks, no fantasy football leagues, no half-whispered conversations about nepotism and incompetence.

Just you. You, your computer, and maybe a radio.

Sure, you can send email after email to Lauren Laverne on 6Music. She might even read out one or two. But none of that is a stand-in for human connection.

So get out there and make some connections. Finding other people in your niche to meet up with once a month (I can recommend DMA Copy Club and semi-regular #CopywritersUnite meet-ups) will let you share your experiences with like-minded people, while making time for friends and relatives in other niches will help you get away from work every now and then.

And if you miss ranting and raving about the utter hopelessness of so-called professionals who don’t deserve their wages, there’s always Saturday afternoons at the football.

Switch Off

Finally, most importantly, learn how to switch off.

If your downtime is filled with industry events, industry blogs, industry podcasts and industry forums, are you really switching off?

Or are you just taking your work home with you.

Whether it’s by running, wrestling golf balls out of a beagle’s mouth, or swearing at rubbish footballers, find some way of focusing your attention and energy on something that isn’t related to work at all.

Because once you’re able to take the home part of home-working just as seriously as the work part, you’ll find yourself far happier, healthier and more productive.

Now turn this off and go for a walk. You can share it on Facebook and Twitter when you get home.

1 Comment comments for "The Homeworker’s Guide to Happiness"

  1. craig wright at 12:04 pm

    Good points. Personally, I find the loneliness a big bonus, but then I’ve always been a bit of a loner. There’s definitely an issue of home becoming the workplace and not being able to switch off – took me years to sort that out.
    Another point worth making is that you shouldn’t beat yourself up if there are times where there’s not much work on. If you become freelance to have a better work-life balance, what’s the point if you feel guilty when you’re working less? I’m starting to break away from that line of thinking and learning to enjoy the time off instead of worrying my life away.

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