Working from Home: Staying Productive as a Freelancer or Contractor

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Work from Home Productivity

When your home is your office it can feel like you’re caught up in the same activity day after day. Weekends can blur with weekdays. Family life and work life can also become fuzzy.

There’s no doubt that working from home provides immense flexibility and a high-quality way of life, but only when managed properly. If you’ve never had to work from home or if you just want to learn how to do it better, this post is for you.

Your goal should be the highest amount of productivity with the lowest amount of undercutting your actual livelihood. I’ll cover some actionable tips to help freelancers and contractors do great work and live a better life from the same location.

The Ups & Downs Of Home Life

There is a definite boost in productivity that can happen by working from home. But it’s also a lot easier to get distracted or not “feel” like working on some days.

Generally speaking, the freelance lifestyle comes with ups and downs just like working from an office. By working from home you save on a commute, but it can also be difficult to get moving in the morning. By working from home you can handle errands and laundry, but it’s easy to get distracted by other tasks and wander away from work.

The key to staying on task is discipline and control over your actions. Working from home requires a routine and a distinct separation of home life from work life.

Set aside time to spend time with your family or significant other. But also set aside time to get work done. Working from anywhere on a laptop can be so freeing, but you need to do work and not browse Twitter.

You may begin to notice that almost everything about working from home is a double-edged sword. There are potential benefits and potential problems, all of which are controlled based on your schedule and discipline.

These are the ups and downs of the work-from-home lifestyle. Learn to master your sense of focus and rigid self-discipline and you’ll find a great balance.

Get Into a Schedule

Many people avoid schedules like the plague. But as humans, we all tend to fall into schedules in some way or another.

Having a schedule helps you plan work and stay on task. With repetition, this becomes a subconscious action where you just instinctively perform your schedule without thinking. Sometimes it’s nice to deviate, but a routine will help you get more done with less effort.

You can do this in a number of ways by changing the outcome of a task and keeping a synchronized workflow. Meditation also provides many benefits that lead to mindful behaviors to help you stay on task and recognize your daily thought patterns.

And remember that you don’t need to follow anyone else’s schedule. That’s the beauty of working from home!

Some freelancers prefer to scatter days off throughout the week. Others work on a set schedule of 7 days a week, but some freelancers set limits of only working 4 days a week. Since you’re your own boss, you can set your own rules and do whatever you want. As long as work gets done and money comes in you can live however you please.

One suggestion I’ll make is trying to actually get dressed each day. I’ve done this myself and it does affect my self-image and willingness to actually do work.

Hanging out in pajamas is fun but the concept of enclothed cognition adds merit to at least donning jeans, if not some nice slacks while working from home.

Distractions vs. Focus

The computer is often the #1 tool for freelancers. This allows incredible things to be accomplished, but it’s also the tool used to browse Facebook and other distractions.

The best way to mitigate distracting behaviors is to stick with your schedule. Don’t allow yourself to waste time during certain hours. For example, set 12 PM-3 PM as your primary focus hours and only take quick breaks to stretch or get something to drink.

If you really have trouble with focus try the pomodoro technique. It may not work for everyone but from what I’ve seen, it’s highly lauded as a method of just getting stuff done.

And if possible it’s worth finding a room in the house made just for work. That way the atmosphere promotes focus.

This also helps with separating work/home life and gives you a space that’s all your own to just get work done. However I know all about small apartments, and I know that not everyone has spacious living quarters with an extra room for a temp office.

But even a designated area of the house works great. You just need somewhere that, for a few hours each workday, becomes your focus area.

If you’re able to find a good work-life balance then everything else will sort itself out.

Breaks Are Mandatory

Be sure to get your eyes off the screen every so often. Eye strain is somewhat common for digital freelancers and it’s important to remember there’s life outside the monitor!

Set aside time for stretching your neck, back, legs, and especially fingers/wrists if you’re typing a lot. Take a meditation break or go outside for a walk.

Also if you’re working from home alone all day the loneliness can creep up unannounced. Try to break your routine every so often and get out of the house. Go for lunch or do some shopping. If you’re a chatty person strike up a conversation with your waiter or store clerk.

This will make working alone a whole lot easier and keep you from feeling trapped in the same four walls week after week.

Put bluntly it doesn’t matter what you do on a break, as long as you step away from the computer every so often to spend a bit of time refreshing your thoughts.

Related reading: 15 Tips for a More Productive Workday

Adopt Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is a recognition of our own behaviors and thought patterns. Over time we all develop bad habits or less-productive habits. But some of us recognize these patterns more than others, and some choose to fix them rather than ignore them.

These patterns can only be reversed by first recognizing they exist and taking action to stop ourselves from repeating them.

If you get caught up in day-to-day routines you’ll never recognize these habits. Self-awareness makes you cognizant of every part of your daily schedule; the parts that work great, and the unproductive hours you waste on Reddit.

In order to change habits, you need to actively choose another behavior. When a behavior is already routine this can be hard; especially in a familiar environment like your house.

But self-awareness is the first step and in my opinion the best way to achieve self-awareness is through mindful meditation.

I was taught to meditate like this: you sit anywhere you like and breathe deep. Focus on the air coming in & out through your nose, and focus on your abdomen expanding & contracting at the same time. Don’t think any thoughts. Just focus on being and breathing.

Naturally, thoughts will occur. But it’s your job to cease thinking and focus on the air movement while you breathe.

Over time focusing becomes easier and you’ll achieve a greater sense of present-moment awareness. This may be off-putting to some who have never tried it, but mindfulness comes from meditation, and through mindfulness(ie, the opposite of mindlessness) you achieve greater self-awareness.

Check out this handy guide for learning how to break bad habits and stay mindful of your behavior.

Wrap-up & Further Reading

The work-from-home lifestyle isn’t possible with every profession. But in the sphere of design, development, and web marketing, this home-bound work schedule is becoming much more normal.

Freelancers and contractors have many benefits and most would agree that the benefits outweigh the negatives. But it’s always about how you behave and what you make of any situation. These tips will get you started but you’ll always be the one to decide your own schedule, your work patterns, and how you want to live your life.

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