Home office

From the outside looking in, working from home looks like it would the ideal working arrangement. You don’t have to dress up in fancy clothes, you don’t have to endure the grind of rush hour and you effectively have a commute of 15 seconds. After working out of my home office for nearly eight years, I can tell you first-hand that it is a constant balancing act and the silence can be positively deafening. You are staring at the same four walls for hours on end and, more often than not, there is no one there to keep you in check. Depending on your personality and your preferences, it can be a maddening experience.

So, assuming that you don’t want to turn into Jack Nicholson from The Shining, what can you do to maintain your sanity?

Never Eat at Your Desk

There is a misconception that freelancers and other work-from-home professionals can simply work “when they want to.” However, it’s probably closer to the truth that we feel obligated to work whenever we can. Your brain can’t survive that kind of constant punishment. If you choose to have your lunch at your desk, you’ll see that computer monitor in front of you. And then, you’ll see that you received an e-mail.

Oh, I’m just responding to a single message. Oh, I’m only doing a little bit of research for this article. Oh, I’m only having a quick look through my photo gallery to find a suitable image for this project I’ve got. Oh, I’m only editing this three-hour video of an event I recently covered. It’s a terribly slippery slope and cubicle folk can just as easily get ensnared in it.

When you are taking your lunch break, take your lunch break. Go eat in the dining room. Leave work behind for that time and allow your batteries to recharge.

Create a Physical Separation

This will clearly depend on your particular living arrangements, but if you can help it, you should have not only a mental separation between your professional and personal life, but also a physical one. It’s a point that I brought up when we discussed choosing a home office location and it’s worth re-iterating.

It goes back to that same old pitfall: because I can work at any time, I feel like I should be working all the time. When you have an entirely separate space that is completely dedicated to work, you can physically walk away from it. The mental part will be more of a challenge, but at least you won’t have work physically following you throughout your home.

Schedule Your Work Hours

When you consider a more conventional office job, you are more likely to have a set schedule. You are expected to be in the office, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. There are jobs with different demands, to be sure, but when you have the complete openness and freedom that freelancing can afford, you may find that your work hours can be very inconsistent. They can be very sporadic and unpredictable… so, make them predictable.

I’m not necessarily one to adhere to the strictest of work schedules, per se, but I can certainly see the value in having set office hours. This creates another separation between what is “work time” and what is “home time.” This helps you create and enforce better rules, boundaries and limitations. Unless something is incredibly pressing, you can leave work behind for the day and genuinely enjoy your leisure time with loved ones.

Get Out of the House

When you are bound by the same four walls and staring at the same computer monitor for a significant part of your waking hours each day, your home office can start to feel less like the source of your freedom and more like a prison. You can feel trapped, as if someone locked you up and threw away the key. The good news is that you still hold that key; you just have to use it.

For my part, I try to make it a point to get outside of the house at least once a day. It could just be a casual stroll around the block or it could be a short errand to buy some groceries. The actual objective of the walk isn’t as important as the act of getting out of the house. This helps to remind you of the real world outside of the sheltered confines of your home office. There are real people out there. Go see them. Talk to them.

Working from home can afford you some flexibility and some freedom, but it can also instigate your gradual decline into hermitdom. Don’t let that happen.