Beyond social distancing and increased hand-washing, one “new normal” for many people across the country is working from home.
It’s a move that can be both a delight and challenging adjustment. Buffer’s annual report, The State of Remote Work, which seeks to understand remote workers, found that 98 percent of people, in all fields, would like the ability to work remotely at least part of the time and would consider it an added job benefit. But, the study also noted that many remote workers struggle with loneliness, anxiety, and an inability to unplug. At present, roughly 3.6 percent of Americans work remotely at least half time, though 62 percent of employees could work for home at least part time.
We asked a collection of successful freelance writers and authors, people whose livelihoods depend on being able to work from home daily, to clue us in on how they make the most of their time and keep their sanity. Their advice largely fell into the following six categories:
Set a (realistic) routine
While working from home might tempt more languid days and laissez-faire attitudes, many successful freelancers suggest planning your day out, but don’t be too rigid.
“I’m a morning person, so I’m at my desk by 8:30 AM,” Alexander said. “I tend to work in 30 minute chunks followed by a 10 minute break. The afternoons are not as productive for me so I allocate that time for activities that don’t use as much brain power like admin, following up invoices, etc. Often you’re more productive working remotely than you are if you’re in an office, so don’t be afraid to finish up early or take a longer break if you feel mentally fatigued.”
Krystin Arneson, who has written for numerous glossy magazine and online publications during her five years as a freelance writer, said she’s found that she’s had the most success in terms of productivity when she’s divided her day into alternating time blocks.
“Rotating work time with exercise, cooking, even reading, can help me stay focused, be more productive, make sure I’m taking care of me, and not getting lost in a news hole.”
Try to limit distractions
Alexander Webb, a freelancer who has written for The New York Times and National Geographic, said he tries to spend as much time as possible with his WiFi turned off and his phone buried under couch pillows.
“I use a 30 minute hourglass to track time without looking at my phone — which always leads to Instagram,” Webb said.
Lindy Alexander also recommends setting up a dedicated space. Hers is in a spare bedroom, where she’s able to keep a desk (and the door closed to distractions) but any “office” space will do (ie: not your bed or couch).
Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein, a freelancer who covers economics for myriad national publications, said beyond having a spot that’s solely for work (his is a corner of his bedroom), he finds it helpful to work from a desktop computer.
“I can’t take the computer everywhere, and so when I am at my desk, I kind of have to be working,” he said. He also said having zero push notifications and having a personal mandate not to check Twitter until after 4 p.m. also keeps him on track.
But do schedule in breaks
Kaiser-Schatzlein said one of the biggest lessons he’s learned while working from home, or just working for yourself in general, is the need to break up the day.
“A day without breaks is an unstrung drum,” Kaiser-Schatzlein said. “For me, this has meant setting a schedule where the work is broken up into little 20-40 min pieces. When you work in an office, you take breaks and chat with coworkers and go eat lunch. All great things that can make your job pleasant. When you don’t have these distractions you have to simulate them in order to compress the time you spend actually doing things.”
“It’s not necessarily an obvious thing, but one of the more valuable lessons I learned about freelancing and working from home is the importance of giving my brain a break every once in a while,” Carroll said. “For me, this came when I left my home office one afternoon, headed to a movie theater a mile away, and sat alone and watched Fast 7. My brain felt recharged once I was finished; getting to lose myself in something thoroughly immersive on screen did a really great job of helping a lot of things I’d had on my mind fall neatly into place. Dominic Toretto has done a lot of things; making me a more productive writer might not be quite as cool as driving a car out of one skyscraper and into another, but it’s still incredibly helpful.”
Get out of your pajamas
While it’s tempting to lounge around in comfy clothes, Ameson also suggested putting proper work attire on.
“As much as I hate to do it, putting on a bra and actual pants helps me — it’s like if I’m too comfortable, my brain goes into weekend mode and won’t let me get anything done,” she said.
Look after yourself
“This may sound basic, but put meals and drinking water in your schedule, like any other appointment,” said Jen A. Miller, author of Notes from a Hired Pen: How I Made $135,000 in One Year of Freelancing. “In your new environment, you may forget because not much changes. Right now especially, you need to eat and stay hydrated.”
Getting some social interaction is also important, especially if you’re feeling isolated or lonely. Just chatting with colleagues or friends over FaceTime or Zoom can go a long way in recharging social batteries and maintaining one’s sanity. Kate Gardiner, CEO of Grey Horse communications, also suggested getting a pet, even if it’s just a fish. She added, “Lack of human connections and unexpected behavior is enough to drive a person crazy.”
Set work boundaries
Angela Serratore, who does writing and editing from home for publications ranging from Smithsonian to Buzzfeed, says she wishes she’d learned sooner after transitioning from an office job to home-based gigs that getting ready and commuting count as part of your workday.
“It’s OK (and probably even smart) to resist turning ‘extra time’ into ‘extra work time,’” Serratore said. “Whether taking an extra half an hour to drink coffee and look out the window in the morning or knocking off at 4:40 to read for an hour before starting dinner, I make sure to use the time I save working at home for myself.”