Are you one of a growing number of home-based creative workers? Home-based or tele-working employment continues to rise in the US and around the world. Since 2005 the number of home-based employees in the US rose 73%, compared to a 4.3% increase in overall workplace growth. Since 2011, over a million workers have joined the independent workforce, with an additional 27% growth expected in the next five years.
Habits of a Home-Based Creative Worker
Whether an independent freelancer or working for an established company, the number of creative professionals is likely to rise at an even higher rate than the overall average. By habit and practice, creatives tend to work at a different pace, energy, and hours than the traditional employee. Lifestyle freedom, flexibility, and choices are big parts of what makes us creative. However, the same unstructured environment can wreak havoc on our work if unchecked. Matt Inman, curator of The Oatmeal, makes this point in his wonderfully crude and honest comic.
1. Set a Routine
In her book Bird by Bird, writer Anne Lamott gives this advice to her students. “Sit down at approximately the same time each day… train your unconscious to kick in for creativity.” The point is creative professionals who get the most out of their day still follow a routine. They are practicing the habits which condition their brains to be successful. Developer Nick Jonas puts the situation rather bluntly, “It’s unrealistic to think you can only work when feeling inspired. Sometimes the mood won’t strike and you won’t get anything done!”
What you can do
Pick a routine for a week and stick to it. You have the freedom to make tweaks along the way, but commit to the first week. Making the commitment will make it easier to resist distractions. Include time for exercise, errands, and relationships that matter. You’ll find it easier to say no to something distracting in the moment when you know there is time scheduled for it later in the day.
2. Post Your Daily Goals
There is tremendous power in writing down your goals, in fact people who write their goals down have a 50% higher achievement rate than people who do not. Author Henriette Anne Klauser states that writing down your goals help provide clarity for what you intend to accomplish for the day. Also, putting pen to paper allows you to filter through opportunities and choices that are presented during the day.
What you can do
Two helpful options are commonly used. One, take 5-10 minutes at the end of the day to write down the next day’s goals. Two, take 5-10 minutes at the beginning of the day to be intentional in writing down the day’s goals. This helps you avoid what Peter Bregman calls a buffet mindset - “What I want to do in the moment is different than what I want to have done at the end of the day.” So take time in the morning to be clear about what you want to have accomplished at the end of the day, and that will help provide clarity in those distracting moments.
3. Set Boundaries and Communicate
This is especially important if you live with another person, i.e. a spouse, partner, or roommate. Poor communication inevitably leads to tension, since people have different ideas of how the time should be spent. You as the worker, believe you need to get a certain amount of work done each day, and being at home shouldn’t impact your workload. Without clear boundaries and communication, fights will likely ensue.
What you can do
John Saddington, a serial entrepreneur, involves his wife with setting a daily routine and boundaries. Before 7:00 am, John works on anything he wants. From 7:00-8:30 am, he helps gets his daughters ready for the day, and takes them to school. The day continues to progress with clear boundaries and expectations for when is work time and when is family time. After 7:00 pm, John lets his wife know if he needs to finish some work, but asks if she’s ok with it. Clear boundaries, clear communication, happy home.
4. Constrain Your Access
Social media can be a helpful tool in the marketing and promotion of your business, but it can also be very distracting. Email, YouTube, and Reddit just pile on the different ways we can be pulled away from our work. I have found that while the internet is essential as writer and content creator, it’s not essential to be on 100% of the time. I can write just as easily with no connection, then re-connect when I need to add links, research, and publish.
What you can do
If possible, the easiest and cheapest fix is to unplug the internet. If you’re unable to do that or constant access is essential for your work, a couple of programs can help keep you on track. Rescue Time is a tracking system that shows how much time you are spending on certain sites and programs. You can block access to a group of sites or programs to “focus” on your work for a specified amount of time.
Anti-Social is another tool that will block access to social sites for a time, and the only way to get around the block is to restart your computer. Anti-Social truthfully says “We’ve found it a lot harder to justify restarting our computer simply because we want to spend time on Twitter.”
5. Be Accountable
Finally, have an accountability partner. This may be your spouse or roommate, a co-worker, or friend. Clients obviously hold you accountable with deadlines, and it’s helpful to build in more deadlines than the end of the project. Showing work on a regular basis will help you avoid procrastination and cramming for the ship date, which probably won’t result in your best work.
What you can do
If an accountability partner doesn’t work, or they’re too forgiving of you, you need to find someone who doesn’t care about you, but the work! Maneesh Sethi famously hired a woman off CraigsList to slap him whenever he began to spend time on Facebook, Reddit, etc. For just $8/hr, you too can probably find someone willing to punch you in the arm or slap you in the face.
Another tactic is to add stakes, usually financial. If you don’t write one page of content each day, you pay $25. Stickk is a service that serves as middleman for the financial stakes. Stickk has shown that giving to anti-charities, i.e. a cause you disagree with, significantly boosts results and success! Just imagine, Yankee fans donating to the Red Sox, Democrats to the Republican fund, or pro-lifers to pro-choice groups. For me, I would probably choose the Florida State Seminoles Athletic Boosters (I graduated from the University of Florida)!
What’s at Stake
The freedom of being a home-based creative can transform your work. It can also be a huge strain your self-control and relationships. Having “all day” to complete a task can mean it never gets done. By not setting boundaries on work time and relational time, you may severely damage an important relationship. One of the top struggle of home-based creative work is that you are always at work!
Working at home is a high risk-reward pursuit. I hope these five tips give you some perspective and information, whether you are a long-time remote worker, or just getting started. Also, I know I don’t have all the answers! If you’re one of a growing number of people doing home-based creative work, please share your own expertise and tips in the comments!
Let’s do work that matters, and build meaningful relationships.