Surviving working from home


When you're self employed there's a real mystery around where/how you work. All I'll say is that for me it's been a 7+ year work in progress and it's regularly changing. It depends on the project I'm working on. And when you love the work you do, it’s easy to make any situation work.

My current break down usually involves 2-3 days working from home, with a walk or trip to the gym to break up my day. (Yes, sometimes I’m in my PJs for more hours of the day than not, but I also plan more meetings now to help me get up, out and moving). About once a week I work from a co-working space or client office. And often I'll have a tour (or two) each week which gets me out. Meetings also change how I work, but the more I work from home, the more I enjoy getting out. That being said, it still involves being selective with your time.

If you'd asked me this same question a few months ago I would have had a different answer. I was working from a client’s office at least 3 days a week (and as an independent contractor, it meant I didn’t always stay the whole day). It may be the people I'm working for, but I find most workplaces in Paris are quickly running out of space, due to the initial lack of it, as well as teams growing. Every time a contract ends, I rethink how I'm working best. I also pick up new tips I can apply to my working style every time I work around others.

Creating a personal workspace

In every apartment (regardless how SMALL) I've had my "spot" where I work. In the first apartment there was only one possible place to work, and maybe two places in the next apartments. I've often been a kitchen table worker, dating back to high school. But in my current place it happens less (however, of course I revisited my table the day I published this post!).

Despite being in the “biggest” apartment I've lived in Paris, for a long time my spot was a place on my couch, which I can assure you, my body hated. It wasn't until the last few months that I really found myself working from home more, so I really focused on creating a desk nook that I really enjoy. I bought the same IKEA lamp that I used in a workshop I loved, I’m surrounded by pictures, and my things, and always have paper and pens nearby (that’s how the messy magic happens).

The simple act of getting a 2nd external monitor that I could connect my computer to not only gave me more screen space (great when you always have a million tabs open and you can't remember what you were doing), but also it gave me an excuse to actually work from my desk more. Working from a desk sounds simple enough, but it's a habit I really had to work towards. Even now, I never spend a full day in the same place. (My couch isn’t too lonely ;) ).

I like to spread out when I work. Whenever I work elsewhere in Paris I joke that I have my “turtle pack” – my backpack with computer, cords, notebook, blank sheets of paper, pens, and whatever I need with me. It’s a little ritual when I set up shop at the table I’m working from. It’s funny—working from a open space start up, you could always tell which desk was mine, even though I technically wasn’t an employee. Mine always had the most books that I’d carry back and forth!

Some people manage to keep everything tidy using the latest and greatest software and digital tools; I prefer giving myself permission to get messy and move things around because a lot of the time what I'm working on is around an idea that’s not fully formed. Sometimes I just need to write down thoughts as I think of them. Once ideas become clearer, I can take them another step to get more organized. One step at a time.

I think that's why I enjoy working from client offices or co-working spaces—it gives me a place to camp out, with people around, but also can stay focused in my bubble. Headphones and the Spotify “Maximum Concentration” playlist have helped me a lot. Coffitivity is another site I used in my early days to have coffee shop sounds at home.

I regularly experiment with working from cafés and hotel lobbies, but I don’t trust leaving my stuff around as much. Which is hard when you want to stay hydrated, but also go to the bathroom. (Confession: I’m super paranoid about my stuff getting stolen in Paris; I’m far more trusting in other cities.) I feel better staying somewhere for awhile when it’s more spacious, rather than taking away business from a local joint.

Often I prefer to go work from a café with just a notebook and pen (I also write “real” letters to friends!). A couple years ago when I really needed a shift in what I was working on, I’d have a date with myself once a week (usually Thursday mornings) at a local coffee shop where I’d take the time to jot down ideas and work on something for myself. I have to say, it has taken years to get so working on my own projects to be a priority. (Now I really do see the returns, even if the initial pay off isn’t so obvious.)

Creating boundaries

In the early days of my business I was working ALL THE TIME. I had the mindset that if I wasn't, then I was doing it all wrong. That was the worst mindset, but you live and learn. As much as possible, I try to keep "normal" working hours and avoid working on weekends, except for an occasional tour.

Now that I've started my morning practice my work day starts much earlier than it used to, but it also means I've accomplished a lot by 9am, which sets my day off to the right foot. It also means come afternoon I may give myself a bigger break depending on how I'm feeling.

When it comes to lunch, I try to keep it simple. Anytime I'm out (which is often) I'll pick up something to go, or eat in. (Warning: this habit can get expensive.) I try to limit lunch meetings, as I find in Paris it's hard to do anything that is less than 2 hours. I inevitably enjoy myself, but feel a bit of guilt for not getting back to something that needs to get done. Instead I find coffee meetings easier, and they involve stuffing less food in your mouth.

When it comes to meetings overall, I'm very selective about taking them on. I avoid double booking my day. And make sure I have space between to "digest" between the two. However, I will say when I was transitioning between projects, I made connecting with people a priority. It was less about networking, and more about reconnecting. When I do have a meeting in the city, I try to walk there as much as possible, especially as I work from home more and more.

People often tell me they're surprised how far I travel for my co-working space. Personally, I don't find 30 minutes horrible, which is the average time it takes me to get anywhere in Paris. I enjoy a little commute because it allows me to take in a podcast episode. I think it's important (and inspiring) to change my environment. Also, it's funny that on days where I work from La Defense (the business district), there are so many high rises, it makes me feel like I've traveled to London for the day. (Speaking of which, working on trains is one of my favorite ways to work—you're moving, while sitting still, and actually have leg room! And sometimes even an outlet.)

Usually the workday ends around 6 or 7pm for me, and I’m quite good at not working late night in general (except for this post, which I’m trying to do on top of a current heavy client load). Evenings may involve an event, happy hour, dinner, movie, gym, or chilling at home with Netflix. It’s highly entertaining to realize how chatty I am on certain days when I do get out and haven’t had much human interaction (beyond Twitter)!

My new love of going to bed early is often thwarted by real life. But getting to bed early means I get to read a book. I often only get through a few pages, but over time that really adds up. It's also meant that I've become a voracious reader in the past couple years. I’ve learned a lot, and it’s pushed my work (and curiosity) forward leaps and bounds. No phone in bed is another rule which makes this easier to do. (It helps that I have horrible phone service in my bedroom!).

Then I get up the next day (with my sunrise alarm clock), head straight to my desk to write, and repeat. However, even with structure, no day is every the same. But that's the way I like it. It keeps me on my toes, and life never gets boring. I will say I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what adding a bit more structure and a routine has done for me, and for business. If anything it helps me work less, and work smarter.

Ok, your turn! Where do you work? How do you work? What are the changes that you've made to help your working style? Share it all in the comments, where questions are welcome too :)

You may also enjoy my PAV post on networking, co-working, and crafting in Paris. I also recommend the Letters from a Hopeful Creative episode on making working from home more enjoyable. I listened to it after I drafted this post, and felt very much on the same page. As always, it’s so helpful to hear different perspectives on what works for everyone’s business. Everyone is different so don’t try to be someone you’re not.

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