As a long-time freelancer, I have a pretty good handle on the mistakes that tend to bedevil independent scribes. Taking too many refrigerator breaks. Procrastinating by vacuuming the living room rug, doing the laundry, or polishing your son’s dress shoes because he might wear them some day. Accepting assignments that pay too little for an ungodly amount of work about a topic you know nothing about because you’re afraid to turn anything down.
But there’s one mistake freelancers make that many of us don’t think about—until it’s too late. And it comes down to a matter of space. Physical space, that is.
You need to assign an area in your home as your office. And that’s where you should do your work. All your work. Unfortunately, many of us don’t follow this rule. And that’s a mistake.
If you don’t follow that rule, what happens? You simply turn your entire abode into a place of work. And as a result, you never ever ever ever ever ever feel that you’re not on duty.
During my first few years as a freelancer, I actually managed to follow the rule. My office is a porch that was converted into a little room. And every morning I would enter that space, sit at my computer and get down to business. And I never worked anywhere else in the house. In fact, when I entered that room first thing in the morning I could feel my blood pressure rising because I knew I was in the work domain. Pavlov would have been proud of me.
But after I had my second child my resolve began to slip. Also, I started hiring babysitters for a shorter number of hours per day. Anyway, I found myself little by little working in non-office parts of the house. Conducting an interview while changing my son’s diaper. Reading over my notes while sitting at the kitchen table. Correcting a story while lying in bed.
It was a slippery slope. When I bought a laptop and was able to write stories and watch TV in the sunroom, that’s when I realized it had happened. I’d turned my entire house into my office. And as a result, I could feel a difference from those early days. I’d lost the ability to create a physical space in which I could leave behind at least some of my work pressures when I closed the door. Every square inch of my house became associated with outstanding homework assignments. I made stabs at resurrecting my early habits, but the cow was out of the barn.
There is a silver lining. It’s a lot more convenient to schedule an interview in the evening for, say, my blog, Not Only for Profit, because neither of us had another time in common available, and conduct it while I’m in the kitchen, boiling the water for pasta. And truly, restricting your work to one area in your home simply isn’t realistic for many of us, especially not if we have kids to attend to. You could look at it as a perk of freelancing, in fact.
I figure I’ll just have to live with it. A small price to pay, really, for all the benefits I get from freelancing. Sorry Pavlov. –Anne Field, guest contributor
Anne Field, a freelance editor, writer and blogger, has covered entrepreneurship, social enterprise and other business topics for the New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Crain’s New York Business, among many other places.