Last year, I quit my job to become a freelance writer. I had spent the previous decade teaching teenagers with learning disabilities at a large San Francisco public high school and while I loved the work, I was itching to set off on my own and pursue a creative profession.
Yes, I quit teaching to become a writer. I suppose I did it for the fame and fortune.
While it may not have been the most prudent financial move (at least in the immediate sense), I’ve never been happier than I am today. But making the transition from working in a big building surrounded by thousands of people — all regulated by a series of bells — to hanging out by myself all day took some doing.
I’m an extrovert, so changing gears was hard. I’d often feel cagey and stir-crazy by the time my girlfriend (with whom I share an apartment) got home, and sometimes I’d find myself in an existential slump by midday, staring out my window, wondering what I’d done with my life.
What follows are a few things I learned to do in order to stave off general angst while promoting a productive, self-driven work environment. Working on your own is pretty sweet if you can find your groove, and I hope some of this helps you, especially if you’re staring at the walls and second-guessing your independence.
1) Develop a routine and stick to it.
One great thing about working from home is that you can set your own hours. This means if you aren’t naturally an early riser, you don’t need to be. That said, it’s important that you don’t just go about your day willy-nilly. Set a time to wake up each day and develop a sequence of events that you stick to from the time you wake up to the moment you reach your workspace to the time you knock off for the day.
In fact, studies have shown that daily routines might promote more meaningful lives. If you have errands to run, plan them out beforehand and treat them as a well-deserved excuse to get out of the house. Also, make it a point to keep a clean house — it’s good for you on many different levels. If you’re not careful it’s easy to slip into afternoon existentialism unless you build structure into your day.
2) Find excuses to leave the house and remain a part of society.
This is a huge one for me, given my aforementioned personality type. But even if you aren’t a “people person,” spending long stints in relative isolation has been shown to have negative psychological and physical consequences. Also, the simple act of getting some sun on your face promotes production of Vitamin D and increased levels of serotonin, and the fact that exercise (even just a little) promotes a healthier brain is far from groundbreaking news. Furthermore, whenever I feel stuck ON something I’m working on, I’ve found that even a quick turn around the block seems to loosen up my noggin and can help me develop a new perspective.
Some believe that the exposure to unfamiliar ideas and experiences brings about creativity, and I agree. But this doesn’t mean you need to do something wildly different each day. A simple trip to the grocery store for a kombucha can open you up to a new line of reasoning, a short jaunt to the coffee shop can jostle a new idea from a stubborn mind. While you’re at it, strike up a conversation with the guy at the checkout counter (yes, be that person). You might learn something new.
3) Don’t adhere to a rigid rubric for success each day.
An invaluable lesson I learned while teaching kids with learning differences is that you need to be flexible when it comes to determining whether or not a particular class was “successful.” Oftentimes, you might not see measurable growth for a long time, but even if a few students bombed a quiz, that day was never a total wash.
In the same way, every day you spend in your home office might not feel like a home-run, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not somehow building toward success in the future. These days, it’s easy to compare one’s achievements to those of others. In fact, in some cases, I find that checking out the greenness of my neighbor’s lawn to be motivating.
But it’s much more important to keep in mind that your individual path to success is different from anyone else’s, and that some days are simply going to be more measurably productive than others. In the world of the freelancer, failure is inevitable. How you prepare for it and what you learn from it is what’s most important.