When I first started my business, I lived in a studio apartment in DC. I naively thought running my own business meant I could do anything anytime I wanted. Distractions abounded. I could see everything that needed to be done around the house. I had always worked for someone else – and someone else's timetable – and I wasn't used to managing my workday.
It took me a good six months before I finally settled into a routine. For me, this meant setting a regular schedule of when I would be in the office (at the time, I was also subcontracting for a large corporate client who kept NYC office hours).
For many designers who work at home, it can be hard to define your day and workspace – but you have to set it up for what works for you.
These days, I tend to keep a fairly regular schedule – I've learned what works best for me. And as a lifelong nightowl, I know I tend to do my best design work at night and coding and writing during the day.
Here are a few tips for creating a successful work environment:
1. Create a separate work area from your living space
When my husband and I renovated our 1916 house, we purpose built a loft-area for my workspace. This physical separation makes it much easier for me to separate my work from my personal life.
My office is all white – and I try (usually in vain) to keep the desktop clutter free. Clutter isn't conducive to clean design. I've converted all of my paper sticky notes to digital notes in Evernote. I do keep design ideas I pull from magazines and ads either on a cork board or in a neat pile when I need a bit of inspiration.
While I can't personally work in coffee shops or other noisy atmospheres, it works for others. I know I need my specific setup (and I don't enjoy designing on a laptop – I need a large screen to do fine detail work).
2. Get out of the house and connect with others
As designers, we live behind computers – and it can become very easy to live a hermetic life. I make a point to get out of the house at least a few times a week. I often meet with other designers for lunch or visit the museum next door for inspiration (and good coffee!). Don't know any other local designers? Join your local AIGA chapter, find local meetup groups of other designers and developers and meetup outside of your office.
3. Take regular breaks
When I was a software developer, another programmer made it a point to get up and move around every hour. I try to mimic that behavior. And as I told one designer this week – sometimes I even attack the laundry by folding five pieces at time. Stuck on a design dilemma? Take a walk, do a handstand, pet the dog and come back to the screen with a fresh eye.
4. Consider a work-sharing space
Where I live there's a few such spaces – search for "co-working." Often you can rent space for a few hours or days per month as needed. If you do need to meet with clients, this provides a more professional atmosphere than your local Starbucks – and more safety than meeting someone at your home. While most of my clients aren't local, I will meet local clients at the museum next door.
5. Block out time in your calendar for YOUR work
I designate a block of time Monday and Thursday mornings to devote to my business. I might write newsletters, work on my own site or product ideas. This gives me breathing space and allows me to plan my week.
6. Start a physical and/or mental practice
One of the reasons I started practicing yoga was to combat the effects of sitting for hours upon hours in less-than-ideal chairs. Getting on my mat gets me out of my head and off the screen. I also love rock climbing, running and barre classes – anything that forces me to focus solely on the activity at hand. Find something that gives you a break mentally and challenges you physically.
7. Take a least one day off a week from your devices
I know my iphone is perpetually stuck to my hand – but I try to take one full day off from the internet and my business each week. You mentally need the break so you can come back revived and fresh.