“Get up and go to work!”

A phrase spoken thousands of times every day all over the world. But what about those of us who ‘go to work’ without ever actually going anywhere? Is working alone in a home office the same as working with co-workers in a designated office space? Here’s a hint: No, it’s not.

For many years, freelance professional writers have worked in their own space on their own time. And now with the kinds technology available, it’s even easier. Still, it’s not as easy for some as for others. The freedom to work independently at home seems a wonderful thing, but there are some important considerations the ‘self-employed’ writer just starting out must think about.

To begin with, you need a set plan for where you’ll do your work, when your work day begins, how long your work day is, and how you’ll avoid distractions and stay focused on your work. Planning, organisation and a high degree of self-discipline are vital when you’re your own boss. So, if that’s your plan, here are some tips that can help you be more efficient and productive in the comfort of your own home.

Tip One: Avoid ‘the comfort of your own home.’
If you have a set space that is your ‘office’ then make it an office. Organise it to function as an office. Set it up the same way every day. It can be more difficult if you must share a space with other members of your family. But you can make the area that’s ‘your’ space easy to recognise – with the understanding that while you’re ‘at work’ no one else can intrude on your office space.

One way to make the space yours is to set the specific time you’ll be there. If no one else needs the space for three or four hours, make that your work time. Everyone agrees that during that time, you are to be left alone to work. You might need to find two different spaces where you’ll work at different times of the day. The important thing isn’t the space you’re in. What’s important is that while you’re in your work space, you have it all to yourself.

Even if you do your work at a table that others will need to use later, make it your office for the time you’re there. Clear away everything that isn’t directly related to your business. And get others to agree, as nearly as possible, that no one else works in the room while you’re ‘at work.’ Also, to be fair to others, set specific times when you’ll be using the space. And move out when others need to be there. The arrangements can be fixed or flexible so long as each person has enough private time.

Tip Two: Dress for success.
Or, at least, dress. Tip Two is directed primarily at the new freelancer. This point has been debated for many years. Some people believe it makes no difference how you’re dressed when you’re at home. Indeed, many successful people work in very casual clothes. Their view is that you can’t be seen, so what difference does it make how you’re dressed?
The other strong point of view is based purely on human psychology. I’m a member of this second group.

I believe that it’s important for you to know when you’re at work. An excellent way to do that is the ‘dress for the office.’ That doesn’t mean ‘business attire.’ No suit and tie or an ‘office’ sari or heels are called for, or whatever is normal for the office – unless you’re going there for a meeting. But, in your home office, you should be dressed to receive visitors – even if none show up.

Another important psychological element is to always be in your ‘work head-space’ when you’re at work. Follow a regular ‘getting ready for work’ routine. Get up at a regular time. Bathe, shave, do your hair, or whatever is a normal routine to get ready for work. Then dress in your ‘work clothes,’ – even if they’re casual. It can have a significant psychological effect to go through the routine of getting ready for work. It focuses your mind on the fact that you have a job, and you’re going to do it – even if you don’t go anywhere. It says to you, “OK, I’m now at work, and I need to focus on my profession.”

Tip Three: Know when you’re at work.
Along with having a set office space and dressing for work, it’s important to run your business like a business. Set regular hours so you and your clients know when ‘the writer is in.’ Not everyone is wired to work from nine-to-five. Some prefer five-to-nine or midnight ’til morn.

As a freelancer, you can set your own hours, but there are two important caveats. One is to have set hours that you work every working day – whether that’s three, five, or seven days a week. The other is to set hours when your clients know they can reach you – and when they can’t. And keep in mind that while your preferred schedule may be from dusk until dawn, most local people and businesses are open during daylight hours. They’ll expect you to be available during those hours.

Then, begin your work day close to the same time every day. Work for your set number of hours – even if there’s no specific job you’re working on. Every office has business-related work that wants taking care of. Do your filing. Do some research. Read something to stay abreast of the profession. The boss (you) might not mind if you slip away for an hour or two, but your clients (who pay you) might. When you’re at work, work.

In the same vein, take time out and time off. If you work an eight- or ten-hour day, take regular breaks. Stop for tea or a short walk to stretch your legs. Then, when your workday is done, stop. You must have a life away from your work when you can refresh yourself mentally and physically.

Tip Four: Keep your communications professional.
Have your business communication systems separate from your personal systems. Have your own business identity. Answer your business calls differently from personal calls. Respond to your business emails from your business address. Your business phone shouldn’t be your home phone. Having someone in the family answer the phone and then shout down the hall that you’re ‘wanted on the phone’ doesn’t establish the level of professionalism you need.

Even without having two landlines, cell phones make it easy to keep your numbers separate. This is true also of email or social media. It’s too easy today to have multiple email addresses to ever use your private address for business. However, this will help you keep the mental distinction between being home and being at work. The same thinking applies to all forms of communication. Keep the email you use for business distinct from the personal one. Don’t mix Linkedin with Facebook unless you have a separate Facebook page for business.

Whether you have a designated office in your home, or you work in the lounge, the loft, or a corner of your bedroom, business is business. Approach it with the same professional discipline you would if you worked in an onsite office.

Oh, one more thing; don’t try to call in sick. That never works.