Here are ten tips and techniques for flourishing in your “Work From Home” (WFH) environment, and achieving your creative goals in the process.
For many of us, working from home is a dream scenario. With the COVID-19 crisis, however, that dream has quickly become reality, albeit in the strangest of circumstances. As many of us can attest, transitioning to working remotely after being immersed in the buzz of a busy office can be surprisingly difficult.
As a freelance designer, I’ve worked from home for the best part of five years. Over that time, I’ve experienced bouts of successful productivity, as well as periods of frustrating creative blocks. Gradually I came to understand how I could maximize my productivity and boost my creativity, all while working from my spare room.
Here, we explore some tried-and-true tips and techniques for succeeding in your WFH environment.
1. Create a Space that Fosters Productivity
When I first started working from home, I couldn’t shake the phrase “I work from home” out of my head. At first, I felt lucky to be able to work from the comfort of my flat, avoiding the drudgery of a daily commute. However, this smugness was quickly replaced with a creeping feeling of amateurishness. It’s very easy to assume that work done at home is somehow less professional and less important than work done in a communal office environment. Of course, this isn’t the case at all, as these 8 Famous Creatives Who Worked from Home would testify to. Work is work, wherever it’s done.
To make your WFH experience feel as professional and productive as possible, it’s important to recognize that your workspace is separate from your domestic spaces — whether physically or visually. This space isn’t your spare bedroom, kitchen table, or living room (even if, in reality, it is). From now on, this is your office, studio, or study.
Not all of us are lucky enough to have a separate room to set aside as an office. If you’re working from the kitchen table, it’s important that you “split” your workspace from the rest of the room. Positioning your desk in front of a window and avoiding a view of the kitchen sink will help focus your mind and prevent it from drifting towards a desire to wash dishes. Books, files, or storage units are helpful tools for creating partitions in open-plan areas.
Even if your office is a section of the communal dining table, treat it as sacred and reserve it completely for work. During your chosen working hours (see below), you should feel able to share many of the same luxuries as you would at a communal office. That means nobody in the household should disturb you while you’re working (except in emergencies or for coffee runs). Decorate your work space with the objects, equipment, and art that make you feel inspired and creative. Most importantly, you should never, EVER, be tempted to procrastinate through housework.
2. Establish a Work and Rest Routine That’s Productive for You
While many hoped technology would have a positive effect on our work-life balance, in fact, the opposite has happened. Our dependent relationship on our smartphones and omnipresent Wi-Fi allow us to access emails and team WhatsApp groups at any time of the day and night, allowing work to increasingly seep into the time we should be using to recharge and relax.
For many who work from home, it can be even more difficult to separate work from our personal lives. We don’t benefit from the separation of leaving the office at five, or sectioning out the working day with commutes and lunch breaks.
This lack of separation between work and life is a common barrier to productivity, largely because periods of rest are exceptionally important for stimulating creativity. Silicon Valley consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang explains in his book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, that it’s vital to “rest and recharge,” advising to “have deliberate rest periods scheduled into your diary and use this time on trying a new activity, such as painting or learning a language.”
If you find that the first hour of the day is your least productive, don’t sit idle at your desk. Instead, use that time to do something purely creative and nourishing for your soul — such as meditation, exercise, or reading. Allow yourself to have a complete lunch break away from your desk, and don’t be tempted to allow working late to become a regular habit. If you aim to prioritize the quality of your rest time, the quality of your work will markedly improve. I guarantee it.
Another tip to improve the productivity of your work routine — disable push notifications for email and other apps. Reserve an hour at the start and end of the day to read and respond to emails, instead.
3. Set Your Goals for Work and Creative Development
In the absence of a manager over your shoulder or regular face-to-face meetings, goal-setting is an important and useful strategy for helping you feel motivated and productive with your work.
Setting goals for a team helps to increase motivation, aspiration for success, and also allows employees to assess their productivity compared to their peers. This team-boosting strategy can achieve similar outcomes for the WFH crowd, as well. Even if you’re working for yourself.
Successful goal-setting is about combining short and long-term objectives to create structure and results over a set time period.
So, for example, you might want to grow your client base within a month. The long-term goal is to grow the base by “X” number of clients. The short-term goals will work towards achieving that on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis. For example, start by contacting a defined number of potential clients in a given day or week. Or, try improving the SEO of your website in installments over a week-long period.
Setting goals can also be useful for boosting your creative development outside of work. Have you always wanted to learn a language, perfect your photography skills, or write a cookbook? Now is the time to set yourself an (achievable) goal that not only makes the most of your free time, but develops creative techniques you can bring to your job, as well.
4. Find Your WFH Buddies
One of the common complaints about working from home is that it’s easy to feel socially and professionally isolated. This becomes especially true if you’re working for yourself rather than as part of a remote-working team.
Of course, you won’t be alone in feeling like this. In 2019, there were fifty-seven million freelancers working in the US economy, many of whom WFH. For creatives, it’s particularly important to be able to touch base with others in your industry. The interaction can help you to feel motivated, inspired, and help foster professional development.
There are a wide range of online sites, apps, and tools for networking with other creative professionals. Dribbble is the Twitter equivalent for designers, allowing you to network, share your work, and comment on other user’s projects. The community is friendly and open, while also allowing you to benefit from (hopefully!) constructive feedback on your design work. Behance also provides a similar service. You can host a portfolio of your work and share your projects with other designers.
Typography geek? The free-to-download app Fontli invites you to share your type discoveries with a network of fellow font enthusiasts.
5. Use Webinars to Network and Inspire
As many companies rapidly adjust to a completely digitized way of working and reaching their customers, the webinar has really come into its own. All you have to do is sign up and tune in at the designated time to access lectures, talks, or demos from experts in your field (or in a field you’ve always wanted to explore). Not only do webinars add structure to your working routine, they’re often completely free to watch.
For creative folk, there’s a fantastic range of webinars that cover a wide range of design-related topics. Adobe provides a large selection of webinar videos covering topics including software tutorials, design trends, and business advice. The Adobe Live series also allows you to watch and interact with pro creatives in action over your lunch hour. You can follow how they approach digital painting, video editing, graphic design, and a wide range of other design skills.
For creatives looking to improve their business’ presence online, Pinterest provides archived and upcoming webinars advising on how to use Pinterest ads, create video content for the platform, and access particular audiences.
6. Learn from the Greats
We all need our heroes. There’s also nothing more inspiring than learning from the creative process — and often the creative struggles — of established experts.
The lives of plenty of great designers have been made into biopics. Below are a few of my favorites. Pick your field of interest and prepare to get seriously inspired:
- Illustration and art: Big Eyes (2014) and Frida (2002)
- Photography: Bill Cunningham: New York (2010)
- Industrial design: Eames: The Architect & the Painter (2011)
- Fashion design: McQueen (2018) and Coco Before Chanel (2009)
Through the online teaching platform Masterclass, you can learn the creative process of some of the best and most established creatives in the world, across a broad range of fields. With Annie Leibovitz teaching photography, Frank Gehry teaching design and architecture, and Marc Jacobs teaching fashion design, it’s well worth a look.
7. Exercise Your Body and Mind
Yep, you’ve heard it a thousand times before. Exercise makes you feel better.
Going one step further, regular exercise has been scientifically proven to improve creativity. Cognitive psychologist Professor Lorenza Colzato of Leiden University in the Netherlands found that those who exercised four times a week were able to think more creatively than those with a more sedentary lifestyle.
To really take advantage of those creativity-boosting endorphins, try to make physical movement a part of your daily routine. Fifteen minutes of yoga, dance, or jogging before you start working will not only keep you healthy but keep you inspired and productive.
While physical activity is key to maintaining high creativity levels, taking time to exercise your mind can also benefit your work process. In particular, meditation is connected with improved productivity and focus, with many successful designers and CEOs (perhaps most famously among them Steve Jobs and Bill Gates) having practiced meditation before the start of the working day.
So, if you want a quick and scientifically-proven way to improve your creativity throughout the day, it pays to set aside time for exercise and meditation. Combine with a nature-infused setting (see below) and you’re onto a winner.
8. Listen to Familiar Music
According to science, your potential for creativity is very much influenced by the type of music you listen to. While you may think switching up your usual genre will have dramatic effects on your productivity and creativity, the majority of scientific research actually points to the value of the familiar.
Researchers have long claimed that listening to classical music is particularly good for improving efficiency, a phenomenon termed “The Mozart Effect.” However, if you’re not a classical music fan, the result could be reversed. A 2010 study actually showed that a rendition of Blur’s “Country House” actually outperformed Mozart in terms of improving cognitive test results among listeners.
The scientists advise to avoid rock (too jarring), pop (not same-y), and unfamiliar music. So, for a productive day, delete these genres from your playlist and keep your favorite songs. However, there’s no harm in adding a little jazz to your lineup, a genre also linked with improved creativity and cognitive simulation.
9. Get Cooking!
Cooking is a highly creative act, with the cooking process mimicking the creative process you practice in your work. Creativity feeds creativity (no pun intended), and allowing yourself to participate in a relaxing creative activity during your downtime, such as cooking, will not only result in a tasty meal but will also develop your creative skills.
To really optimize the creativity-boosting power of a cookery session, set aside the cookbooks. Creating an imaginative dish from the ingredients you have available to you helps develop problem-solving skills and allows you to be purely creative, without any damaging results (aside from a possibly inedible dish or messy kitchen!).
The act of taking the time to cook, rather than ordering takeout, also helps you to optimize your rest time. Cooking might not feel restful for everyone, but it can be a fantastic way of decompressing and switching off from the working day.
10. Connect with Nature in Some Form
If you’re lucky enough to have a little patch of the outdoors at home — such as a garden or a balcony — make use of it. Taking as much time as possible to connect with and immerse yourself in nature is beneficial not only for your mental well being, but also to boost your creativity.
The link between nature and creativity has been demonstrated scientifically in a number of studies. A 2017 study led by the University of Kansas found that young people who backpacked for three days showed higher creativity and cognitive abilities.
While our ability to head off into the wilderness might be merely a pipe dream during isolation, we can all foster (or even simulate) nature at home, providing us with many of the creativity-boosting benefits of exposure to flora and fauna. Invest in trees and plants to populate your outdoor space, position indoor plants around your workspace, or — in absence of an outdoor area — look to technology to simulate nature. Ask Alexa to “ask Bird Song for a song stream” to create a nature-themed soundscape at home. Or, try the Wildfulness app to immerse yourself in soothing landscapes and nature sounds.
Cover image via Visual Generation.
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