Freelance homeworking: a survivor’s guide – self-care

Recently I talked about setting boundaries and organising your time. This week is about looking after your physical and mental well-being to stay in tip top shape at home.

‘Commute’ to work
One challenging aspect of homeworking is injecting structure into your day. When you work at a company, your day is proscribed: get up, go to work, come home. When you work from home, your commute is 30 seconds. It’s so tempting to get up, stay in your pyjamas and eat cereal at your desk.

Before you know it, it’s well past lunch, you’ve not seen any daylight and haven’t even cleaned your teeth!

Recently I was discussing the homeworking lifestyle with a dietician, who gave me a helpful analogy. She told me that her brother had gone freelance and was finding it tough being at home day in, day out. He missed the routine of going to work, and was feeling increasingly low, beginning to suffer from cabin fever.

The way he dealt with this was to create his own commute. Rather then falling out of bed each day straight to his desk, he would get up, shower, dress and go for a walk round the block. He’d pick up a coffee from his favourite café and return home, ready to start the day. His mood improved, and he no longer felt constrained by his situation.

Again, it’s a question of experimenting to find what works for you. Some people get a dog (or offer to walk someone else’s), which forces them to get out of the house regularly; others stop at lunch or a convenient point in their daily schedule to take some exercise. Some do a little light gardening or run errands. Others still organise lunches and coffee to catch up with friends, network or do business.

Make sure to take regular breaks

Whatever you do, make sure you get out of the house at some point every day, and take regular breaks. A short walk always helps to blow away the cobwebs, and making time to see people wards off isolation. It’ll keep your mind and body refreshed.

Don’t take the tablets
No, I’m not talking about medication, but overexposure to technology. (I freely admit that I’m as guilty of this as anyone else!)

Recently I spent one working day creating a PowerPoint presentation for a workshop, then wrote 1,000 words in a cafe, then came home to make dinner, rehearsing the presentation while it was cooking, editing the slides as I went along. After dinner I spent more than an hour on my tablet with general web surfing. By then it was well past 10pm and, added up, I’d spent an awful long time staring at a screen that day.

We can underestimate just how much time we spend chained to technology, because it’s so easily accessible. The issue is that we aren’t giving our brains a rest: blue light syndrome is now recognised as responsible for delayed or poor sleep, and perpetual communication has us anxiously checking emails late at night.

One thing I insist on is switching off my email in the evenings. This goes back to setting boundaries: the work day is over. I don’t want to see that red notification light flashing on my mobile phone during dinner or downtime.

The whole point of freelancing is to make it work for you, which means creating a positive work–life balance.

Protect your posture
If you’ve been working in an organisation with lovely occupational health facilities like workstation assessments, you may find working from home quite a transition. If you spend long days at a computer, it’s essential to sort out your workspace to support your body.

I know this can be difficult, but if you work at your kitchen table, or on your sofa with a lap tray, or in another kind of space that isn’t right for you, stop and sort out a proper desk and chair. The desk should be an appropriate height for your body, and the chair should support your back effectively.

If you use a laptop, buy a riser and separate keyboard – better still, use a desktop computer and get a riser for the monitor so it’s positioned properly at head height.

Poor posture strains your well-being

Poor posture puts a strain on your musculoskeletal system and general well-being: it can cause headaches, stiffness and tiredness.

You may not be feeling it now, but sore shoulders, back pain and stiff hands can creep up unawares: before you know it, your doctor is diagnosing RSI and you’re shelling out for physiotherapy because NHS waiting lists for this kind of treatment are as long as the proverbial arm.

Postural neglect can morph into more serious problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome, so prevention is most definitely better than cure.

Your workspace doesn’t have to be big, but it does have to be right for you. Arrange it properly at the outset and your body will stay peachy.

In Part 3 we’ll be dealing with the basics – food and sleep – and how they play a vital role in keeping you in great shape at home.

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