My Best Professional Decision of the Year
Most people dream of leaving the office behind and working from home. As a freelancer, I have the opportunity to work from anywhere. But this year I decided to start renting an office. And I believe it has had a greater impact on my work and quality of life than anything else I’ve done. Here’s why:
I decided working from my couch in my professional attire (sweatpants) was not a good idea for me. Even though an office would create an additional financial burden I wasn’t sure I could afford, I decided the move was worth it for a few specific reasons. I wanted to create a separation of work life and home life. I wanted to have a space that was specifically for creativity and work. I wanted to be around other people in my industry, not only for networking, but to see how others operate and to learn from them. And I wanted to force myself into greater motivation and efficiency.
Let’s go into each one a little bit more.
I intentionally raised the stakes.
The rent on the space was higher than I would ideally like, $400 per month. Not bad. But when you are accustomed to business expenses being limited to $10 per week for a bag of coffee and the once-a-year purchase of professional sweatpants, the additional expenses were a significant change. This meant I was paying for rent on two places, a home and an office. Suddenly $1,000 per month was going out the door just for rent. While increasing expenses is not necessarily a good idea. My reasons were tactical. I was trying to create psychological leverage against the lazy version of myself.
This meant that my “work hours” spent browsing YouTube and Twitter, hours not spent actively working on work, were suddenly costing me a lot more money. And frankly, I couldn’t afford to pay rent on two places if my productivity didn’t increase to account for the additional expenses. By increasing my “skin in the game,” I had to be more proactive in generating income than when my consequences were lower. I believe that this has forced me to be more efficient, more discerning in how I am spending my hours, and more motivated to create.
Not just any office, a strategic office.
I found a good opportunity to share a studio office with another filmmaker/photographer in town, James Q Martin. He’s been in the same work for at least a decade longer than me, I thought being around him could provide an opportunity to learn from someone wiser and more experienced than myself. Plus, I live in Flagstaff, AZ, a place that’s outside the creative hotbeds of the outdoor industry. Most people who do adventure photography and film live in places like Boulder, Seattle, or Jackson Hole. Being outside of those locations can put you at a disadvantage. I wanted to spend more time with someone who was already well connected. Also, when I first met Q to interview him for an article I wrote for Gear Junkie, we clicked. Being around someone fun was a double bonus.
Work-life balance. Creating separation.
Anybody who has worked from home knows the temptation to do all sorts of other things that are not work; i.e. do laundry, cook a meal, watch Netflix in between tasks, take a nap on that bed that is right next to your desk, ever calling to you like a duvet-covered Ringwraith.
When I worked from home, my work hours tended to stretch from my moments of waking; checking my emails while still bleary-eyed, to just before I closed my laptop at 11 pm to go to sleep. I continually found ways to stretch 8 hours of work over the course of a 16-hour day. There was no beginning and no end to my work days, no delineation between work-life and any other aspect of my life. And I believe my creativity and production suffered because of it.
Having an office meant that I was working during the hours I spent in my office, and anything that didn’t get done when I left the office at night would be left until the following day. Emails received after hours would be attended to the following day. Articles written, photos edited, videos crafted, those were tasks reserved for my office. Coincidentally (but not surprisingly) the quality of my work improved when my work hours were condensed to actual work hours.
Isolation is bad for creativity.
Anyone who works from home knows the social isolation one feels. All your work is done by yourself. By working from home, I would string together several days in a row where I didn’t leave home at all. Never leaving my house was bad for my quality of life, my sun tan (no ginger comments please), and my sanity.
In my experience, I felt less creative when I had limited access to others who could critique my work or offer insight. I now have an office-mate who also works in the creative field. I can see what he is working on and how he is working on his projects. I can also easily have him view my work and critique it without it being a chore for him to compose an email to answer a question. He can simply walk over to my desk and say, “This sucks. That sucks. But this is pretty good.”
Removing myself from an isolating environment and inserting myself into a more creative and inspiring environment helped me to become more creative (big surprise) and also put me in a position to naturally glean wisdom and knowhow from a knowledgeable source.
If you work from home, in what ways does it help you or hinder you? Is the cost of an office space worth it? How can you be more strategic and efficient? Anyone else find moving into an office greatly helped them? Comment below if you have thoughts!