The biggest shock for me when I dived feet first into the deep end of freelancing was not the feast or famine moments, the numerous rejections, or even the thought of doing my own tax returns. No, it was the sense of loneliness and isolation that comes with being your own one man band operation. It didn’t hit me straight away as I was too excited about the grand adventure ahead and with work already to be getting on with who had time to worry about such silly things? Yet slowly and insidiously it crept up on me and before long working from home became difficult and cabin fever had set in. For some this is not a problem depending on the nature of your work, but even then it can leave you feeling a bit on edge. That’s what comes from being used to working in an office for over 20 years around a veritable crowd of colourful personalities running, shouting, laughing, and generally checking their watches for when it’s home time.
I can honestly say the shock left me feeling less than my chipper self for someone who goes on about being comfortable in his own company. Anyway over the months I have found myself a lifeline of options, and since it is a harsh lonely life in the freelance world I am going to share with you 5 ways to keep the temperatures of cabin fever from rising, and the fear of loneliness at bay.
GET OUT OF THE HOUSE
I am starting with this as it is the most obvious option and it is really for those of you who do not have that separate space from their home (such as a shed, or garage) that can be transformed into a complete work space. Get out!!!! That’s it really; government guidelines cite exercise as essential travel so dust off that bike you bought yourself in the new year and put in a few laps around the neighbourhood; alternative order yourself a pair of running shoes or walking boots and get trotting. No matter the exercise regimen it’s important to break up the day by unshackling yourself from the desk and use some free daylight time to dust off the cobwebs with a brisk walk or that endorphin laden runner’s high. Get out, stretch, and decompress as spending 40 hours a week chained to the desk can affect your mental health.
Sometimes playing music or having the TV/radio on in the background isn’t enough to distract from the walls caving in on you. If going out isn’t an option for you for whatever reason, there is a way you can have the hustle and bustle of a busy environment in the comfort of your home. There are an assortment of websites and apps available for free that provide ambient background noise designed to relax you and fuel your productivity, or even creativity. My favourite is Coffitivity, a website (also a free Android and IOS app) designed by a team of entrepreneurs from Richmond, Virginia initially as a research project to help them work better. It offers three audio samples from a busy coffee shop; there’s ‘Morning Murmur’ and ‘Lunchtime Lounge’ but also ‘University Undertones’ should you hanker for your study years. Apparently studies show that the chatter and clutter of busy environments like a coffee shop provide the sort of distraction that allows creativity to flow. Although it is free, you do have to pay a premium if you want to experience ‘Texas Teahouse’ or ‘Brazil Bistro.’ Give it a try and if you want to have some fun with it, you can ease in your music playlist in sync to convey the sense that you’re in a relaxing live music venue. The distraction is so subtle that you barely notice the time pass, and before you know it your day is done.
The one element of working in an office I miss is colleagues, engaging with people all in the same situation (usually miserable and wondering why 4.55 in the afternoon seems to last forever). If you’re freelancing then chances are you’re living the dream but doesn’t feel like it because you’re on your own with no one to share worries, ask for help. The confines of lockdown working from home amplifies this even more Meetup is a hub for any community be it social or business related to connect people with similar interests and then….. well….. meet up (clue is in the name).
Personally I have found this to be the most useful and have joined four local groups; a monthly freelancers’ lunch gathering for people to network and share advice on things like tax returns (yes I am really dreading this), a local media gathering to connect with other creatives (including writers), professional digital media group — a social gathering of freelance professionals, and a weekly coffee lovers group. The last one might seem random however when you go to these gatherings you never who you will end up talking to, a potential client or again person in the same situation who can offer help; and in case you’ve forgotten that’s how you make friends and influence people.
The app and site have a built-in calendar and notice board so you can manage your meetups effectively. If you can’t find a group for you (and I’d be surprised if you couldn’t) then for a monthly subscription you can set up your own meetups. Since social distancing and lockdown chain us to our home offices video apps such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet, allow us to connect with people in the same boat, socialise, convert, even leave the connection open with the mic on mute and work away.
If you are a freelancer or an employee working from home, and you find this blog post useful I would love to hear your stories on how it has helped or your thoughts on it generally, so please do get in touch. Do you have your own coping mechanism or maybe working from home day in day out is not an issue, I’d still like to hear from you.