The Freelancer’s Dilemma – How to pick the perfect workspace

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"To live a creative life we must lose our fear of being wrong" – Joseph Chilton Pearce

They say that the world is your oyster, and with the introduction of increasingly powerful laptops, ubiquitous wifi connection and ever-advancing editing software, it means for freelance photographers the whole world is our office now too. And while at first this seems like additional freedom, it actually brings yet another challenge. Now we’re not confined to an office cubicle or a dark room to edit last weekend’s wedding photos, the question we ask now is: "where do I work?".

 

Is the perfect workspace a home office?

 

 

Home

Home is an obvious place to start. Perhaps the most notorious image of a freelancer involves stumbling two metres from your bed to your desk dressed in your pyjamas. As you know this romantic image of freelance work quickly wears off because at some point you actually have to get down to work. And that remains the same whether you’re dressed in pyjamas or not.

Pros:

  • Peace – Working from home usually provides a peaceful and comfortable environment. Whether you have a desk tucked away in a bedroom, or a home-office dedicated just to work, typically it’ll be quiet and away from other people.
  • No closing time – This means that you can come and go as you please throughout the day. In between picking up the kids, working your part-time job and buying groceries you can keep coming back to your work.
  • Equipment and desk space – At home you’re not confined to the small table in a café. You can spread out and make as much mess as you like. You also don’t have to worry about leaving any equipment at home.

Cons:

  • No closing time – While this has its benefits, it also comes at a price. No closing time adds fuel to procrastination. With the awareness that we have all day to do a piece of work, it’s no surprise that it will often take us all day to do it.
  • Distractions – They are everywhere. Perhaps in the form of a needy partner, a barking dog, or a sea of electronics all wanting to be played with. Without some discipline it doesn’t take long to cave in to at least one of these demands for your attention.

 

If working at home, try to keep your workspace separate from your living space. Ideally this would mean a separate room, but even having a desk designated for just work will help. Our entire lives are basically a series of habits; from the way you brush your teeth in the morning, to the route you take to the grocery shop. In the same way, you want to build a habit that prepares you for work. This means having a space and a ritual associated with only working, and keeping it separate from the space associated with Netflix, household chores and cat memes.

 

Is the perfect workspace a busy coffee shop environment?

 

The Coffee Shop

The coffee shop is also typically crawling with freelancers and “solopreneurs”. Why? Because working at home can get lonely. You can feel a little isolated from the real world when it’s just you and your cat for company. The coffee shop provides the integration with humanity that you crave.

Pros:

  • Coffee shop buzz – In most busy coffee shops there’s a certain buzz. A cacophony of caffeinated conversation. This buzz provides the perfect stimulating background noise for working, and some people thrive under it.
  • Community – If the coffee shop is popular with other freelancers, it can also act as the watering hole where you can come and meet other similar people and feel a little less alone in your pursuit of solo work.
  • Somewhere to commute to – This might seem like a negative at first, but there’s something about simply getting outside and that helps with both focus and energy levels. Especially when the sun is out, the walk or drive to the coffee shop can be just the dose of Vitamin D that you need.

Cons:

  • Limited workspace – The little round tables in coffee shops are great for placing a cup of coffee, and even a phone when you’re out for coffee with a friend, but not always so great to work from. It means somehow precariously balancing your laptop, any paper work, your camera, and of course most importantly your coffee.
  • Distractions – While looking around the coffee shop and making up stories about each of its customers might be great a great way to pass the time, it doesn’t really help you get your work done. In addition, cute waiters/waitresses, crying babies, and obnoxious customers, mean that this little work haven soon becomes a minefield of distractions.

 

The Coffee Shop Procrastination Killer

Procrastination is basically serial “I’ll do it later” syndrome. However, we can use this knowledge as its treatment too. Next time you go to the coffee shop to work, make sure you leave one thing behind. Bring your laptop, your camera, and all the things you’ll need to do your work, but leave behind your laptop charger.

After sitting down at your table with your laptop open and a cup of steaming coffee in front of you, the clock immediately starts ticking. There’s no chance to dawdle, or check Facebook, or do all these other things we tend to do before we even start working. You have a limited amount of time to finish your tasks before your battery runs out. So best get to work…

 

Libraries offer a good balance between working away from home and a quiet space to think

 

Libraries

Consider libraries as the bridge between working from home and working in a coffee shop. They share a similar peacefulness to home does, but they are integrated with the real-world. They provide a kind of muted imitation of the bustle of a coffee shop.

Pros:

  • Relatively peaceful – They’re usually quiet, and are designed to be a distraction free environment.
  • Surrounded by others reading/working – Everybody else in a library is usually there with the intention of reading or working. Whether it’s consciously or unconsciously, this helps act as a stimulant to do the same.

Cons:

  • You have to be quiet – No singing along to the music you’re listening, or talking to yourself as you work, not unless you want to be met with the scathing look of the librarian.
  • No coffee – Perhaps the biggest drawback of the library, for me at least, is that often they don’t have facilities to make coffee. Or at least good coffee. This is a nightmare for us freelancers who use coffee as a fuel for our creativity.

 

Of course, there are other options to work from too. Co-working spaces are growing increasingly common and will sit as somewhere between the coffee shop and the library. They can be a great place to meet fellow freelancers or solopreneurs and can lead to all sorts of collaborations or friendships.

 

 

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, there are no right or wrong answers when searching for a place to work from. There is no secret workspace hack which makes you super-productive. The key is simply to notice when you do your best work.

Think back to the last time you were in that elusive “zone” that all us creatives are trying to pursue. What was your environment like? What was your mindset like? What time of day was it?

How can you repeat this every time you sit down to work?

 

You can follow the tips of others, you can read as many productivity books as you want, but in the end it comes down to simply noticing how you work best and building an environment that allows for that.

Perhaps you thrive with the buzz of the coffee shop and the whirring of the espresso machine. Perhaps you do your best work sprawled out on the floor in the spare room. Or perhaps you need a drawer full of rotting apples like German playwright Friedrich von Schiller.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re working on last weekend’s wedding shoot, a cover photo for a high school band, or a passion project, the world needs you to keep creating.

And it’s your responsibility to figure out how you do it best.

 

Where's your ideal workspace? Tweet us and let us know where's your place of choosing when you need to get down to business.

 
 
Written by Tom Norman
'Tom Norman is a writer and YouTuber.
He drinks a lot of coffee, and thinks a lot.
The result is his website coffeeandcuriosity.co.
Expect stories about humans, life and occasionally coffee.'

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