Sam Brown

How to stay sane when freelancing from home

Freelancing from home can be a lonesome job fraught with a multitude of interruptions and distractions but with the right setup and a bit of discipline it can be a very enjoyable and fun environment to work in. Here are some of my top tips to help keep yourself sane and help you be the best work from home freelancers around.

The all important setup

By far the most important part of a freelancers repertoire is their setup. Studies have shown that using a single desk for working on and only working on massively improves productivity due to the mind being in the right zone at the right time. You shouldn’t eat at your work desk, play computer games, watch movies or anything that isn’t work – keep it strictly business.


Make sure you have a solid desk at a good height, a proper chair with good support and for goodness sake make sure that you are sitting comfortably. You will likely be spending the majority of your day sitting there, it is so very easy to do long term damage by sitting to high or low, with your eyes not at the right level with your monitor or having bent wrists. Take care of yourself, get your sitting position sorted.

Make sure your working environment is distraction free, turn off the house phone and doorbell if you can – cold callers are a nightmare. Just because you are at home all day does not mean you should be booking in repairs or central heating checks to be made – sure, it’s convenient but it’ll do nothing for your productivity.

Exercise, get off your ass

I quickly found out that I would spend days after days locked up inside my house rarely venturing outside. Some top tips include walking around the block before and after work, walking home in the opposite direction can have a great psychological effect likewise putting your shoes on in the morning and taking them off again in the evening. Getting dressed up for work is known to work well although I find it much more comfortable to wear casual clothes.

Regular breaks are also a must, once an hour get up and have a wonder around – averting your gaze from your screen focusing at close and long distances also helps reduce eye fatigue. I try and head to the gym several times a week to help stay fit and active, it’s all too easy to sit around and be lazy.

Structure your day

One of the big perks of working for yourself and from home is the freedom to work where you want, when you want. You must however match that with some structure that works for you, I split my day up into 2 sizeable chunks, morning and afternoon with a lengthy break for lunch in between.

I often have several projects on-going at the same time, that’s what works best for me. I split my day into two, working morning and afternoon on different projects which really helps if you get stuck with a particular design problem, moving onto a new and completely different project is beneficial and you will often come back with a fresh perspective.

Check email hourly

Checking your email every 5 or 10 minutes is a proper productivity killer, I have mine set to check once an hour which is normally when I take a short break which works nicely. That’s not to say you can’t manually check it during the hour if you are waiting for something specific. My top productivity tip? Turn off Twitter when you’re working. ;)

Increase your rates yearly

With every year that passes you become a year more experienced at what you do, just like in big corporations that offer pay rises and incentives to people that work hard you should to. Not to mention the increases in cost of living that you must account for. Your rate is not a particularly easy number to work out and it will take a fair bit of time and quoting to get right, but once you do be sure to up them every year by a fair amount.

Meet-ups and conferences

Being part of a community is a truly worthwhile thing when you are a solo freelancer working from home, there is no denying it can be lonely and getting out of the house to meet real human beings is a treat!

Refresh Edinburgh

I regularly attend Refresh Edinburgh and as many conferences as I can through-out the year meeting up with many new and old faces. These events are a great way to interact with others in our industry and is also a great source of potential new business.

Being active on social networking sites isn’t something to be scoffed at either, Twitter or forums dedicated to particular products or topics you are interested in are always full of interesting and informative people. Just make sure to manage your time on these sites as they can quickly sap a day away.

The personal project

Everyone talks about this one and I shall too, it really is super important to be working on something other than client work, be it in your spare time or as a dedicated portion of your work week. I probably spend around about 20% of my time working on several personal projects, several have been quite successful earning myself a little recurring revenue allowing me to spend this time during the working week on them.

These side projects give you a great distraction from working with clients and also allow you to try out new styles or techniques that you might not be able to use in your every day work. This could even be working on a realign of your own website or portfolio, a blog or theme for a particular CMS, even wallpapers and icons are a great way to work your magic in a no nonsense, stress free way.

2010 is shaping up to be a great year and I plan to continue working from home and enjoying my days as much as possible working with some truly great clients and on some really exciting personal projects. I wish you all the best at doing the same.

Post a link to this on Twitter ↩


Ed Henderson 5 January 2010, 05:49 #1

Sensible, common sense advice. Thank you. I knew all this, but reading it written down like this makes it more authoritative.

Ted Goas 5 January 2010, 06:49 #2

As with Ed, these are great points to see written down. I enjoyed how you explained each, as well. I’d love to hear more thoughts about increasing rates annually and how to approach this.

PS – interesting yet unorthodox comment form. Had to squint to see the fields, though my monitor at work isn’t the best.

prisca 5 January 2010, 07:05 #3

great post & good advice. Though I have to say I find structuring my day as you suggest quite difficult. When I’m in the ‘flow’ – I find it hard to stop. These are often my most productive hours as well – so this is one aspect I love about freelancing, being able to do irregular hours if I feel like it.

all the very best for 2010!

Matt Brett 5 January 2010, 08:49 #4

Great article, Sam!

I’ve been at this freelance thing a while, and I’ve already put much of what you’ve outlined into practice.

Adjusting the frequency Mail checks for new messages is a great tip, though. I normally shut it down when I’m working, but will some times have to re-open it if I need to make reference to something. At which point, new mail is checked and the distraction window is opened. Leaving the app open, but having it idle most of the time is a nice solution.

Jack Osborne 5 January 2010, 09:08 #5

Great first post for your #p52 mate.

I’ve now stopped the mail on my phone pinging me every five minutes, I’d never really thought about it much before but even hearing my iphone bleep is a distraction. I also really like the idea of splitting your days in half, all too often I find myself getting bogged down in one project.

Ryan | BrandleDesign 5 January 2010, 10:35 #6

Sounds like you have it down pretty solid! One thing I catch myself doing is getting caught up in social media applications. Twitter, Facebook, etc. Even though I’m trying to promote my business it can suck up time easily. Thanks for the tips Sam.

Wolf 5 January 2010, 11:44 #7

Solid tips. Nice writeup. I find that saying to myself I’m going to do something works best. Don’t just start working. Have a clear goal.


Cyprian 5 January 2010, 16:21 #8

I also changed my mail preferences – nice idea :-)

Solid article – I like it, because it comes straight from your experience.

Christoph Zillgens 6 January 2010, 02:00 #9

Great article, Sam!

I follow most of these tips/rules myself. The most challenging part for me is to be aware of that you are at work and not at home. Not having a separate office room makes it even more difficult.

Walking around the block as if you go to work is a really cool idea, I’ll try this, too.

Stanton 6 January 2010, 02:38 #10

Some of these tips are also useful working in a normal office/studio with other people, especially the regular breaks nad pet projects :) Nice article!

Graham 6 January 2010, 04:19 #11

A very nice article Sam!

I must say that I agree 100% and at times don’t pay attention to what is really eating away at my time i.e twitter etc.

Thanks for sharing what works for you.

Matt Auckland 6 January 2010, 08:08 #12

I totally agree with “Meet-ups and conferences” although in my area, Southampton, there doesn’t seem to be many, if any at all. As a freelance (of 5 years) developer, I.T Consultant and now developing my own start-up I’m really keen to get out there and meet folks in the industry.

Great post.

Kevin Holesh 6 January 2010, 17:02 #13

Love it, Sam.

One of the best things I’ve been consciously trying to do is to not jump on the computer first thing in the morning, even though I’m excited to get to work.

I’ve been taking the time to work out, shower and make a decent breakfast with some tea while I read the paper (or Instapaper if you will). I like it so far because it keeps me from staring into the eerily glowing monitor from the time I wake up to when I fall asleep.

Jake Noble 6 January 2010, 17:08 #14

Great article Sam, Thanks. Some very useful tips in there.

Phil Jones 7 January 2010, 04:08 #15

Great post,

Im thinking of investing in a decent office chair – i think your post has just motivated me to make the purchase.

I’m also going to consider moving my PS3 away from my work desk – defiantly a productivity killer!

Chad Engle 9 January 2010, 17:41 #16

The mail tip is awesome! Great idea…. Another tip that plays into getting off your ass is get a dog. Then you have to walk it, play with it etc. It keeps you company and is someone you can talk to “this crazy client” about. If I didn’t have mine I would’ve gone insane by now. Nice article Sam.

designi1 12 January 2010, 06:46 #17

@Phil Jones ROFL its better…gaming takes all your gold time to make art :D design whatever… work!!! :D

Really nice article and good instructions / tips to stay mind health at home :D

Lewis King 13 January 2010, 04:38 #18

Brilliant article again Sam, I too have put the mail settings into action, I’ll shortly be changing it on my phone too! Thanks!

Dave 15 January 2010, 03:59 #19

Don’t forget – instant messaging clients.. Always set them to busy so the pinging doesn’t drive you mad. Or setup a new IM account just containing work related contacts.

Dawn Baird 18 January 2010, 14:00 #20

This is great advice. I especially like the dedicated workspace and exercise recommendations. Both work really well for me. Sitting at the work desk makes me feel productive before I event get started. Adding a few personal touches, just like you would at an employer’s workplace works for me too. Like personal photos or the odd card from a friend. And, of course, my favourite mug, for tea. Pens and good quality notebooks are important too, if you’re a written lists person.

Sean 19 January 2010, 09:03 #21

Great advise as i am trying to go freelance myself, and seeing you are from Edinburgh makes me more confident. Thanks

Damian Herrington 20 January 2010, 08:07 #22

Great article! The information given is pretty much what I try to adopt. Working on a number of different client or personal projects during the morning and afternoon works great I find as it prevents you getting burned out with the same design or code you’ve been working on, especially if your stuck. You move onto something else and sub-consciously your more likely to solve the problem.

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Sam Brown co-founded Iterate, and was previously VP of Design at Foursquare. Based in NYC.