A guest post by Nicola Hasted

By becoming a freelancer we chase the dream of escaping the shackles of the typical 9-5 desk job only to discover the reality is that we have ended up with a non-typical 9-5 at a less than ideal desk. The freedom to work from wherever you want can quickly become having nowhere suitable to work. By having an effective place to work at home you can eliminate any unnecessary distractions and discomforts that can inhibit productivity. By combining a positive environment and adopting healthy habits we can become more effective in our work lives. Here’s how:

A healthy workstation

When an employee works from home, it is their employer’s responsibility to carry out a risk assessment to ensure the home workspace is fit for purpose. Who here has afforded themselves one of these as a freelancer? It is our responsibility to look after our work environment as no one else is going to. So let’s looks at some ways of improving our domicile workstation:

Workstation Ergonomics

The ideal seated position has knees slightly below hip-level, elbows creating a right-angle when hands are on the keyboard and the top of the screen is at eye-level as this graphic from ptandme.com shows. Making these changes to your workstation doesn’t have to be expensive. Office equipment is often pricey so think outside of the box – or put your feet on one. As I’m writing this, my footrest is a “Playdoh Kitchen” box: my husband’s screen stand is a yoga block. Whatever you choose to use, just ensure its safe, stable and repeatable and achieves the desired position. Other things to consider is natural light and ventilation.

Hot-desk in your own home

So you’ve pimped your workstation but why to stick to just one? If you’re a parent, it could be convenient to have a workstation upstairs and one downstairs. This gives you the flexibility to work in close proximity to your children or escape them. This is also a good solution to help keep your working position varied.

Your dream desk

If you’re fortunate to have a dedicated work space in the form of a study or garden office, why not make it a truly individual place? Pinterest is choc-full of ideas for creating inspirational work spaces. Maybe even theme it to fit your niche to help get you “in the zone” for when that new blog post idea is eluding you.

De-clutter

Who said “Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see you house catch fire”? Once you’ve made your workstation(s) fit-for-purpose with a shabby-chic paint job and put an inspirational cat poster on the wall don’t ruin it all with clutter. You may wish to question if you have too much stuff if you can’t find your notebook among your back catalogue of Top Gear magazines, your mouse has less space to operate than a mouse or – as I used to – peer over the top of a sewing machine to see your computer screen. Keep it simple – if you don’t need it to work you don’t need it (well, on your desk at least).

Addicted to tablets

By merit of their increasing usage and greater portability over laptops, tablets are potentially more troublesome than we realise. If anything, they’re worse than the laptop as we don’t associate them with working and often adopt truly terrible postures when using them slouched on the sofa or lying down in bed. Ergonomicsblog.co.uk has some tips on healthier tablet use including:

·         Using a separate keyboard for extended periods of typing

·         Keeping the touchscreen clean

·         Varying your position every 15-30 mins

An active freelancer

If you’ve made some improvements to your workstation but it still isn’t ideal, regular breaks and activity sessions will help combat any strains you might endure whilst getting that assignment finished. Regular screen breaks and opportunities to be active should be incorporated into the routine any desk job. Here are some ways of staying healthier when working at home:

Don’t sit!

Try a standing desk like a laptop station from IKEA or if you’re short on floor space how about a wall-mounted foldaway desk like this one from MADE.com. Sitting in a chair is an unnatural position as we evolved before chairs were invented. Due to the lack of sofas, our ancestors instead chose to squat or just stand. But the shift from sitting to standing might not happen overnight: the change in posture will engage different muscle groups and use more energy so easing yourself into this new approach to desk work might be a better idea than going chair cold-turkey.

Move

If your favourite song comes on the radio, get up and dance (no one’s watching, after all); use the toilet on a different floor of your house or perhaps get yourself an activity tracker that alerts you if you’ve been inactive for too long like this Band 2 Pro by Huawei. Regular breaks and changes of position trump having the perfect workstation setup any day of the week.

Work less, achieve more

There are plenty of time-management guides for freelancers out there but no one can maintain long stretches of focus. There is a small but growing trend in companies adopting a five-hour work day to achieve a shorter but more productive working day. Some studies suggest even that is too long. Typically, most people can concentrate on one task for between 20 minutes and two hours. Using this to our advantage means we can be tied to our screens for less time but achieve a better work-rate. Concentrated short-bursts of work followed by a break – and not feeling guilty about it.

Let’s get physio

Check out the most famous physiotherapists on the internet (in their opinion), Bob and Brad for some excellent stretches and exercises to combat the poor posture associated with screen-use including smartphones and tablets (Brad is an advocate of the variable height desk btw). Some people watch funny cat videos. I watch Bob and Brad.

Easy access to bad food

The temptation to snack on unhealthy food items can be too much. If you have total control over what’s in your fridge, pre-empt that temptation by limiting the food types you want to avoid by not buying them in the first place. If this isn’t an option, you could try allocating yourself snacks at the start of the day – an apple, some dried fruit and a packet of unsalted nuts. Maybe a tasty yoghurt – and piling them up in front of you. Knowing these are yours to enjoy can help avoid the temptation to forage for less-healthy options in the kitchen cupboards.

Having an optimised home workstation free from distraction and gluttony isn’t going to research that blog for you or proof-read a three-thousand word essay but it might make your job of drafting you next pitch a little more comfortable. But as with most things in life, your happiness is in your hands. Adopting salubrious working habits at home can lead to a more productive, healthier and happier you.