Working from home can be equally the most liberating and most suffocating experience in the world. Liberating, because you’re able, to some extent, leave the professionalism behind. You’re free to wear whatever you want (hello, pyjamas!), work wherever you want (yes, bed!), stop for lunch whenever you want… You create your own routine and work around your responsibilities. But then you lose the option of closing the door on work. You’re working, eating, sleeping, hosting guests, all in the same place. Days blur into one another, exhaustion sets in for no apparent reason, productivity decreases. Working from home suddenly becomes suffocating.
I speak from experience. Since earning my Master’s degree, I’ve been working from home. My projects have varied from photography to writing to social media management and a whole bunch of things in between, but I can spend weeks on end at home, getting things done but never leaving the house. I justify working non-stop, from 10am one day into the early hours of the morning the next, by telling myself that it’s the reason I can jet off on holiday whenever my friends are free or taking days off to go to exhibitions or the theatre on whatever the cheapest available date is. And while all that may be true, it doesn’t help my productivity.
As an experiment, I set myself a challenge. Stop work at 6pm each day – the standard nine-to-five work hours, though starting an hour later. Some days I would work out at Starbucks, other days I would work at home. What I realised is that my productivity levels weren’t great on Day 1, were fantastic at Starbucks on Day 2, and were pretty good on Day 3. This was a pattern that just kept on going. The day I work away from home and the day that follows always had higher productivity levels. It helped snap my inner compass North again. Helped me concentrate. It took away that feeling of suffocating and reminded me that I am in charge of my life and I’m doing a damn good job of it.
I now aim to get out of the house at least twice a week, if not more (work week, that is - weekends are now officially off limits for work!). I thought it would be handy to share what I’ve learned about non-home work environments with you all, so here’s my top five places to work that aren’t at home:
5. Someone Else’s House
This one seems like a bit of a weird choice, but as someone who prides herself on being there for her friends and family, sometimes working from someone else’s house is necessary. Maybe there’s been a death in the family and you want to be there to take care of the little things – food, tea, cleaning – but you have a lot of time spent staring into space waiting for the next job to appear. Maybe a friend is going through a rough time and just needs some company, even if you don’t really talk. Maybe someone needs you to babysit or dog-sit or house-sit or anything else. Working at other people’s houses is great for concentration, especially if you’re a writer. You find yourself working in short bursts, your mind working at rapid speed so that you can take care of whatever it is you’re there to take care of. Time limit pressures, every once in a while, are great for concentration.
4. Places of Education
Places of Education is far broader than it sounds. When I’m focussing on a screenplay or a film-based task, I always find working at the British Film Institute (BFI) on Southbank or BAFTA over on Piccadilly are the best places to go. They help inspire me, ignite creativity and the conversations all around me are usually full of film-related to trigger ideas even when I’m not paying attention. Wait, is that woman talking about Scorsese? Lightbulb: “I don’t want to be a product of my environment; I want my environment to be a product of me.” (That’s my favourite line from Martin Scorsese’s 2006 film, The Departed, by the way.) When I’m working on fiction, it’s all about bookshops that have seating available, surrounded by the greats. And for non-fiction, the library! You’d be surprised how many university libraries are actually open to the public – definitely check them out.
3. Open, Outdoor Spaces
Sometimes when the day is glorious – the sun out, the birds singing, the wind just right, and not a single chance of rain – working inside, no matter where you are, can be just as bad as your fifth day working in bed in PJs. Last summer, I thought I could rectify the situation by buying myself an outdoor table and chairs set. It got me out the house but still allowed me all the comforts of being at home. Unfortunately, it didn’t work so well. When one person sits outside, the rest of the family normally follow and, if they don’t, you end up finding issue after issue in the garden. I really ought to get those hanging baskets up. Maybe trim back the hedge. Definitely replace those pots the foxes have knocked off the wall. So out of the house you go. A trip to the park, a botanical garden, or any other outdoor space in the middle of nature is great. People watching while sipping from a tumbler of coffee really helps get your productivity flowing. Added bonus, the lack of WiFi! No more social media to get distracted by, no more YouTube holes to fall down.
2. Museums and Galleries
This one works a little differently from the others. When inspiration refuses to strike and the words refuse to flow, I like to take an afternoon off, go for a bit of a walk, grab a coffee and then slip into a museum or gallery to replenish those wells of creativity. Sometimes this is as simple as standing in front of Michelangelo’s David at the V&A until a sense of calm falls over me. Occasionally it requires more of a ‘get lost at the British Museum, then find the Egyptology section from there’ adventure. But every once in a while, that well starts overfilling slightly and the urge to get something done is so strong that I sit down then and there with my work. I write a chapter of my book with a view of Da Vinci’s Madonna of the Rocks at the National Gallery, or in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern. So take that break and head out to a museum or gallery. Maybe your well will replenish, or maybe your productivity will spike then and there - either way, it’s a win!
1. Coffee Shops (unless you’re in Amsterdam)
Naturally, at number one, is coffee shops! With their endless supply of caffeine and cake, coffee shops are definitely my favourite place to work. When it comes to my writing, on an average day at home, I can get about 1,500 words written. One six-hour session at Starbucks, however, can bag me about 4,000 words. I have four regular Starbucks’ and I’m there so often the baristas all know my orders off by heart, saving me from the tedious task of having to give my name and my order every hour. They even do second service – where they bring you a top up when you want it without you needing to go to them. All you need to focus on is which music playlist to put on through your headphones and remembering not to let your coffee get cold.
So, there you have it – my top five places to write. Where are