In my last article, I talked about my typical work day living and working off-the-grid. I work from the off-grid, eco-home I built with my husband in a rural area outside Auckland. I’m not going to lie - my life is pretty awesome, and it’s thanks to the flexible work policies at Xero/WorkflowMax that made it so. (So if you’re looking for a great company to work for - check us out!)
In order for me to work successfully from home, I needed to set up a home office. I’ve been working from my new office for a little over a year now and it’s been pretty successful so far, so I thought I’d share some of my tips. While most home office articles will advise you to choose the correct lighting and trade in your firstborn child for an expensive ergonomic chair (and all this advice is very sensible and true, apart from the child-trading), my tips are a bit more eccentric.
They also work.
1. Sort Your Sounds
If you’re anything like me, you’ll find working with music essential for survival. While I usually don’t listen to music while I’m writing, I will put something on while I’m reading, researching, outlining, editing, or answering email.
One of the huge advantages of having a home office is the fact that you don’t have to use headphones. You can blast your tunes as loud as you like, and even sing along if that’s your thing. In order to get the most from your aural freedom, I recommend investing in some decent speakers. Don’t simply use your computer speakers - those tinny things won’t do a great tune justice!
How cool is that?
2. Ensure snacks and sundries are out of reach
Because I write as a hobby, as well as for a job, I spend a lot of time in my office. 12 hours a day sitting in a chair is not good for a person. So, I’ve designed my space to ensure I get regular movement and breaks.
Firstly, my office is not that accessible. It’s upstairs in our attic space. We only had the stairs put in a couple of months ago. For the first eight months living in our house, I accessed my office via a steep and rickety ladder. There was a particularly interesting instance when my husband took the ladder away as he needed it for a job elsewhere on our property, and I was upstairs, in desperate need of a bathroom visit (the bathroom being, of course, downstairs). Three hours, nineteen minutes and twenty-seven seconds later, not that anyone was counting, my husband returned with the ladder to find me swinging from the hole in the ceiling trying to jump onto the couch from midair.)
Being upstairs means that even a trip to the bathroom involves a fair bit of moving around. I try to ensure I’m getting up at least once every 30-60 minutes - good for the circulation, and good for productivity. I don’t bring snacks upstairs, but leave them in the kitchen so I have to get up if I want them.
2. Buy your dream desk
Seriously. You have to look at the thing every hour you’re at work. You might as well love it.
For the seven previous years I ran my business, I worked from a desk we’d made from four pieces of plyboard. It wasn’t even painted. If a client ever saw it, they’d assume I was destitute (instead of simply cheap, which I definitely am).
When we moved in to our new house, I realised we’d foolishly forgotten to include a wardrobe in our bedroom. Where would we hang all our heavy-metal t-shirts? So off we went to buy a standing wardrobe. We found a beautiful one on sale at Java Emporium, makers of some quite unique baroque and Victorian-style furniture here in Auckland. While we were at the shop, I happened to glance around, and there it was. The perfect desk.
Made of mahogany, stained with a dark lustre, it was an old-fashioned lawyer’s desk, complete with several drawers for all of my stuff. It was the kind of desk you see Sherlock Holmes hunched behind in movies, the kind of desk you imagine Neil Gaiman or Anne Rice penning their works from. The lady in the shop saw me looking at it. “It’s got a little flaw in it,” she said, showing us a chip in the inside of one of the legs, practically invisible to the naked eye. “We’ve knocked $200 off the price, if you’re interested.”
So I now have an old-fashioned lawyer’s desk. And it is beautiful.
4. Add some motivational posters
Because I work in an attic, the majority of my office roof is sloped, meaning there’s not much wall space for me to hang all the framed artwork I’ve collected over the years. Yet, staring at blank walls all day is not my favourite thing to do, and I like to walk into a room and feel like it’s mine.
I went straight to Etsy.com, and sure enough, someone had made some posters. In my office I have a print from QuoteMeOnIt, showcasing two quotes from the BBC’s iteration of my literary hero, Sherlock Holmes.
One says “Brainy is the New Sexy” and the other, “I’m Not a Psychopath. I’m a High-Functioning Sociopath. Do Your Research.”
I mean, you could put some Hemingway up there, or Shakespeare, or some cats wearing bonnets. Whatever takes your fancy.
5. Don’t neglect felines in your office design
For as long as I’ve been working from home, I’ve had to share my office with cats. Or, rather, the cats have allowed me to work in their third bedroom. Whatever type of pet you have, if you’re home all day, they generally want to hang with you, so make sure your office is cat (or dog, or otter, or alpaca) friendly.
The majority of my desk is taken up by cat igloos. If I don’t have the cat igloos, the cats will sit on my hands until attention is paid to them. So the cat igloos stay. They’ve also got a few toys in a corner and I leave a bowl of biscuits for them.
This is my idea of a perfect office - distraction free, apart from motivational sociopaths, cats running everywhere and music blaring. To you, it might sound terrifying. But that’s OK - you don’t have to work there, I do.
When you think about your home office, think about what makes you excited to go to work in the morning, and what will keep you glued to your chair for several hours during the day. Your home office should be a haven for your creative and analytical pursuits, whatever they may be. The important thing isn’t to follow the advice of what you “should” do, but to make your space work for you and your needs.