This post was selected for inclusion in our Future of Art and Work series in December 2016. The series, sponsored by Microsoft Surface, selects some of our best posts exploring the topics of how art and work will look in the 21st century. This post was originally published in January, 2016.
I am that rebellious freelancer your parents warned you about: I work from bed.
No, not every day, and yes, it’s bad for my back. But I have my reasons.
Bear with me for a second. Obviously, I’m not a high-powered CEO, and my calendar isn’t exploding with daylong meetings. Actually, unless I’m on deadline, no one cares where I am at any given time at all. (That’s my first productivity tip: be the person no one invites to meetings.)
For context, I do know what it’s like on the other side. When I was a salaried employee working in an office, I never got too comfortable. Example: I never took breaks. I didn’t know what to do with them, and I wanted to seem busy, even when I wasn’t. So I’d watch coworkers dash off to hour-long lunches, or to grab a coffee despite our perfectly adequate office coffee situation and feel a sense of envy that they were secure enough to walk away whenever the wind blew. I felt my place was at my desk, where my bosses could see me and justify signing my paychecks.
Once I left my job to pursue less money and more freedom, I found that those rituals of the daily grind were harder to shake than I’d expected. I’d wake up and sit at my desk for hours, fingers poised on the keyboard as if I was still under the watchful eye of someone who cared deeply about whether I was in the right seat at the right time. Even unbound from the cubicle, I was afraid to give myself time for things like exercising or having coffee with a friend. Not only was I driving myself crazy, but my output slowed to a trickle. It was the exact opposite of what I’d hoped for when I quit my job.
That’s because the habits I’d adopted for my day job aren’t actually habits that help me get work done. For example, I do my best writing when I’m still in a barely lucid, dream-hungover state. Bed is good for staying in that kind of headspace. But the morning routine I’d become accustomed to as a staffer — waking to an alarm, showering, cursing the L train — left me little time to use my brain when it was at its most vital. And now that I was freelancing and had more control over my schedule, I found it hard not to follow someone else’s rules. Rules like, get dressed and take a shower, even if you’re not leaving the house. Rules like, make a schedule and stick to it. Rules like, DO. NOT. WORK. FROM. BED. But what would happen if I just followed my instincts, made myself comfortable? Would that be so bad?
I decided to find out. So I threw all the tried-and-true commandments for home productivity out the window. Now, on days when I wake up wanting to write immediately, I roll over lazily, pluck my laptop off the floor, and get down to work. From bed.
It’s not until I’ve gotten a few pages out my system that I start to do the things normal people do in the morning, like showering and brushing my teeth. And instead of rushing through those morning rituals in an effort to tackle the next task one pronto, I take my time. I cook breakfast, listen to a podcast or some music, and think about the writing I’ve done. What I don’t think about is how much more productive I would be if I were sitting at a desk.
I know how creative I am when I’m at The Desk. Not very. It doesn’t make a difference if I’m sitting in a swivel-chair or wobbling on a balance ball. (I’ve tried.)
So I save The Desk for administrative tasks. Things like paying bills, invoicing, and responding to emails. When I sit at The Desk, my body knows it’s time for the boring stuff and it starts firing the appropriate endorphins. I fly through these tasks because I don’t want to sit at The Desk for longer than necessary.
I’ve also given in to the break. With gusto. I get it now, ex-coworkers: breaks make it easier to work. Walking to a coffee shop mid-afternoon to change my scenery gives me time to think about what’s next and restore my creative energy. (And maybe listen to another podcast.) Having lunch with a friend before I jump into yet another task gives me a sense of balance. Ordering a beer while I fine-tune a project I care about feels like a reward and reminds me that the end of the day is near. For me, productivity flows more naturally when I’m not imposing crazy rules on myself like Inbox to Zero or Change Out of Those Sweatpants.
I realize I’m in incredibly lucky to have this flexibility. Most people don’t have the luxury of working from bed. But I guess that isn’t quite my point. The point is to find the ways you work best. Not how a Fortune 500 exec works best, or how I work best either freelancer works best. You. The point is to throw out the rulebook and figure out what motivates and energizes you. And once you figure that out, find ways to implement it.
It may be as simple as setting a fresh air alarm on your phone or making changes to your pre- and post-work rituals. Or, it may require hard conversations with your employer, negotiating, and possibly adopting a new work model altogether. But remember that your goal is a worthy one: you are aiming to take control of how you work and, in whatever way you can, structuring your day and work style with balance in mind.
Unconventional Productivity is a five-part series of stories written by creative professionals about their best rule-breaking advice.
Stephanie Georgopulos is the author of Some Things I Did for Money. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Glamour, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Refinery 29, Paper Mag, and more. Follow her on Twitter.