My location-independent lifestyle has meant I’ve ended up working in some pretty quirky spots over the years.
But one of the quirkiest is definitely my home: a cave on the outskirts of Granada, in the south of Spain.
It’s probably not what you’re picturing. Think high ceilings and white-washed walls. Find out a bit more about it in this post with the questions I get asked the most about life in a cave.
The cave is a studio space (about 36 square metres). When I first visited and fell in love with the peaceful vibe and the soft curves of the walls, that seemed just fine. After all, it was just for me.
But nearly three years on and the population of the cave has multiplied. Since the beginning of the pandemic, my boyfriend has become a permanent resident, and we (or, to be honest, I) just can’t say no to an endless succession of temporary residents in the form of rescue dogs.
What with both of us working from home, only one desk and severely limited space, 2020 has taught me even more about how to make freelancing work when you don’t have a dedicated office space to retreat to. When you live and work in a small, studio space.
Here are a few tips for getting stuff done in less-than-deal conditions that life underground has taught me.
1. Accept you can only focus for a few hours a day
This is something I should have accepted a long time ago, but it actually took Susie Jackson’s Charge With Confidence course for the penny to drop.
Even under the best conditions, on an average day you’ll only be able to do a certain number of hours of client work.
I now budget for three hours of proper focused client work a day, four days a week. The rest is marketing or admin, or getting on with enjoying life.
Of course, there will be days when you’ll feel inspired or you’ll have a tight deadline to meet, but as a rule, you need to accept that you can only focus for a certain amount of time, especially if you’re surrounded by distractions.
If you want to take control of your schedule and finances and transform the way you look at your rates, Susie’s course could be a game-changer. I’m an Ambassador for her services, so be sure to mention my name when you get in touch.
2. Make your routine work for you
There’s absolutely no need to stick to a classic working day, unless that suits you.
The thing about working in a less-than-ideal space is that it can be hard to get your creative juices flowing. So, make sure you work with your natural rhythms, not against them.
Are you at your best first thing in the morning, but useless come the afternoon? Work your routine around that.
Only really able to focus between 3pm and 7pm? Get other things ticked off your list in the morning and make afternoons your client work time.
I try and loosely plan my work week around times when I know I’ll be alone in the cave and better able to focus.
I need quiet to be able to concentrate on more creative client work, but can easily work on less creative translations or admin when Ale’s in the cave with me.
3. Move your body
If I had a busy day of work ahead, I used to think the best thing I could do was to get up, grab my laptop straight away and get ahead.
Now I know that if I want to be at my most productive I need to go for a morning walk before I do anything.
Every freelancer needs to make sure they’re staying active, but if you’re living/working in a tiny space this is even more important.
It’s far too easy to not leave the house all day when you’re working from home.
But if you kick the day off with some outdoor exercise then it won’t matter so much if you’re glued to your laptop for the rest of the day.
4. Make weekends sacred
Some freelancers don’t have a choice in the matter because they’ve got other obligations during the week, but if you’ve got the option to not work weekends, then don’t. Make it a cast-iron, non-negotiable rule.
Living and working in a confined space can be tough, and you’ll need at least those two full days off to properly check out of work, do all the housework that inevitably piles up during the week and have plenty of time for the fun you deserve left over.
5. Never underestimate the importance of time off
Feeling uninspired? Rundown? Blocked? Bored? Hemmed in by the small space it feels like your whole existence is limited to? Sounds like you need a holiday.
Even if you don’t actually go anywhere, you need some time off just to decompress and enjoy the life you’ve built for yourself.
It can be so hard to take time off when you run your own business, as it feels like all your hard work will crumble around you if you take your eye off the ball even for a minute.
But once you start taking more holiday, you’ll realise that it’s just not that much of a big deal.
You’ll come back to your desk, however make-shift, with recharged batteries, and your client work will be a million times better for it.
6. Get creative with how your workspace is arranged
Recently, we had a brainwave and moved our desk, and it’s transformed things. I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to realise what a difference it’d make.
I used to hate working at the desk because it faced the wall and I found that unbearably dull, so I’d spend far more time than was healthy perched on the bed.
But now it’s placed so I’m looking out of the double doors at our lovely garden. It also means it now feels like we’ve got a study space and a bedroom/living room space, rather than it all being jumbled together.
Don’t just accept the way things are arranged. Think outside the cave and make the most of any views, natural light, or ways you can create natural divisions within your space.
7. Find different spots for different types of work
Even though we’ve got this great new desk set-up now, I can’t do all my work here.
I do my best creative work, like working on copy for my fellow freelance translators, sitting on our mini sofa with my feet up on the bed. I’m not sure why that is, but I do know there’s no point in fighting it.
Find the spots that help get you get in the right headspace for certain tasks, and embrace that.
8. Don’t try and plough through when you’re not feeling it
The final lesson I’ve learned from living and working in my studio cave is that there’s just no point fighting it when I’m not in the zone.
If you’ve scheduled in an afternoon of client work but your creative juices are flowing and you feel like creating content for your blog or social media channels instead, then do it.
But if writing a blog feels like trying to get blood from a stone, find something else to do with your time.
There’s no point forcing yourself to do something just because you’ve planned for it when you could do it far better and far more quickly when you are in the right head space.
Do you work in an unconventional space, or not have a dedicated office? How do you make it work? Leave a comment and let me know.