Freelance Advice: How to Work From Home

It’s a virtual certainty that as a freelance game designer you’ll be doing the bulk of your work from home. In theory, working from home is great. You don’t have to commute, there are no annoying work colleagues distracting you and your boss is not looking over your shoulder.

Anstey's Cove--One of the closest places from Raging Swan Global HQ to get a coffee
Anstey’s Cove–One of the closest places from Raging Swan Global HQ to get a coffee


In reality, working from home is tricky. If you think you can just sit down and crank out awesome material, think again. I’ve worked from home for over 15 years and sometimes it’s tremendously hard to produce top quality work. It’s amazing how often stuff gets in the way.

Over the last 15 years, I developed a certain way of working. These are my top working from home tips:

  • Treat it as a Job: Remember, you need to treat your freelance work as a proper job. You are being paid to complete the work and this is therefore no longer a hobby. For you, this might mean starting work at a certain time or dressing for work. Slouched in front of the computer in your pyjamas isn’t the work practise of a professional, and isn’t likely to put you in the right frame of mind.
  • Have a Work Space: Have a dedicated space for your work and have all the materials you need to hand. At a minimum you’ll need your game books, scratch paper, something to make notes with and a computer. You’ll likely need tons more stuff. (I also need decent coffee). If you are working in one place and dragging books and other reference material from somewhere else you are wasting your time. More worryingly, you are opening yourself up to distractions; as your wander about the house you’ll spot things that need tidying, if you have a pet it will no doubt demand attention and so on.
  • Reduce Distractions: You need to be focused on your work. Having a laptop on your lap working on your latest project while watching telly is not going to result in high quality work. Similarly, having a tab open in your browser with your Facebook or Twitter feed is similarly a productivity disaster waiting to happen. Beyond technology, there are lots of other distractions at home. Pets, family members and household tasks can all encroach on your design time. Minimise these distractions as much as possible. This might mean you need to do some house work or play with the dog before you get down to work. It’s normally a good idea to get your chores out of the way before you start work so your mind is clear and ready to focus.
  • Have Work Time: You’ll discover you are naturally more productive at a certain time of the day. I’m more productive in the morning, for example, and so I do a lot of my design work then. Try and set aside that time every day. This not only trains your mind to be productive at a certain time, but if you live with someone else they know not to disturb you during this time.
  • Get Out And About: Sitting at home all day staring at a computer screen is not a viable long term work strategy. Sometimes you have to decamp and go elsewhere. I find I can get a tremendous amount of work done if I’m in a coffee shop (or at the beach). Luckily, my local coffee shop and the nearby beach cafe have no wi fi, but if they didn’t I’d turn mine off anyway. I normally print some work out to edit and go and spend an hour or so working on it. No distractions—just a coffee and a new supplement to slave over; I’m sure the same amount of work would take me two hours at home.
  • Exercise: It would be very easy to stay at home and work on your latest project. If you are like me,part of the reason you do freelance game design is that you like it. However, you also need to get out and about and exercise. Several years ago, I look up running and my productivity went through the roof. Running is my secret strategy to get more done. Don’t believe me, check out this post for proof!
  • Only Work On Stuff You Like: Freelance game design is great, because you are choosing to do it. Within reason, you can work on the projects that inspire or interest you.  Trying to be creative on a project you don’t really care for is like pulling teeth. Avoid it wherever possible. While this will likely cost you money in the short term, it will make you happier in the long term.

Any More Tips?

Do you have any other tips or hints for working from home? If you do, share them in the comments below and help me (and everyone else reading this) work better!

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

One thought on “Freelance Advice: How to Work From Home”

  1. A minor note: no, you don’t have your boss looking over your shoulder … you have your boss looking through your eyes. You can never, ever, ever get away from your boss. That boss tries to nag you any time you’re not actually working … “hey, what are you doing in the park, get back to work!” … “stop browsing in the pasta aisle, just grab the groceries on your list and go home to work!” … “Wake up! Wake up! I have an idea you need to implement RIGHT THIS MINUTE!”

    I’ve worked for myself for a long time — for Wintertree Software the first time around, then doing freelance website design for years, and now Wintertree Redux. It has its up sides and its down sides. One down side is that I’ve been working 60-hour weeks for 5 months now (this is my break!) … I’d never do that working for someone else, it would be crazy — especially for what I’m getting paid! On the other hand, I’m watching a hummingbird at the feeder on my home office window. There’s a lot to be said for that, and for my morning commute being thirty feet.

    Being unable to ever get away from your boss can easily lead to burnout. That’s why I shut down Wintertree the first time, 16 years ago. Hopefully I’m smarter about it now. Hopefully. Many times, especially when I’m working on something important or complicated, I have to remind myself that when I get to the point of diminishing returns, I need to get up for a while and do something else for a few. Read a book for a bit. Read some non-work-related blogs. Go catch a few Pokemon. (hey, don’t judge me!) Even do something routine and necessary like changing the kitty litter or washing my car. When I get back to the computer after that break — it seems half an hour is about right — I can accomplish a lot more than I would have if I’d stayed staring at the screen for the whole time. All work and no play (or at least no different work) does in fact make Worldwalker a dull programmer.

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