Got a Place to Flee to from Home Office Distractions?

So there’s this cool space not too far from me here in Atlanta called Strongbox West. Geared to freelancers of all stripes, it’s a place to escape to when you want to flee the claustrophobically-closing-in four walls of the home office and get some work done while in the company (or at least the proximity) of fellow humans. And when you’re not ready (and may never be) to commit to a full-time dedicated office space.

Plenty of comfy chairs, desk space, conference tables/rooms, Wi-Fi connection, kitchen – all in this industrial warehouse-y setting. What really sets it apart and makes it a “hmmmm…interesting” is that pricing is three-tiered: for the occasional visitor, the frequent user and the near full-timer. So, no huge commitments necessary. Oh, and your experience comes complete with the resident Strongbox dog, Paloma, a sweet-girl Golden, who’s just the perfect level of friendly un-neediness: comes to say hello but wanders off soon enough.

Now, I’ve never felt the need to move my operation into a separate office. I’ve always been disciplined enough as a commercial freelancer, and fact is, I like my home office – plenty of sunlight, lake view behind the house, everything handy, etc. Course it’s the “everything handy” part that’s the double-edged sword. I’m finding of late that I’m getting a bit more distracted than usual by the fact that, in fact, everything is so darn handy.

Heck, I’ll go do a load of wash. Go check if the mail’s come yet. See if there’s anything new in the refrigerator (since the last time I looked). And the worst one: maybe I’ll just lie down for a 10-minute recharge… Yikes. And geez, as a single guy, I don’t even anywhere near as many distractions as “marrieds-with-kids” would. Pretty pathetic. I know, we’re freelancers, so why can’t we do any/all of the above as long as we’re getting our work done? Still, it’s always easier to glide at home, and also always easier to buckle down when we’re at The Office.

So, Strongbox might be an answer – at least on those days when I’m feeling like a fidgety, over-caffeinated eight-year old. I don’t know about you, but when I need to really focus, seriously hunker down, and get ‘er done (usually in the concepting and copywriting phases of a commercial writing project), I get out of the office and go somewhere – and believe it or not, usually sans MacBook.

In the past, I’ve usually headed to our local library or a Starbucks with project folder of notes, legal pad and clipboard, and aided and abetted by my iPod, shut out the world. In three or four hours, I impress the heck out of myself with how much writing I can get done. It’s a thing of beauty.

Do you find it challenging at times to work at home?

Have you ever considered getting outside office space?

If you have an outside office, what’s the setup, why’d you take the plunge, and after how many years?

What strategies do you use to stay focused and productive in the face of distractions?

27 replies
  1. Mary Shaw
    Mary Shaw says:

    Love this post, thanks!! Just this week, maybe because of the extreme cold and a bad case of cabin fever, I’ve been looking elsewhere for a place to work besides my tidy home office. My local library is awesome. They recently renovated the place and it is fantastic. Apparently there are a lot of home office workers in my town and they have made it very attractive for us. There’s an area to hunker down and get work done, plus a comfy area with a fireplace when you just want to go and think, and the coffee is amazing. When I’ve had enough of the library, another option I’m using lately is my local Regus “office in a box”. They have over 1,000 offices in 450 cities in 75 countries all over the world. My $300 gold card membership gives me access to the business lounge anywhere, which includes free wi-fi, coffee and quiet. If I need to kick it up a notch I can get a private office for $25/hr. If I want to really show off for clients I can get a beautiful boardroom for $67/hr. Crazy good deal and highly recommended.

  2. Katlin Smith
    Katlin Smith says:

    I moved from my home office to a downtown office space about 7 years ago. Moving into a suite of offices, I had instant access to a conference room, free photocopies and close proximity to my clients. It has been a good move. Interestingly, I now find that I am more productive in the quiet of my home office. The difference? I don’t have email and Internet distractions at home. I have found that I am more productive when I don’t have access to cyberspace. There are so many interesting blogs, Web sites, Facebook pages, etc, etc, to read. I would love to hear how other writers fight distractions and stay productive!

  3. Rick
    Rick says:

    After five years at home, working in a basement office, I realized I needed some separation between my personal life and my work.

    I started looking for office space in the spring of 2009, when the economy was falling off the cliff. I found several cheap options, and finally took a 324-square-foot office of my very own, for which I pay $125 per month (not a misprint). That’s cheaper than my cellphone bill. A lawyer owns the building and occupies the largest set of offices, but we also have a health care company, a security firm and an accountant in the building.

    Here in Michigan, the economy is wretched and landlords are desperate, making it a renter’s market. It has worked out great and has allowed me to do better work for my clients and also given me enough space (physically and mentally) to map out some important personal writing projects of my own.


  4. Nichole
    Nichole says:

    Local coffee shops and bookstores are the best. I find social media to be the biggest distraction ever; after all, doesn’t participating in LinkedIN discussion boards and sending Tweets constitute marketing? Yep. Pretty distracting. I’ll have to follow your advice and head to the coffee shop with good ol’ pen and paper.

  5. Roxane B. Salonen
    Roxane B. Salonen says:

    For the last several years, I have reserved one night a week to “get away from it all.” It’s my writing night, and on those nights I know I will be productive because there are no laundry piles staring at me, hissing (my laundry room is connected to my office…hmmm). As a freelancing mother of five, this night out has been essential, not only for mental space, but the change of scenery is so incredibly helpful to my work. Recently, I had a project due, and I knew it would get done and well because I would have my writing night to ensure that. Protecting this night has been a no-brainer, even though there are times when I am challenged by my family on whether I really need to take my writing night. When I deny myself this chance to change up the atmosphere, I pay for it in one way or another, and so does my family, in in the end. So glad you brought this up, and glad to know I’m not the only one.

  6. William Reynolds
    William Reynolds says:

    Boy, Strongbox sounds tempting. I wonder if there’s anything like that in Austin….

    I’ve always been able to write at home without much distraction, but that’s sort of the problem — the lack of distraction can be distracting, if that makes any sense. I go stir crazy. That’s usually when I hit the library or coffee shop, much as you do, to be “alone in a group.”

    The potential problem with Strongbox, for me, is that I might feel an urge to communicate with my fellow office squatters, instead of freely ignoring them the way I do the coffee-shop crowd. Throw in a friendly dog, and I might get no work done at all.

    Speaking of which…back to work. Sigh.

  7. Michael D. Scully
    Michael D. Scully says:

    Wow, Rick — $125/month for 324 square feet… that sounds fantastic. (How close are you to Detroit?) Sounds like you’re in good company.

    When I lived in Madison, Wisconsin (1990s) I looked once at an office on the Capitol Square. $135 a month, sort of a quasi-L shape, not a lot of square feet, one east-facing window with a good view (if you want to look down East Washington Avenue, that is — heehee). Plus there was a building a few doors up that had month-to-month offices. One of them was rented by a med school student who wanted a quiet place to study.

    When I lived in Queens I paid four times what you pay for half the space — but then again, I was living there. (Those were my “starving artist” days, more or less. I called it a “garret.” My wife calls it something else!)

    Mary Shaw mentioned Regus. I don’t know where she lives, but I took a look at the New York City locations. Based on the addresses alone, I am impressed (The Chrysler Building? Park Avenue in the 40s? Cool!). I’m afraid to ask for a quote, though. Not that I would necessarily want to schlep all the way into “The City” to freelance — for me, part of the point of freelancing is to eliminate the commute. But over the last couple of months, I have learned to appreciate the need to get away from the home office more than I ever thought I would.

    Fortunately, my village (yes, I live in a village) has a nice public library, and my iPod is connected to a nice set of noise-cancellation earphones (and 100 genres to choose from, everything from Bach to Beethoven to… Bowerman and Bly!).

    As for the Golden Retriever… well, that’s almost to be expected. We have two Dachshunds at home. A place like Strongbox could never have Dachshunds — they’re too excitable. (But then, the rest of time, they’re busy perfecting their resting technique. It’s all or nothing with them.) And you can’t have cats in an office. They climb everywhere! (I know… we have four of those, too.)

  8. Mary Shaw
    Mary Shaw says:

    Hey Michael, the Regus deal is pretty sweet. I live in Connecticut about an hour from New York City. I’ve been using the Regus offices in Stamford, but next week I’m gonna give the Chrysler building a try since I have a client meeting near there. Keep in mind that only the lounge is available for gold card members, but so far I really like it a lot. I’ll be using their Austin office in March when I’m attending a conference. If you travel it’s very handy.

  9. Denise O. Miller
    Denise O. Miller says:

    My home office used to be in the basement. However, that was also my craft room; and no matter how I tried to justify that I was in a “creative and inspirational” environment, I was distracted. Add to that the occasional need for some sunlight, fresh air (even during Wisconsin winters) and a new year-old Boxer-mix that shoves her head under my armpit while I’m trying to type. So I’ve moved my office upstairs to a spare bedroom where I can open the window blinds for sunlight (and Ally can look outdoors). Living in a small town of less than 1,000, I have the “luxury” of hanging out in various places in four surrounding small cities. Depending on my mood or the weather, I can visit a favorite bistro (after the lunch rush), Starbucks, a lakeside park, libraries or the dog park. And I really enjoy getting away from the electronic world for a while, even if “writing” means an old-fashioned letter.

  10. Kara Gray
    Kara Gray says:

    I considered an outside office space about three years ago, just for the access to hi-speed internet. I live in a rural area, where dial up had been our only option. Now with satellite service, I’m so glad I persevered and saved myself the overhead of office rental. Fewer expenses = higher profit margin. I’m fortunate to have a dedicated office space in my home (with a door) and terrific, dependable and trustworthy child care nearby. Do I do the occasionally load of laundry? Sure. Does it get folded and put away? Not during work hours. And, I love my Roomba. I let it loose to do the dirty work while I get busy on client projects. There is a Panera Bread nearby for when I just gotta get away, and my local chamber is very accommodating when I need a meeting space (no charge!).

  11. Star
    Star says:

    I lived in Reston, VA, for a year in the 1980s and often thought a little storefront would be fun, down by one of the lakes…Come in and talk to the writer…Things to look at and so on. Then I realized I didn’t need another payment and people might actually come in or maybe they wouldn’t come in. Either would have bugged me.

  12. Charles Cuninghame
    Charles Cuninghame says:

    I like the public library. I can plug in my laptop, there’s free wireless internet and it’s quiet (except around high school exam time). Or, for an al fresco change, I walk down to the beach and set up in one of the picnic sheds with a view of the waves.

  13. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Wow – this is great. Here I thought I was writing sort of a fluffy, insubstantial post, but apparently not. Really great input and insights into so many of your work styles, habits and preferences. Cool idea about Regus, Mary – never heard of it. Probably wouldn’t be worth it for me as I don’t travel all that much, and when I do, it’s generally for pleasure, when the LAST thing I’m going to be looking for is an office! Rick, sounds like you handily win the best-bang-for-the-buck award. At that price, who wouldn’t grab a space like that?

    Kaitlin, sounds like you’re in the opposite situation as most of us – you go home to get rid of the distractions. Whatever works. And yes, William, I’m with you: sometimes coffee shops and places like Strongbox can be distracting because they have other people you’ll want to talk to – arguably one of the main reasons to go in the first place. It’s a dilemma… And Michael, knowing how little you like the idea of a commute, and with some village resources nearby, I’m guessing you’ll wisely stick close to home. And wow – I’m on your iPod! Does that mean I’ve finally arrived? 😉

    And Roxane, love your WNO (Writing Night Out) habit you’ve gotten into. So smart and by the sound of it, SO necessary to keep your sanity and keep being a nice Mom and wife! Don’t let ’em bully you into giving it up. We writers know best what we need… 😉

    Denise, you sound like a sun-worshipper like me – nothing like a really sunny room and a nice view to make you feel as if you’re really not working, or at the very least, not that far removed from “going outside to play.” And yes, it IS nice to get unwired from time to time. Especially when the (counterintuitive) result is that you get a TON done. Love that. It’s like…to get really connected to The Muse, you’ve got to disconnect from The Grid.

    Thanks to all who weighed in – lets hear from some others!


  14. B Larsen
    B Larsen says:

    There’s no place like home. Convenience is OH-so comfy.
    (Of course, productivity increases 10-fold with the Macbook as opposed to the desktop)

  15. Lori Widmer
    Lori Widmer says:

    No outside office here. Instead, I have alternate escapes – WiFi cafes, local hangouts that serve as interim offices should power or Internet at home go kerplunk. One place I won’t go – the local library. I did that once and the noise level was so intense I had to leave. Worse, the noise was from the employees. Nowhere to run!

    I do find it challenging to work at home when the house is full of kids home from college or when the husband works from home. It’s just too hard sharing office space when I’m being creative. But I have trained the kids to understand a closed study door means no interruptions. My daughter learned early that I wasn’t to be asked anything, told anything, or expected to do anything until I stood up from the computer and left this room. You have to set boundaries. Otherwise, you’re running them to the train station, picking up dry cleaning, calling utility companies, or waiting for repair people while your writing – and earning – sits idle.

  16. Marlene Oliveira
    Marlene Oliveira says:

    I do prefer my home office, which is a nice space with everything I need. However, I realize that interacting with fellow humans is a good thing, once in a while. So I rent a ‘hot desk’ at a place in Toronto called the Centre for Social Innovation:

    The space is filled with not-for-profits and other social change makers. I work from there roughly one day a week for a change of scenery. For me, it’s also a nice spot to make connections, as most of my clients are in the not-for-profit sector.

  17. Valerie Alexander
    Valerie Alexander says:

    I work at coffee bars or bookstores almost every day. Otherwise I get cabin fever. However, I divide up my work by locale – my red-hot writing mode is for home where I can zone out. When I’m working in a cafe, I tend to do editing, research, marketing and other businessy stuff.

    What’s crucial is the kind of cafe; if it’s a more social one, or attracts groups of students working loudly on projects, I don’t concentrate as well. My current favorite plays host to a lot of telecommuters and freelancers all working on their laptops and it’s come to embody the perfect mix of community and quiet.

  18. Laurie Schmidt
    Laurie Schmidt says:

    I occasionally go to a local coffee shop when I need to get something done like develop a preliminary outline, review some material, etc. But I’m like Peter – I go with pen and paper. I *don’t* take my laptop, or I would sit there and waste away the hours on “trivial email” (see an earlier blog topic). For example, I’d been procrastinating for days about writing new text for my homepage, but when I headed to the coffee shop today with my notepad, I cranked it out in less than an hour. For me, I think there’s something about getting away from the desk/office, so you’re not constantly reminded of all the other things you need to get done. You sip a latte and focus on one task. And yes, getting out among other humans is a must when you’re single and working from home!

  19. Michael D. Scully
    Michael D. Scully says:

    Well, I actually *tried* the public library yesterday. Never again. I was under the impression that there were desks off to the sides in the so-called “quiet areas.” No, the only desks were out in the open, on the main floor. No thank you.

  20. Jenn Mattern
    Jenn Mattern says:

    For me it’s the library or Panera (neither is terribly close, so when I go I make a nice long trip of it). I find the distractions at home are worse when I’m working on my own projects than when I’m dealing with client work, so I intend to take a few days off to go out of state and stay at a hotel while I work on research and writing for a book — a few of those trips this year actually. It won’t be enough to get everything done, but it will give me dedicated chunks of time where I don’t feel like typical little work and home issues are invading my every thought.

  21. Gary
    Gary says:

    We have Regus in the UK as well (I know that as I happened to meet one of their Area Sales Managers about 2 hours ago!) and they have the same gold card business lounge system as already mentioned.

    I’m a freelancer and work from home (as a web developer, not a writer), and although I’ve half-heartedly researched into office space, I’ve not considered it a necessity for now.

    My trouble is that it’s not things around the house that distract me (though a making a cuppa is a nice way of procrastinating), but all sorts of online stuff, which as a web developer, makes it hard to shy away from…

  22. Katie
    Katie says:

    Though I’m just now in the process of setting up as a FLCW, I’ve been doing other sorts of writing for years, and I used to head to McDonald’s once a week (it’s the only place near home that’s open late enough for me). My husband’s job has taken him out of town more and more in the past two years, though, so I’m not able to get out that much anymore; I have nowhere else to take the kids. I miss it terribly. I could get a lot done without those at-home distractions.

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