One of the best parts about freelancing is the incredible flexibility it provides. You can literally work from anywhere, assuming you have an adequate Wi-Fi connection. But freedom does come with its own set of problems and the biggest one I have found is that is to all too easy to use said freedom as an excuse to slack off.
When you have to manage your own time, and not bounded to your desk on a 9-5 schedule, there's an extra level of added responsibility that you need to take on in order to ensure that you are working at your optimal efficiency! I've been doing it for the last number of years now, and it still continues to be a challenge to this day.
In fact, it's a very common theme among freelancers whom I've talked to, where some of them have even told me, "I feel bad when I'm hanging out with my friends because I know I have a lot of client work to finish off!" At the end of the day, it's about striking that balance; it's a little different for everyone, but here are my top 11 tips for staying on top of your freelancing game:
1) Create a Morning Routine
Because you work for yourself, your work day can start whenever you decide it starts. You have no driving time to factor in and no boss who will shoot you the evil stink eye for walking in five minutes late to the morning staff meeting. So in the beginning, the temptation can be strong to sleep in until noon but I would highly discourage this.
I find that I feel the best when I wake up semi-early, have a morning routine that lets me settle into my day, and then getting started on my work around 9 a.m. And the benefit to this is that I am done working much earlier, giving me more free time in the afternoon to spend how I choose.
It's important to work during the hours at which your clients generally need you as well, and with most of my clients in the US, it helps me ensure that I am working when they are as well.
2) Put on Real Pants
While you may not have any co-workers to impress and you can always just elect to leave the camera off when you are skyping with one of your clients but it is still a good idea to put on actual clothes in the morning. I’m not talking anything fancy, but jeans and a hoodie will do.
Mentally, this helps gets you in the rhythm that you're actually up to do work, translating to better productivity and higher quality work! It also allows you to respect yourself and your profession more if you're not wearing pajamas all day long.
3) Manage your Time with a Schedule
I like to take some time on Sunday afternoon to plan my schedule for the following week based on what projects I have due and what my workload looks like. This doesn’t have to be set in stone but having some sort of guideline for what I will accomplish each day makes my days go much more smoothly.
I absolutely love lists! Having my to-do's in a checklist makes me feel like I'm accomplishing a whole lot when I'm crossing off one task at a time!
4) Put your Phone in Airplane Mode
I am guessing the reason for this is pretty self-explanatory. It is easy to become distracted when you work from home and the last thing you need is the constant dings of Facebook, Skype, Whatsapp and even Slack notifications. Unless this is important to maintain communication with your client, blocking your distractions off a couple hours at a time really does help you focus.
5) Set Goals, Milestones & Roadmaps
Having a goal you are working towards will go a long way toward keeping you on track and excited to do the work that needs to get done. This could be a certain income goal, onboarding a certain number of new clients, or taking that much needed vacation next month. Whatever it is, pick a goal and then create a path for how you are going to accomplish it.
6) Have a Desk Space
I have tried getting work done from my living room couch or my bed and it has never gone over well. For one thing, it is about 100 times harder to be productive when you are working in your bed (I often get bored and fall asleep). I have found having a neat, orderly desk space when I can work every day has done wonders in helping me stay focused.
7) Switch Up the Scenery
Occasionally it is nice to switch things up and take my work to a nearby coffee shop. Try going for a walk; work out of a nearby Starbucks or Blenz; go for a run or something! This always gives me a nice change of pace and some much-needed human interaction.
8) Make your Workspace Inspiring
Hang up meaningful artwork or quotes that inspire you. And make sure your workspace is mostly clutter-free – trying to get work done with a pile of unfolded laundry in the corner is a huge distraction, to say the least.
For me, I have on my wall my 5-year bucket list and a list of my core values - this is great in keeping me on track with my goals and ensuring that I am constantly mindful of the direction that I am working towards.
9) Take Frequent Breaks
Taking short, frequent breaks can actually increase your focus during the day. Let’s face it, it’s hard to sit at a desk and work for hours at a time without moving. I do have one caveat to issue here, though – make sure they are productive breaks. No taking breaks to scroll Facebook for 20 minutes. But try getting up, stretching, or taking a short walk before coming back to your work.
Personally, I enjoy running, so I make it a habit to go running at least 2-3 times a week, on top of other hobbies and activities that I do.
10) Make Exercise a Priority
Not getting enough exercise will quickly affect your physical and mental health. You work from home which means that unlike most people, you can work out whenever you want. Find a gym close to your house, take a run around the block, or even try a home exercise DVD.
11) Use your Freedom to your Advantage
Here is the best part about freelancing – you create your own schedule! You don’t have a boss you have to ask for time off work and you have no limits on how long your lunch break is. Being too stingy on how you spend your days will lead to you feeling burnt out quickly so be sure to plan time to do things you enjoy as well. The key to freelancing is finding the right balance between freedom and discipline, and only you can figure out what that is. It takes time, but trust me, when you find it - you won't regret a thing :)
How do you stay motivated? Let me know in the comments below!