When you’re a freelancer there’s a lot to learn about. You have to learn about the things you’re going to write about, healthcare and travel and anything else your clients want articles about. You have to learn about different programs that people use to exchange documents as well different apps to help you find work. Today I had to learn what email signature were and how to use them, still working on that one.
But one of the most important elements of being a freelancer is the daily routine. When you work for someone else, there are structures set up to make sure you get your work done. The routines, the workplace, even the people around you help to remind and encourage you to do what you have to do. That doesn’t work all the time of course, but it’s generally a fairly effective system.
When you’re a freelancer, you don’t have any of that. You’re at home, where the books and the DVD’s live. And everyone knows you’re at home, so when they want to go out for coffee or shopping they know you’re available, even if you’re not really. You’re a prime target for all kinds of distractions from the outside. And your brain tends to distract you as well. It has trouble thinking of working-at-home as actual working. Your brain is wired to think of home as the place you relax, have fun, the place you go to forget about work. So when someone interrupts you or when your brain wants to watch a television show… well… You’re not really working, are you, so why not?
But I am working. I have to tell myself that, as well as everyone else. I have deadlines and people counting on me and if my brain doesn’t stop misbehaving all of that will go away and I’ll end up in an office somewhere again. And one of the keys to building discipline and the ‘I’m working’ feel when you’re at home is to build a routine.
It’s like any type of habit building. If you want to stick to an exercise routine, there’s no point in fighting yourself every couple of days to force yourself to the gym. It won’t last, and there will always be better things to do. But if you build a routine, if it’s a habit that you do every day, then you do it without arguing with yourself. It becomes like brushing your teeth. After all, who argues with themselves about whether they should brush their teeth every morning?
So you build a routine, piece by piece, and you learn to fit it to your schedule and your personality and your needs. It’s tough to do. As a freelancer, and as a person, your schedule changes every day. It’s not like normal work where 9-5 is blocked out every weekday, that’s just not how freelancing works and that’s good. After all, I decided to get into freelancing just so I could work to my own schedule rather than someone else’s. But that desire for freedom can push you too far in the opposite direction, into the ‘sit on the couch and watch daytime TV’ direction.
That’s not where you want to be either. The key is to balance between a rigid work schedule and total abandon. The key is to make a schedule that works for you and your business. And isn’t that what we all really want when we become freelancers? Not to completely abandon discipline and hard work, but the ability to make our own schedules?
I haven’t been doing this long, and these ideas will probably give way to others as life marches on, but here is a list of the things I’ve learned so far about freelance scheduling.
It has to be made day to day. Your schedule will have to change constantly so if you want it to stay relevant to what you have to accomplish than you need to plan it as close to the day as possible.
Look at your priorities when you schedule. You will have things due in two weeks that you have to work on now. Look ahead so you don’t fall behind.
Write everything down. I’ve always been the type who could just keep appointments straight in my head, I never wrote them down. But when you’re a freelancer, write them all down, there’s too much going on for you to get everything right.
Schedule days off. When you’re a freelancer, you can feel guilty taking days off, as if you’re supposed to work all the time until your business is profitable. That leads to very quick burnout and days when you can’t even think about looking at your computer. Schedule at least one full day off a week and try to stick to it. It won’t always work, but it will do wonders for your productivity and zest for life.
Exercise. While you’re scheduling, put exercise on the list every day. You’ll be sitting at your computer a lot and trust me, you’ll need to move.
Go hour by hour. This works for me, might not for everyone else. If I set up an hourly schedule, it gives me a great feeling of accomplishment and enough restriction to ensure I get everything done.
Schedule time for bits and pieces. There are always bits and pieces to be done, answering emails or making phone calls or fixing something on your website. These can take longer than expected and throw out your entire schedule. Every day schedule at most an hour to deal with the little bits and pieces that have come up. And make a list of them so you don’t forget to do in that time slot.
Try to do the same things every day. This sounds boring, and a little vague, but it’s true. Treat a work day like a work day, get up and shower and eat breakfast and ‘go to work’ even if it’s in your spare room. The routine of it makes it work. Trust me, if you decide to take a morning off from the routine, you’ll find it very hard to get to work after a few hours of sitting on the couch watching movies.
So this is my scheduling points for now, I wonder what others I will learn as this goes on.