There are obvious upsides to being a freelancer and the lifestyle that it brings, such as having the option to be able to stop working midday and eat your way to the bottom of a tub of Ben and Jerry's. This lifestyle also brings with it as many challenges, such as making sure you don't eat a tub of Ben and Jerry's every day when you should be working.
No matter what job you have, routine plays a big part in getting things done. When you're employed at a company, you don't have to worry too much about your schedule, as the majority of it is set out for you.
Whereas when you work for yourself, it becomes a lot more important to set out a way of working that you can stick to that will make it easier to get motivated, stay on task, and get more done within your day.
Since no-one is bossing you around to get things done, there might be days where you feel demotivated or feel like you're making no progress towards your work. The biggest cause for these days, at least in my case, is when you haven't made clear exactly what needs to get done in a given day.
"Empty days are paralysing due to too many options and decision fatigue."
It's difficult to be motivated and know what you should be doing when you're staring at an empty calendar, so outlining your week and your day to day should be a top priority.
As freelancers, we're usually working for a variety of different clients at different times. This means it can be hard to know exactly what your day or week is going to look like, and how many working hours you will need to put in. So how are you suppose to keep any kind of routine in your working life?
Writers know that the most important step to writing is not crafting perfect prose, but instead keeping consistent by putting in the hours. When you put in the work every day, you'll know that you are making progress, even on days that the work isn't top notch.
The same applies for any self directed work. Putting the hours in can be enough to make yourself feel energised and help you feel that you are making progress, therefor it's better to outline the hours you want to work, put in what you think you might do, and adjust your schedule as you go.
"It doesn't so much matter what you do with your time; rather, success is measured by whether you did what you planned to do."
- Nir Eyal
Though the 9 to 5 work life can be unnecessary when you get to pick your own hours, you might find that a similar structure is helpful to ensure you are making progress and working towards your goals and client work.
I recommend to lay-out at least 5 - 6 hours on days that you are freelancing, and feel free to bring this up to 8 - 9 hours if you have the energy.
Here's an example of how a full outline of a schedule might look:
Obviously you might not be as routine obsessed as I am, so feel free to ignore scheduling in every hour of your day. You might find it more helpful in that you are committing to taking breaks and not working overtime, but scheduling this way is not for everyone.
Either way, you want to adapt your work around when you wake up, have breakfast, have lunch, and when you finish your day.
You might notice I start quite early and end early, but by all means ignore this too. Work whatever time you want; in the mornings, the 9 - 5 schedule, or even in the evenings. Whatever suits you best is the way you should work.
Now that you have outlined how much you want to work, you have to figure out what work you actually should be doing. Spoiler: you should not be doing 100% client work.
Working 40 hours of only client work is a sure way to drain your energy and make you not look forward to working. It's also a sure way to end up with no clients in the long term, as without putting in time to do your own work, how do you expect new clients to find you?
For this reason, freelancing should be a balance of client work, and your own personal work.
Figuring out the work you should be doing when you aren't doing client work could be a whole book in itself, as there are more options than there are Jelly Belly flavours.
To keep things simple, here are a couple of options:
Have some ideas flowing now? Good, now you can schedule in time for your own personal work.
Now that we know we should be balancing client and personal work, let's look at options on how we can schedule in both.
Want to get all your client work and updates completed sooner rather than later?
Putting aside the start of your day to work through client work might be ideal for you. This way you can check your emails, work through everything that needs to be done for the day, then leave the afternoon to do your own thing.
On busy weeks you can always substitute a couple of afternoons to keep working on client work, but make sure your calendar isn't fully in the red with clients.
Have too much creative juice in the morning? maybe you prefer to get through all your personal work first over a good cup of coffee (or a half decent cup of instant coffee).
Working this way ensures your ideas early in the day are being worked through to their full potential, as the start of the day is when you will likely have the most energy and breakthroughs.
In the same way, you can always turn a couple of mornings into client work when you have more on.
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You might find that you prefer to have full days aside to work through one type of work. This way you can eliminate as much context switching as possible by dedicating specific days for client work and for personal work.
Don't fret about going a full day without doing client work. You can still answer any emails you need to, and you'll find that letting a client know that you will be "right onto it tomorrow" is enough to give yourself a full day to do your own work.
Keep in mind for these days to work best, you'll want to have email notifications turned off, as this will constantly pull you out of the current thing you're trying to work on.
So is it likely that you will stick to this exact schedule every day? Absolutely not.
I'll let Cal explain this for me:
"Your goal is not to stick to a schedule at all costs; it’s instead to maintain, at all times, a thoughtful say in what you’re doing with your time going forward - even if these decisions are reworked again and again and again as the day unfolds."
Realistically, days unfold a lot more sporadically than the perfect outline that we saw earlier.
Here's an example of how a real Monday might unfold:
Even though you won't stick to your schedule as perfectly as you could, perfection is not the desired outcome.
The main reason for having a routine is to suggest to yourself what a good day and week might look like, and by doing this you will get a lot closer to having a fulfilling schedule than you would have with an empty calendar.
The work you do as a freelancer will change week to work, and month to month. You will have less client work sometimes, and a whole lot more other times. Either way, if you are sticking to some sort of schedule, you will ensure you're getting great work done, even if it's not always invoiced work.
No matter if you read this whole post or just skimmed the images, I would love to know your thoughts on how you work as a freelancer and if this helpful in any way.
Drop me an email at email@example.com and let me know how you currently work with your routine, and if seeing a perfectly clear routine fills you with optimism, or just red hot rage.
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