Some people believe that all freelancers work at dawn and find it impossible establishing a routine. This is a myth. Throughout my whole life, I’ve pretty much worked for companies from 9 till 5, and when I’d share with someone my will to work as a freelancer, I’d hear that “freelance hours are crazy”. But when I finally gained the courage to give it a go, I decided to prove otherwise.
Result? I do work a lot, yes. As much as I did and many weeks, even more. But I have a routine that I enjoy, which keeps me happy & sane. There are days when I only work 4 hours a day, others 6, 8… And on rare occasions, even more. But thanks to my structure, I rarely work until very late. Certainly never at dawn.
Have in mind that what I am going to describe is what works for me and suits my way of being. It will hopefully inspire you to structure your own workdays, whether you’re freelancing or not.
While many people believe that one of the best things about being a freelancer is the flexibility to wake up late, I still wake up at the same time as I used to, usually at 6:30 am. I then go to yoga or practice another type of exercise, have a shower, and then my breakfast. This allows me to start my day slowly, with a fresh mind and a positive attitude.
The most significant change for me compared to the time when I used to work in an office, is that working from home prevents me from wasting time in traffic, which is a great advantage and makes my mornings way more peaceful.
Oh, and important detail: I like dressing up “nicely”, to get into my work mode. (But I confess that some days I just feel like working in my pj’s.)
I usually start working at around 9 am, which allows me to finish a significant piece of work before lunch. As a freelancer, I always have to set goals for my daily schedule. If I have several small tasks to do, I see the most important ones and tackle them first.
Whereas If I have a big task, I get started and leave it in half so that the next day I can get back with new ideas. If it is urgent, I do my best to finish it before lunch, even if I have to spend a longer time than what I’ve stipulated. This may actually happen quite often if you’re still trying to figure out what works best for you, and in which period of the day you feel more productive.
On normal days, I stop working around 1 pm, and because I really appreciate being outside during the day, I take a long break that normally lasts until 4 pm. I have to say that after feeling caged inside offices for years, there is nothing like going out for fun on a Monday afternoon. It is a wonderful feeling of freedom and worth the effort to be won. I even avoid looking at my cell phone.
Breaks: don’t underestimate them. We all spend too much time close to our computer screen, which, you might know, is not the healthiest thing in the world. But what if I tell you that can also be bad for productivity?
On slightly busier days, my second round of work starts at 4 pm and goes until 8 pm. In these extra hours of work, I finish something that I was unable to finish in the morning or spend a few extra hours on purpose to earn extra money and prevent many tasks from accumulating.
I also use this time to read some blog posts, learn a little more about my work, read books, and organize some bureaucracy (like invoices and payments). It depends on the day. After all, to maintain this lifestyle, you also need to keep up to date.
Although I have been freelancing for less than 6 months, I notice how most people are interested in knowing if it was ‘worth it’. Well, if you want a different life, you have to start doing things differently. I know I could be earning slightly better If I were still working on my full time job. But for me, there’s no point to only have the weekends to enjoy my life, with no flexibility during the week whatsoever.
Now that you know what my freelance routine looks like, I’ll share what are, for me, the most essential points to create a good work structure.
1. Set a (flexible) schedule
If you do your best work in the morning, as I do, then wake up early and knock out your work. You might even choose to work nonstop until 2 or 3 pm so that the rest of the day is yours. Your structure will help you set boundaries, and if you leave room for more flexible days, is likely that your week will feel lighter.
2. Set aside realistic “work time”
As your own boss, you are not only responsible for the actual contracted work but also for the administrative, financial, business development, sales, and marketing tasks. Remember to schedule time in your day to seek out new opportunities, expand your network, schedule social media posts, maintain your website, etc. Do not count these activities as your “off-hours”, otherwise, you’ll get overwhelmed pretty soon and find yourself wondering where your time is going.
3. Don’t overcommit
As an independent worker, it's easy to feel compelled to take on as much work as you can. Don’t fall into this trap. Saying ‘yes’ for too many clients and projects will lead you to burn out, missed deadlines, and, at its extreme, poor work quality.
4. Know when to pause, push through, or stop
If you have reached a point where your brain’s no longer working, for God’s sake, stop. There are days and moments when the more you force yourself to complete a task or project, the harder it feels. In this case, if you can delegate it, do. That’s actually a good reason to have good relationships with trustable freelancers in your field.
If you can’t delegate either stop (because of your deadline or any other reason), you’ll obviously push yourself to finish. In this case, don’t beat up on yourself. That’s something that every single freelance goes through. Take the opportunity to find out what “went wrong”. Was the deadline too tight? Did you start working too close to the delivery date? Perhaps you’ll realize you have been taking projects that don’t motivate you, whether for their payment, subject, or purpose. Whatever it is, take note and learn with it.
5. Have a working space
Just because you can work from bed doesn’t mean you should. You’d be surprised with the amount of energy and clarity that arises when you’re working from the space you love. I alternate between my home office and a few nice coffee shops closeby. This keeps me more productive and with a sense of work-life balance.
6. Schedule your week in advance
“Who fails to plan, plans to fail.” - Benjamin Franklin
As someone who’s not naturally organized, I certainly have learned it the harder way. (And I’m still far from mastering it). So, my most honest and simple tip is: do your best to set aside some time to plan your week and organize your calendar.
List out everything you’ll need to do and schedule your activities. Will it all happen according to your agenda? I bet it won’t. But with a structure to follow, your chances of managing your time are way higher.
7. Schedule time for what you love
When your work life starts getting in the way of your hobbies and passions, life loses its color. Achieving work-life balance means prioritizing activities you enjoy, even non-important ones.
As I mentioned, instead of spending my whole week looking forward to the weekend, I use my mornings and breaks to do enjoyable things.
Does that sometimes include mindlessly scrolling through Instagram? Yes. But, more and more I have been realizing that my break doesn't really feel like a break when I’m hypnotized by my screen. Trust me: forget about your phone for a moment and go do something to recharge your body and soul’s battery.
If you’re just getting started working as a freelancer, click here for the ultimate freelancers guide to help you get started.