I like thinking of work in freelancing as a ‘liberating challenge.’ While you have the freedom to work whatever hours you like in whatever space, that freedom can be a trap of it’s own. As there’s no one to organize your day for you and place an infrastructure neatly in your lap, it’s up to you for staying focused and productive. Organizational skills and self-motivation might come naturally to some of us, but the rest of us will need to take up whatever small practices we can for being more tactful and effective with our time-management.
Setting a schedule
When you have total freedom over your schedule, setting a schedule may seem counter-intuitive. However, schedules are in place because they benefit us and help us accomplish our goals. If you’re overly-flexible with how you approach each day, it’ll be hard to get into the mindset of task-completion. There are no hard lines for you to stick to and the start of the day can wane farther and farther into the distance. I set little routines for knowing that my day has started to cross me over the threshold of work/play. Once my morning cup of coffee is ready and I’ve set up my breakfast, I know it’s time for working. Schedules can help us start the day off right, but they also help us know when to wind-down and avoid the lure of over-working.
Embracing a workspace
I have this fantasy that I can complete my work from the comfort of my bed, especially on chilly mornings where I’d rather keep sleeping. I imagine I can work in my pajamas all day and it’ll feel like it’s practically a day-off. I say this is a fantasy, because no reality I’ve ever encountered has validated this thought. If I work from my bed, or from my couch, blankets heaped atop of me, I’ll never get in a good flow. When I want to be effective, I need to put on actual clothes and sit at my desk. It’s part of my morning routine and it helps get me in the mindset of a workday. Develop your workspace into a place you enjoy being. Maybe that means setting up your desk by a window with lots of sunlight, or setting up 3 screens so you can work more efficiently. Invest in an ergonomic chair and a set-up that promotes good posture. Feeling stiff at the end of the day because you were slouching on the couch won’t make you feel like your work is sustainable and you’ll walk away feeling worse.
Avoid social media
Social media is both a pleasure and a curse. Yes, it can be fun endlessly scrolling through your friends’ content and stay up to date with the latest trends. But it is also a black hole and there’s never a visible stopping point. There are so many different platforms to look through, neverending notifications, and delightful dog videos to watch; you can’t possibly hope to extricate yourself from the trap. Using social media is as easy as picking up your phone, so by setting a loose barrier between your work day and social media, you’re guaranteed to be far less on-task. Make an agreement with yourself to minimize your social media usage throughout the work-day and let it be a nice little treat for you at the end of the day.
Speaking of social media and little treats, embrace the opportunities for taking breaks throughout the day. Maybe you go for a quick walk, make yourself some lunch, or call a friend? Consider what you do to decompress: this can be a metaphorical carrot dangling ahead of the completion of your next big task. If you’re grinding for hours on end, your work will become more about your endurance and less about the quality of work you’re producing. By taking little breaks throughout the day, you’ll feel more satisfied with the tasks you’ve completed and you’ll have the motivation you need to push through your workload.
Track your time
Everyone works at a different pace, and it’s important for understanding the time it takes you to complete key tasks in your day-to-day. By understanding you need to put 45 minutes into completing a standard activity, you can visualize your day more effectively and plan accordingly. Making the assumption that it will take you 20 minutes will set you up for failure. The length of time is inconsequential, as long as you’re able to organize your day around it. I like to use my calendar to set up work blocks for certain activities, and drop my meetings within those spaces, so I can visualize what my day will look like. This might mean finding out I don’t have the capacity for getting something done on a particular day, which I can then communicate with my clients. Using calendars or project-management tools like Asana for organizing my time has vastly improved my time management and ability to conquer my workload.
Everyone’s approach towards time-management and productivity will be different based on the work they do or the methods that work best for them. To source even more ideas, check out my article “10 Tremendous Tools to Increase Your Freelance Productivity.”