Freelance 101: Scheduling & Staying Productive When You Work From Home

As a new freelancer and business owner there's a few things that I was definitely excited to have change. No more nagging boss, no more chatty Kathy office mate, no more blaring alarm and no more awful commutes. While it's exciting to be done with those things they did have their purpose. They helped me keep a schedule, stay on track and keep focused. Instead of a boss being there to nag on you to get things done or just to serve as that possible ‘over the shoulder hey don't get on facebook' voice you have to be that person for yourself. And Chatty Kathy while distracting helped me stay focused by knowing I had to tune her voice out while I focused on my work. And that commute, it may have been a vital transition for my brain to know when it’s work time.

But the whole point of being a freelancer is being able to set your own schedule and make your own habits and do the work the way you want to do it. So instead of repeating the habits that I already knew, I decided to take some time to discover what actually works best for me and hopefully some of these things will be useful for you as well. 

The 5 things that have helped me stay productive while working from home.

1. Develop a “Commute” trigger.

Many freelancers struggle with the balance of work and life especially when they work from home. Particularly because when you wake up in the morning and your office is just next door it's hard to mentally transition into doing the work when you have to walk past that pile of laundry that’s been haunting you for the last few days. I habit I am working on building to help me mentally transition into work mode has been to wake up, make my bed, get dressed to feel more boss and make myself a cup of coffee. For you maybe this commute trigger looks more like waking up, getting your kids sent off to school, then taking a walk before feeling ready to get to work. Think through what would work best for you and give it a try for a week. Then revise and edit from there to figure out what your best transition process looks like. I'm sure mine won't stay the same forever so remember this is an evolving process.

2. Find your perfect work environment 

For me my perfect work environment is my tiny home office desk set up, against a wall at the front of my house (the house is under construction). For one, because having a rented studio is not in the small business budget currently and I'm sure many of you understand this. Then the small desk forces me to keep it clean and not have distractions left on it. Maybe working at a coffee shop everyday is better for you because it removes you from distractions like cleaning the house and doing laundry and taking care of all the other to do list items that are on your list but aren't actually priority as far as your business goes. Maybe you're lucky and you have a spare bedroom or even a closet that you can set up into a very exclusive dedicated office space that inspires you and mentally feels like the ‘work’ room. Maybe you need a version of a chatty Kathy to tune out. I love Coffitivity for that. It creates ambient coffee shop sounds which research has shown to help people focus. When I’m doing design work I’ll listen to helpful podcasts like Being Boss & The Freelancer to maximize the usefulness of my time. For you, maybe a curated Apple Music playlist will energize you and keep you focused. Take your time and experiment to find your perfect work environment.

3. Train your brain to work on cue.  

I'm a sucker for print calendars and to do lists. As a hand lettering artist, having a pencil or pen in hand is comfortable so of course I've tried and tried and tried to keep a print style of organizer. But if you're like me you've lost track of how many times you've lost your to do list in jacket pockets but find them a year later to distinctly remember searching everywhere for that list. Been there done that. 

The other problem I found with keeping written to do's was that I had no way to prioritize those items and focus on what was top priority. Often I would end up wasting time rewriting the to do list on a new post it to try and prioritize them, which of course was just wasting more valuable time. Numbering didn't help and definitely didn't help me take into account how long each task would take to complete. Then I read an article about how many of the big CEOs and corporate leaders and innovators don't use to do lists in the traditional sense; all or at least most of them used digital calendars to keep track of their day. Why? Because it's much easier to organize tasks and there are these wonderful things called notifications. By setting calendar notifications for each task and scheduling set time frames for tasks to be completed we can train our brains in a Pavlovian manner to be able to focus on tasks. When your phone dings you know it's time to move on to the next task. I personally LOVE the Sunrise extension for Google Chrome (also available as an app) and have it synced to my Google Calendar. There's lots of options for you to try and figure out what works best for you. *Check back for another post listing all of the free online resources I currently use for being productive.

4. Schedule your day so you stay on track 

Going along with item number 3, I've found it very helpful to schedule my days. I try to schedule my tasks for the next day the night before and throughout the week depending on what is coming up ahead. Checking the night before helps me to mentally prepare for the next day so that first thing in the morning I know exactly what I have to get up and do. Without knowing what you need to get done for the day it's very easy to want to crawl back in bed and stay there a bit longer. Don't fall for that trap. Schedule those lazy days to reward yourself after making the most of your productive days and so you can indulge in the rest time completely.

An example of what my day looks like might be:


7:45 AM Wake Up, prep lunch for Mr. and breakfast for myself.
8:30 AM Make coffee
9:00-10:30 AM Writing Time
10:45-11:15 AM Email Clients
12:00 Lunch, read inspiring magazines, yoga time.
1:00 PM Design Time
3:00 PM Admin Tasks, invoices, etc.

I make sure to schedule break times of about 15 minutes in between tasks and I set a dedicated hour to relaxing, maybe exercising and having lunch to break up the day and recharge. 

5. Delegate your weaknesses and remove distractions 

I know that one of my weaknesses is social media. I can get sucked into hours of Instagram scrolling, Vine video watching, blog reading and of course Pinterest. So for me that means putting my phone in airplane mode and disconnecting from Wi-Fi so that I can't open those apps and they don't get loaded. On the computer the same distractions are still available so I have gotten into habit of visiting coffee shops and not asking for the Wi-Fi password. Thus forcing me to only work on my tasks like writing, designing or office admin tasks. For those who work at home maybe that means signing off of Wi-Fi or signing up for online task management distraction blockers. There's lots of free tools available that will help you stay focused on your work.

If you know that managing your finances is a weakness that sucks up your productive time, consider delegating that task out. Hire a CPA, Virtual Assistant (VA) or beg your spouse (if they are good at it) to handle that task for you. 

These are the top 5 things that I've been practicing lately to help me stay productive when I work from home and hopefully they will help you as well.

Next up: 8 Free Tools to Run Your Business

This post Scheduling And Staying Productive When You Work From Home first appeared on Manami Design.