When you ditched your 9 to 5 job, did you also ditch “office hours”? Join the club. One of the benefits of freelancing is the ability to plan work hours around your day — rather than the other way around.

However, finding time for work each day can get sticky, especially when a slew of other demands crop up: the lawn needs to be mowed, you’re out of milk, the cat needs his shots, etc. Add a family to the mix and, let’s face it, work can float to the bottom of your to-do list.

I know because it happened to me. I’ve always known that keeping freelance office hours was the best way to eliminate distractions. Trouble is, I couldn’t remember the last time I actually had office hours. Three weeks ago I realized after years of working from home, I was no longer managing the demands on my time, the demands were managing me. The result was constant guilt about work, ongoing procrastination, low productivity and smaller paychecks.

So, I decided to confess my time management sins to the freelance gods and start over. Armed with strict office hours, I set out to change my freelance lifestyle and the results were instantly noticeable, and instantly rewarding. My work productivity went up and my time off work became guilt-free.

office hours challenge odesk freelancers clocksWhich is why I’m thrilled to announce the oDesk Office Hours Challenge.

Starting tomorrow, we want you take our Office Hours Challenge by keeping your own office hours for seven days. Then, on Thursday, April 22, we’ll choose 3 lucky Office Hours Challenge participants to win autographed copies of The Wealthy Freelancer.  What have you got to lose?

Here’s what you need to do to take the challenge:

  1. Set office hours for the week of April 14 to April 21. We recommend selecting your most productive part of the day or the time when you will have the least interruptions. The office hours you set for Monday may be different from the office hours you set for Thursday, but the point is to set hours for each day at the beginning of the week and stick to them. (And don’t forget to schedule two of those days off! Whether you choose the traditional weekend or utilize weekdays is up to you – but scheduling time off is almost as important as scheduling the work time!)
  2. Don’t let anything interfere with your working hours. Don’t take personal calls during these hours, reschedule doctor appointments that fall during these times, and so on.
  3. Don’t let work interfere with your time off. Don’t take work calls in your down time, don’t even look at work emails outside your planned hours. (Hint: If your clients are used to you being at their beck and call, you may need to post your work hours for this week on your voicemail and email signature.)
  4. Share the results. At the end of the week, on Wednesday, April 21, post the personal results of your Work Hours Challenge in the comments section of this blog entry. Were you able to stick with it? Was it harder than you thought or easier? Were you more productive? Share your thoughts on keeping office hours by 11:59pm PDT on April 21 for a chance to win!
  5. Watch for the winner. On Thursday, April 22, we’ll select 3 lucky Office Hours Challenge participants to receive The Wealthy Freelancer, autographed by co-author Ed Gandia. We’ll announce the winners on the oDesk Blog, Twitter and Facebook.

So, tell us. Are you up for the oDesk Office Hours Challenge?