One of the most common comments I hear from friends and family members starts with “But you work from home!” This is usually because I decline a last-minute invitation for lunch due to work obligations, or skip a weeknight activity because I need to get up early to tackle my long to-do list.
Yes, being a freelancer has the advantage of added flexibility—including little to no time lost to a commute—but it’s a role that comes with a whole new set of responsibilities and a lot less free time than one might think. Self-employed individuals have to take care of all the administrative tasks involved in running a business, in addition to client obligations. Having a successful full-time freelance business takes dedication, planning, and hard work to keep clients happy and the business running smoothly.
If you are thinking about leaving the 9-to-5 to fully commit to building a freelance business, you need to approach it seriously—sometimes even more so than those who commute to an office every day. The only person you can negotiate with if you want to take an extended lunch or recover from a late night is yourself—with consideration of your deadlines, reputation, and bank account.
So what exactly does it look like to be a freelance worker? And what should you expect if you or someone you know wants to try it out? Here is some insight into my typical day, with notes on how to avoid distractions and optimize productivity.
Setting the stage: I frequently work from different locations in my home. I have a traditional desk and standing desk, and I might take my writing to a comfy armchair, the balcony, or a nearby park or beach. Changing up the location helps improve my creativity and concentration.
7:30 a.m. – Wake up, dress, make coffee, and have breakfast. No radio, no TV; as a rule, I leave these electronics off until my workday is complete.
8:00 a.m. – At the beginning of each workday, I check my email for any important info that came in overnight. I respond to anything that is urgent or will take less than five minutes to attend to. I save any emails that are less urgent for attention later in the day. I then plan my to-do list in priority sequence, in as much detail as possible, by plugging the tasks into 30-minute time slots on my calendar.
8:30 to 11:00 a.m. – The bulk of the morning is spent completing the most pressing tasks on my list. I find that this time of the day is also the best for tackling the most difficult items I am working on. During this time, I will ensure I do not open personal social media channels, and I ignore personal telephone calls and text messages.
11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. – Fitness break. I use this hour for a zumba class, a swim, a run, or a visit to the gym. Getting the blood flowing midday has dramatically improved my ability to focus later in the day. No fitness facilities close by? There are numerous fitness apps and videos available with routines you can do right in your living room on days when a run outside is out of the question.
12:00 to 1:00 p.m. – I prep my lunch and then do a second email review. If there have been few emails since my morning review, I will also use this time to revisit saved emails and action them.
1:00 to 3:00 p.m. – This is time for completing items on my scheduled to-do list, with distractions kept to a minimum.
3:00 p.m. – 15-minute break. This break is often used for a quick walk around the block or a short errand, like putting on a load of laundry—something that gets me moving and away from the computer screen so I get a welcome refresh. Plus, knocking off quick and mindless chores like this during the week helps free up my evenings and weekends for extra curricular activities. I stay away from social media and similar distractions during my breaks as well; it’s too easy to fall down a social media or YouTube rabbit hole.
3:15 p.m. to end of day – I tackle the rest of my to-dos—as long as it takes, usually until 5 p.m. but sometimes later. At the end of the day, I do another email check before signing off, and action anything that needs immediate attention while saving anything that is less urgent. If my day runs later than 5 p.m., I take another break to recharge my batteries.
There are often urgent and pressing matters that come up during the workday that require immediate attention. I’ve found that the ability to be flexible with my plan—but rigid when it comes to tuning out non-work related items during the workday—is paramount to success. Careful planning will not only lead to happy clients, but will also help to improve your work-life balance so that, while you can’t always do everything you want, your freelance business will continue to thrive.
What does your freelance schedule look like? Tell us how you’ve perfected your workday in the comments below!