Freelance Fundamentals: Have a Schedule

When I started freelancing, I made a point to my wife:

We’re going to enjoy the flexibility.

Why not? It’s the biggest advantage of working from home. Some things you can do that are impossible in a normal job:

  • Run errands during the day
  • Work when & where you feel like it
  • Take weekdays off to spend time with your family

But flexibility comes with problems. Without anyone holding you accountable, your days can turn into a scheduling goulash: work, play and errands are blended until they are indistinguishable from each other.

If you want to work from home for the long term, you need a schedule.

Without a schedule, time gets choppy. You spend days goofing off & reading blogs (which feels like work). You spend late nights catching up on work. Projects slip past deadlines, errands get overlooked. Without a time and place for everything, every time becomes a place for anything.

If you want to maximize productivity, you need a schedule.

How to structure your day

Here is a rough outline of my daily schedule:

  • 6:30am: Wake up before the kids, get our morning routine started
  • Have breakfast, get everyone ready for the day
  • 8:30 am: Work 3 hours
  • Break for 2 hours – naps, small errands, lunch
  • 1:30pm: Work for 4 hours
  • Dinner
  • Flex time – baths, showers, fun, big errands

Note: My schedule is in flux as we adjust for the start of homeschooling. I’ll have to let you know how the adjustments go.

My schedule won’t fit everyone. I have a traditional 9-to–5-ish schedule because it suits my family well. Maybe you prefer to invert your days: Start with errands, reading and fun. End with work.

The important point is to avoid falling into the “I’ll work whenever” mindset. Here’s why:

  1. With no constraints on working time, you’ll procrastinate. Yes, you will. You’ll feel like you have plenty of time, because you could theoretically pull 2 all-nighters before a project is due. All-nighters should be a last resort – maybe even outlawed.
  2. You need to review what you accomplished in a day. When you have set working times, you can review what you did right, what you did wrong, and how to fix it. Without an end to the working day, you’ll never have a good opportunity for reflection.
  3. If you care about your work (which you should), it will consume your life. There’s more to life than work. Put boundaries on it, so the other parts of your life can flourish.

The effect on my life

Scheduling matters. Having a schedule changed the entire character of my days. In the morning, I have 3 hours to get my tasks done. If I don’t, there isn’t time to make it up in the evening. I don’t have time to ponder interesting-but-not-important problems, so I cut the fluff and focus on deliverables.

After the time is up, I put work aside. Without the possibility of “doing a few more hours”, my time is focused on what I’m scheduled to do: family time, recreation, or errands.

Challenge

If you’ve never set a firm schedule, try it for a week. Before you start your workday, set times for everything. Set a time for work, and don’t do any work outside of that time. Set a time for errands & emails, and don’t sneak peeks at your inbox. Set a time for rest, and don’t allow the siren song of unfinished work lure you in.

See how much you get done – you may surprise yourself.

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