I was highly successful as a college student. Once I really committed, I excelled in ways that still make me proud. Mostly notably, one semester I took a whopping 18 credits, still ended up on the honor roll, and rarely worked after dark. I spent a lot of time with my partner, had a flourishing social network, led student groups, earned two degrees, and was, in retrospect, pretty darn happy. I developed discipline, gained skills, and developed techniques during this time that lent themselves very well when I decided to give virtual work a go. Working independently is simply second nature to me, and my most productive days are those when I am given the freedom to set my own schedule and work in my own space.
I’ve done the co-working thing. I had a cubicle in an office space for small businesses. I’ve gone to cafes to get out of the house. While there are pros and cons to each type of work environment, I’ve always found myself looking forward to the days from home because I know I will get the most done. It’s definitely a testament to my discipline, as I don’t find myself getting pulled away by the common distractions that I hear other freelancers talk about (the laundry is a popular one).
Just like having ‘study skills’ as a student, there are ways you can go about structuring your time at home that will help you to maximize each and every day. Here are five of my top tips:
1. Set that alarm and get ready for work.
As a freelancer or work from home boss, your mornings are just as important as they would be if you have to get up and drag yourself to the office, do not neglect them. Set yourself up for a day to be proud of by getting up to an alarm and maintaining a morning routine that gets you going. My current routine is stretching, drinking lemon water, meditating, usually a walk, and a nice big coffee.
Now don’t mistake a powerful morning for getting up and hitting the ground running with your work. The morning routine that I’m talking about here is completely separate from your work. I’m talking about a routine that gets you up with the world and allows you to get calm and confident for a day of solid productivity. I personally don’t even look at my email for the first hour of my day.
2. Write that to-do list the day before
Once you are sorted for the day and ready to get going, go full steam ahead by eliminating the need to sort through yesterday’s work and tasks and devising a list for the day after the day has already started.
Being able to sit down at your desk or work space and just start smashing your to-do list is a great feeling and sets a great mood for the rest of the day. Achieve this by reserving the last 15-20 minutes of each day to looking over your open projects and listing what needs to be done the next day. Write this list on a blank page in an actual note pad and label it with the next day’s date. It will be there ready for you when you start work next, happy and ready to be crossed off.
3. Set business hours and KEEP THEM
This is SUPER important. If you want to pack the biggest punch into every day, AND keep your sanity, maintain your boundaries when it comes to business hours! When I first started freelancing I let my clients run the show and I can tell you, it leads to crazy making of the worst kind. To avoid having to leave Fourth of July family BBQs to proofread and send out newsletters or answer late night texts about whether or not you received the latest email, set a start and stop time for when you are available, and STICK TO IT. Keep the email notifications off your phone, inform all clients about your hours, start each day with a bang, and enjoy your off time so much that you will be enthusiastic about starting work the next day, and show up for them in the most powerful way.
4. Become friends with your timer
Yes, working from home is nice in the sense that you can accept packages and keep up with the housework. But the phone, the pile of laundry, and last night’s dishes can all become distractions that seem like a good idea at the time, but really serve to keep you from a day that you can truly feel proud of. The solution may be right at the tip of your fingers. If there is any task that steps into my view while I’m working from home, I decide on a time that I’m willing to step away from my work, set my timer, and focus on it until the timer goes off. Kitchen dirty from morning coffee and toast? Timer is set for six minutes. Am I obsessing over which book to download next on my Kindle? Twelve minutes is dedicated to fiddling around to look at titles and then I’m right back to my to-do list. I even time my showers and putting my clothes away each night. While it may sound a bit type-A….well, you know what? It is type-A, and I own that. It’s also a highly effective way to maximize your time.
5. Don’t make yourself too available via email or messaging apps
This is a sanity saver, a timer saver, and one way to turn your work-from-home gig into a real job. If you don’t know the stress of late night emails, texts, and Messenger reach outs from clients, I urge you to not let it get started. If you do know the strain that being constantly available can put on your life, than please listen up. Not only is it important to maintain the business hours that I’ve already discussed, it is also crucial that you not keep your email tab open all day long. It may seem difficult at first, but you will be A-MAZED at how much more you will get done each hour when you don’t see emails popping up.
My personal method is to spend 45 minutes or so at the beginning of the day answering and going through my inbox, from newsletters to client requests. I make a second column next to my to-do list for new items, notes, or things that I want to circle back to when I have a spare moment. I then CLOSE my email and open it back again at set times, say 12:30pm and 4:30pm, typically just to respond to clients or send any emails about OPEN PROJECTS. End of story.
When it comes to other messaging apps, I’ll be brutally honest here; I really try to encourage clients to send all requests via email, and I don’t even open things like Messenger except for a few times a day. This is an extremely slippery slope, and I just try not to go there.
As I like to say: at the end of the day, it is the end of the day. You want the end to mean shutting off the computer or putting work away, and self-selecting what you do with your downtime. As a freelancer you also want to end the day feeling accomplished and that you gave your clients excellent service. It all starts with creating systems and boundaries that work for you and that support the delivery of your best work and you living your best life.