People with real jobs have an advantage over us freelancers. They have to go to work! No matter how late they stayed up the night before, or how difficult it was to pack the kids off to school in the morning, somehow, some way, they have to drag their butt to the workplace on time. If they don’t, someone — perhaps their boss — is going to notice!
But things are a little different when you’re self-employed. There is no time clock to punch nor boss to give you a cold look if you stumble into work late. You can happily linger in your pajamas, sipping coffee and reading the paper, for hours. “Gee, I really should get started on that client project,” you say to yourself while checking your watch. “Well, maybe after one more cup of Java!”
That’s a problem!
Because, in my experience, the number one reason why freelancers don’t get things done — and, as a result, often live in a near continuous state of deadline dread — is that they simply don’t go to work. They leave things loose. When they have a client project on the go, they allocate it to “sometime this morning” or “right after lunch.” There are no firm “office hours.” No set schedule.
Big mistake. You must have a schedule.
That means knowing that at 10 a.m., or whatever time you have determined, you have an appointment with Project X. You’ll show up for work at that time, jump into that project with both feet, and work diligently at it until the schedule says to stop.
If you don’t have a schedule, it’s way too easy to procrastinate. It’s also way too easy to leave project work until the deadline comes crashing around the corner, forcing you into a frenzied scramble to get the job done. (Isn’t that fun!)
Scheduling also helps you plan your work so you can give yourself the time a project requires. There is nothing more frightening — at least to a freelancer — than leaving a project until the last minute, only to realize that it’s going to take you many more hours to complete than you had originally anticipated.
Now the good news is, as a freelancer, you can make your own schedule. You can plan your project work in time slots that fit perfectly with your lifestyle, preferences, and workload. You can build in flexibility that allows you to spend time with your kids, play a round of driveway basketball, or walk your dog.
I’m an early bird, so I prefer to start at 7 a.m. In fact, I’m so disciplined about showing up to work (via a 20-second commute from the breakfast table to my home office) that I actually feel uncomfortable, even agitated, if I’m late for some reason. I typically work on projects and tasks until 11 a.m. and then either go for a jog or take some work with me to a local café.
My friend Amy, a graphic designer, has a new baby. So she schedules her work in chunks throughout the day in order to balance parenting and freelancing (a common high-wire act these days). According to Amy, “I schedule three work sessions each day. One hour in the morning when Lauren goes down for her nap. Another, for two hours after lunch. And then, for an hour in the evening, after the family has had dinner.”
Amy gets all her client projects done, yet she’s not sacrificing time her family needs. How? She made a schedule and sticks to it. If she were loosey-goosey with her schedule, and just tried to squeeze in client work wherever she could throughout the day, she would not be nearly as successful.
So never be ambiguous about when you’ll go to work and for how long. If you catch yourself saying, “I’ll sketch out some ideas for that client’s web copy later this afternoon,” stop, get your schedule out, and block out the time you need. Then, when that time arrives, go to work! You’ll get more done with a lot less stress.