When I first started as a freelancer, I quickly took to the life style of being able to control my own hours. I absolutely love the freedom that comes with being able to work on my own— no one is setting a schedule for me, or expecting me in at work at a certain time, or telling me I can’t take vacation whenever I want. Honestly it’s one of the best perks of the job.
However, as with many other things in life, there’s a downside to this kind of freedom: it comes with a lot of personal responsibility and accountability. That was a struggle for me early on in life, and one that I have worked on through the years. Thankfully now I have years of experience behind me. Hopefully I can help someone starting out now with accountability as a freelancer.
1. Figure out when you work best and on what kinds of tasks
This is admittedly something I can still struggle with, but I have improved ever since I realized that I don’t have to be like everyone else. I always felt that morning people had cornered the market on productivity—so I tried and tried to be a morning person myself.
It wasn’t until very recently that I finally said screw it, I’m not doing the morning thing. I just don’t enjoy waking up super early. Instead, I found out my most productive days were the days I woke up naturally—usually around 7:30-8:30 when the sun started peeking into my room. I woke up more alert and could jump into my work and finish done without that groggy semi-awake state. (I also naturally would sleep every day around 11 to midnight.)
The more I paid attention to how I work, the more I was able to get the most out of my day. I code in the mornings, I like to check on numbers and analytics in the late mornings / early afternoons, and I enjoy writing in the afternoon and being creative then. I end my day with running/exercising, doing a little bit more work, and then signing off with something light & fun in the evening.
Once I embraced this, my productivity just skyrocketed. My day didn’t need to be like everyone else’s—it just needed to have the best results for me.
2. Give yourself boundaries of when to work
Boundaries are super important when you work for yourself. Just as easy as it is to not work at all, it’s super easy to work way too much. Not having personal boundaries for when to work can result in a terrible outcome: burnout.
Additionally, a side effect is that if you’re working with clients, you may set a really dangerous precedent: that you’re available all the time, any time, regardless of what you’re doing. Not having your own boundaries means that they won’t know of any either. If you’re responding to phone calls or emails at 11pm at night, you’ve now set the expectation that you’re available then. I personally think that’s a terrible idea, because I don’t really want to be answering work related questions at that time (except for emergencies…which most things are not emergencies).
Boundaries are really just constraints, and constraints are critical for creativity. Limiting yourself to working until 5pm, for example, means that you need to get everything done before then every day. It’ll force you to limit your distractions, stay focused, and get everything done. Otherwise it’s easy to be lazy and put things off, and let the work linger well into the night.
3. Get out of the house to work, and use locations for specific purposes
I’ve talked with a lot of other freelancers on this topic, and we all tend to agree: getting out of the house is important. It’s not only good with regards to having human interaction, and physical activity, it’s also good for your creativity. Changing spaces sparks new ideas and gets your brain working differently. In fact, the type of space you head to can have positive effects.
Research has shown that if you’re looking for creative solutions, you should work in big open spaces with lots of windows/open air and colors. Alternatively if you’re looking to focus and finish tasks, you should stick to more confined spaces— think cubicles or small uncluttered desks (but hopefully not depressing).
Being a freelancer, solopreneur or really any kind of self-driven professional is truly rewarding. It’s just a matter of getting the most out of your day and being organized with your time. It’s also about being respectful to yourself (and ultimately to your clients / customers)!