It’s Called Freelancing, Not Freewheeling
It’s 8am. Your alarm sounds. Your hand shoots out from under the covers with the deadliness of a flyswatter. Bam! Alarm’s off, and to a down-covered, sleepy abandon you return.
Until that damn alarm blares at you again. You swat. Covers rustle. Sleepy abandon. Repeat.
Now, unless it’s Saturday or you’re on some weird vacation where you intentionally set the alarm only to gloriously defy it, how long can this Guy Ritchie-hyper-stylized edit of your morning wakeup routine continue?
Well, folks, when you’re a freelance writer who works from home with no kids, cats, or dogs to tend to— this can go on for hours.
Imagine: No office manager hawk-eyeing you to see what time you’re sliding into your cubicle. No metro, train, bus, cab, walk, bike or weather considerations to make you scramble out of bed. No one to answer to, no rules to abide by, just total freedom.
Sounds like bliss, right? But, hm, maybe a tad misdirected? Or rather irresponsible? Or a sure-fire way to lose professional credibility? And maybe a winding road to bankruptcy? How about a method by which you will never be published or achieve the goals you set for yourself before you embarked on the whole freelancing career path?
The reality is “Freelancer Writer (insert Designer, Marketer, Accountant, What-Have-You)” is, in fact, a job title. For an actual job. Where you actually have to do work.
So, how do you get yourself to work when there's no threat of an angry boss and you've got a comfy bed beckoning? Here are some simple practices that will help you establish the self-discipline and focus you need to become a freelance superstar.
Get Out of Bed.
While the picture painted of sleeping as late as you want and starring in Clock, Swat, and Two Singing Cherubs might seem like a lovely idea every day of the week, save that for the weekends. During the week, wake up early enough so that you can perform your salute-the-sun (or stars, in case you prefer nighttime work hours) ritual: do your yoga workout, go for a run, watch the news, eat a hearty meal, drink your coffee or green drink, and get ready for work so that when it comes time to tuck in to the day's projects, you're on schedule.
Yes, pajamas are amazing. And, considering they’re releasing a line of Underoos for adults now, it’s hard NOT to want to lounge in your skivvies all day. But, as Karen Pine, a professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire stated in a Forbes article, “When we put on an item of clothing it is common for the wearer to adopt the characteristics associated with that garment. A lot of clothing has symbolic meaning for us, whether it’s ‘professional work attire’ or ‘relaxing weekend wear’, so when we put it on we prime the brain to behave in ways consistent with that meaning.” So, even if your work outfit is casual, make sure you distinguish it from your weekend or lounge clothes so that your brain and your body know when it’s time to work and when it’s time to chill.
Go to the Office.
Not everyone who is a freelancer has the space in their home for a separate room which they can dedicate as their office. But, certainly, everyone has a way that they like to set up their most-productive workspace — at the kitchen table, on the coffee table, on the couch, on the patio, at the local coffee shop, on the floor, wherever. Find the place where you are able to focus and which sets you up to work efficiently and with little distraction (see next point).
Focus on the Task at Hand.
Considering how pervasive and invasive the internet can be on someone’s daily work time, removing the internet as much as you feasibly can from your workspace is key. If you’re a writer who flips back and forth between multiple tabs in one window (what’s up, dictionary.com, thesaurus.com, chicagomanualofstyle.org), and is often scouring the internet for reference material, contests, residency programs, job opportunities, etc., it’s very easy to get sucked into the visually stimulating vortex that is the internet. Here’s a trick: if you come across an article or page that truly has nothing to do with what you’re researching, pull the tab out of your project-focused window and start a guilty-pleasure window where you collect all the tabs that you’d like to go back to later (when you’re not on client time or career-related time).
And, if the TV or radio or your phone are added distractions, turn them off (for your phone, switch it to accept emergency calls only). The point is, allow yourself the freedom to focus, unencumbered by distractions that are not helping you get that writing project done.
Track your Time.
Tracking your time is a great habit to start for yourself so that you know how long it takes you to write or research a certain topic and how much you should then be charging for a similar assignment, should you get one. If you happen to handle work for multiple clients at a time (and often switch back and forth between them in one day), tracking your time accurately is critical. And, the added bonus of tracking your time? It offers structure — start and end times — in a situation that is ripe for disorder.
Because you don’t have an office building that you’re traveling to, or a suit you have to put on, or a room full of coworkers around you, or a long walk home from the commuter train station, it can be really hard to distinguish between your work life and your home life. And, if you’re like many people who have smart phones that blast you with push notifications of work emails all day, it’s really difficult to mentally clock out.
Just as you need to get out of bed when your alarm barks at you, and then you need to mentally clock in for the day, you need to mentally clock out. Yes, your computer is right there and you could just take an hour to punch out that late night request you just got, but, if it’s outside of what you have set as your working hours, don’t do it.
This goes for weekends, too. If you can set up a Monday through Friday work week, do it. And save those Saturdays and Sundays to hang out with your friends and family, do your weekly shopping, go to the park or movies, dance from morning ’til night, or revel in the fact that you had a kick-ass work week. Go ahead and do whatever your heart desires on the weekends — hell, smash that alarm to bits if you want. It’s your free time.