An absolute over-kill guide to working from home as a freelancer

Brace yourselves as I open with a *massive cliche*:

Working as a freelancer means a lot of freedom, but it also comes with a great deal of responsibility.

…As much as that sentence makes me cringe, it’s true.

It is also especially relevant for those of us who work from home (also known as the pyjama zone).

After years of working everything but a 9-5 job (think nights, scattered University classes, early morning shifts, weekends), I’ve gathered a few good tips on how to best manage your time and schedule when your work is unsupervised.

1. Night time prep

This is seriously key; do not underestimate the power of preparation.

  • Set an alarm for two hours before you want to be asleep tonight (for me it’s 9 pm). I know this sounds lame but hear me out.
  • When the alarm rings this evening, this is what you need to do:
    • Pick out an outfit for tomorrow: It has to be a comfortable outfit otherwise your morning self will refuse; however, it cannot be too comfortable as you need to feel respectable. A t-shirt and a pair of loose pants tend to do the trick.
    • Decide what you are going to have for breakfast: Once you decide on a go-to brekkie, eat the same every morning, it will help you get started quicker. My go-to is: Pre-portioned porridge with almond milk, topped with berries, banana and peanut butter. I have this literally every day.
    • Make a commitment: I’m not going to be the person who tells you to start your day with burpees or a 6 am run – but you should commit to something. Exercise is amazing as we all know, but if that doesn’t work for you, maybe you can start your day with a gentle stroll to your local coffee shop or commit to having the first load of laundry done by 9 am. I have committed to pilates and go almost every day, at 7 or 8 o’clock (laying out the work-out clothes is also part of my night routine).
  • Set an alarm for the morning and then switch your phone to aeroplane mode and turn off the TV. I know this is an extreme measure but these are extreme times.
  • Do your bedtime beauty routine: Detailed post coming soon…featuring an expert on the matter.
  • Go to bed an hour earlier than you normally would and bring a notepad + a pen (computer or phone does not count).
    • Jot down what’s on your mind, it doesn’t have to be work related, just anything that’s there.
    • Note: this is not a diary; it’s a brain dump. It doesn’t matter what you write, it’s only to clear your mind.
    • If you have stuff you need to remember in the morning, write them down too and do not give in to the urge of adding it to your phone. You want to avoid all screens completely.
  • Read an actual book made of trees until your eyes start to water, then put it down and let your eyes relax. You’ll be asleep so quickly you won’t even remember it the next day.

2. Morning routine 

Since you followed the list above and got prepped the night before, you will wake up to your alarm clock and set out to complete your morning commitment. You can then do the following steps in whichever order suits you best:

  • Shower: OK for those of you who work in an office, this might seem extremely basic. But trust me, when you don’t have a reason to leave the house all day, there is always a slight chance of becoming a lil grub.
  • Check your notepad from the night before: chances are the things you were worried about are completely irrelevant at this stage but at least you’ll know.
  • Breakfast: This will be the easiest thing you do all day, because you already know what to eat. So get munchin’.
  • Workstation set-up: If you already have a designated workspace, you’re welcome to skip to the next step.
    • Choose a space that is not: your bed, the couch or other uber-comfy spot in your home.
    • A desk is ideal, but if you don’t have enough room you can set up a temporary station at your kitchen table.
    • I like to make the station my own little sanctuary; e.g adding a sweet smelling candle, some fresh flowers and play my current favourite album. This takes time to perfect of course, but once you have your little spot – working in bed will soon seem like a distant memory of… a much lazier version of yourself.
    • Personally, I tend to alternate between a few different places in the house, depending on what kind of work I do; bedroom desk for long-form writing or image editing (big screen), livingroom when I need to get serious stuff done, kitchen when I collaborate with my partner and the couch when all else fails.

3. Dedicated work hours

Once you’re settled into your workspace with a coffee, it’s time to get started.

  • Sort through your emails: A common technique is to categorise everything according to the 4D’s:
    • Delete: Spot an email you don’t need? Don’t waste your time even opening it, just move to trash. The same goes for tasks, phone calls or habits; drop anything that is draining your time and energy for no reason.
    • Delegate: This may or may not apply to you as a freelancer right now, but it’s good to remember nonetheless. Eventually, you will come across things that can be outsourced or passed on to a collaborator.
    • Defer: Tasks that cannot be completed at this time or place need to be scheduled for future completion. Make sure you do set an alert in your calendar to remind you when the time is right.
    • Do: Here are the things that you need and can do today. This is the only list you need to worry about right now.
  • Prioritise your tasks: This is a skill and will get easier with practice, but you need to list your ‘Do’ tasks according to importance and urgency.
  • Manage your time: So important when you work with several clients or projects.
    • Allocate your time frames: Note how many hours you are expecting to spend on each client (for example):
      • 9:00-11:30 : Client 1 (you can list the tasks to be completed if you wish)
      • 12:00-1:30 : Client 2
      • 2:00-5:00 : Client 3
    • Track your time: Use a tool to track your time when working on each project.
      • Toggl –  My favourite rn, available on desktop and app (free plan available)
      • Clockify – Also use this one, desktop and app (free)
      • Top Tracker – Desktop and app (completely free)
      • Harvest – Desktop and app (1 free project)
      • Hours – iOS app only (1 free project)
      • Tick – Desktop and app (1 free project)
      • Time Camp – Desktop and app (free for freelancers)
    • Take breaks: For god’s sake, you don’t want your head to explode after half a day.
      • Take regular breaks from work to stretch your legs, get some fresh air, have a coffee or hang the laundry.
      • 90-minute slots seem to work well for me, but you do you.
      • Keep healthy snacks in the fridge; carrots, dried fruits and soda water. Whatever you do, do not eat the chocolate during work hours (unless it’s an emergency) because you will crash. Take my word for it.
  • Promote your own brand: Dedicate a few hours every week for your own content
    • You’d be surprised as to how many freelancers, small businesses and agencies are lacking in this area
    • Use a tool to schedule your content a week or two in advance – it will change your life.
      • We can discuss this in more detail another time, but:
      • There are many options available depending on what social media accounts you use
        • Here and Here are guides to picking the right tool
      • For your reference, I use CoSchedule and I LOVE it!
  • Evaluate: This is my number 1 hate word of all time, but it doesn’t make it less important.
    • Review your processes on a regular basis, to make sure that you are as efficient as you could be.
    • Evaluate your own skills: Where are you lacking? In what areas do you need to upskill?
    • If you find yourself on the brink of a social meltdown it might be time to see the outside world for a change – pop down to your local cafe and spend a couple of hours working/people spotting.

4. TAP OUT

  • This is the biggest challenge of all (hence the 9pm phone curfew).
    • If you have achieved a solid days work – there is no need to continue after dinner time.
    • Stop fetishizing “being busy” and instead enjoy your life – stress is neither charming nor effective.
    • The time-tracking tool will help to fight the urge to just… sending…that last email…no. It can wait.
    • Realise that even though your work might be at home, that does not mean that home is your work.

And then… repeat. Have you got anything to add? Leave a comment in the box below ↓

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