As I’m writing this, COVID-19 has disrupted the workforce and many of those who normally work in offices have been introduced to the idea of working from home for the first time.
From the abundance of articles on how to effectively work from home, it seems many are struggling to adapt to the idea. While the concept may be foreign or even new for some, for freelancers it’s everyday life.
So, what’s the key to effectively work from home (or work from anywhere!) you might ask?
Having a routine.
Routines are powerful and the people that know this the best are freelancers.
Freelancers understand that having a routine is essential for them to get their work done because it allows time for other important factors in their lives such as their families.
“I had zero routines at the start. And then I flipped the switch and the light came on inside my head the day my husband told me that if my freelance life was so stressful I should go get a real job,” says Alison Rakotonirina, career development and leadership coach at alisonrakoto.com who currently resides in Madagascar.
“That was a ‘slap’ in the face that made me realize I needed a routine and a plan to walk the walk.”
It takes a lot of trial and error to find the right routine.
While it may seem from the outside that freelancers have it easy because they have more flexibility in how they structure their day, it’s actually their routines that make them successful in what they do and it takes a lot of trial and error to find the right routine.
“I’ve become a lot more structured over the years. It’s really important to me that wherever I am, I’m able to focus on the tasks at hand,” says Miranda Miller, a content creator and digital marketing strategist at miranda-miller.com.
“For me, that means making sure that when I sit down to do a task, I have everything I need to get it done at my fingertips. The way I schedule the various components of each project is a key part of my routine.”
The importance of time management and prioritization.
Teresa Xavier, a 2-year freelancer quickly realized the importance of time management and priority setting when she started her freelance journey.
“I have a priority excel which helps me organize what I need to do,” says Xavier who works for an NGO based in Brussels and is also a grant writer and software tester in her free time.
“When you freelance as a grant writer, it’s important to stay up to date on each task on the daily. Work hours wise I still stick to specific hours for consistency from 7am to 3pm, though I use the Pomodoro method to schedule breaks.”
Not all routines are the same.
For some freelancers, their days are detailed right down to every hour, while for others, it’s as simple as getting straight to work as soon as they wake up.
For Rakotonirina, not only is she a freelancer but she is also a mother and a wife. Her freelance routine, while flexible, is generally scheduled heavily from Monday to Friday. She starts her days like this:
- 6:00am – 7:00am – time to move by either doing yoga or cross fit
- 7:00am – 8:00am – shower, have coffee, sometimes have breakfast/sometimes fast and then bring her kids to school
- 8:00am – 9:00am – read, journal/plan her day and check-in with her accountability partner on Whatsapp with her plans for the day
- 9:00am – 12:30pm – work on client work, coaching calls and study
- 12:30pm -2:00pm – lunchtime and family time, possibly reads a little in her hammock
- 2:00pm – 6:00pm – works on client work and coaching calls
- 9:30pm- 10:00pm – bedtime.
“If I can, I pick up my kids at lunch. If I’ve got an appointment the nanny does,” Rakotonirina adds. ” On days in which I start and or end late, I make an effort to spend some quality time with my kids during the day so they feel seen. And I always put them to bed.”
Depending on what project travel writer Michelle Della Giovanna is working on, her routine can vary! She has been freelancing since graduating college and lives in Nepal for most of the year where she runs her travel blog Full-Time Explorer.
Her routine often consists of waking up at 7:00 am, eating a big breakfast (a very important factor), having coffee and working no later than noon because her best writing takes place first thing in the morning.
Della Giovanna generally needs to be in bed by 10:00 pm and if she didn’t finish all her work that day, she leaves it for the next day. “After dinner, I put my computer and phone down and don’t look at any work before bed. This helps me wake up with a nice clear head, and I sleep better without any distractions or stress at night.”
Routines are key to helping you achieve your goals!
Routines aren’t just great for getting the work you need to get done, they’re also the key to helping many freelancers achieve their most important goals.
“I’m incredibly proud of the business I’ve built and the lifestyle it enables me to have. Today, I work with clients I truly enjoy and believe in. A few years ago I felt run off my feet and work was a real chore—I was working 80 hours a week at times. I just felt burnt out and awful,” reveals Miller, whose remote business turns 15-years-old this year.
“Establishing a healthier routine for me has resulted in far greater satisfaction with the work I’m doing, and my income has gone up, not down, as I’ve become more selective about the projects I want to be involved in.”
For Della Giovanna, the goal she achieved was being financially stable as a freelancer.
For Xavier, it was submitting 10 proposals between the last European cut-offs. Three of Xavier’s proposals went through which was a substantial amount of money.
For Rakotonirina, it was completing her Positive Psychology certificate in 2018-2019 while working and mom-ing, “this was 4-hours a week of online group classes from 5pm to 7pm plus about 6 to 8 hours of study/reading. I did it while running my business, travelling to the USA for a month, and learning to balance life in Madagascar”.
Routines, while they might sound mundane, is a habit that can help us in all aspects of our lives. For instance, according to Northwestern Medicine routines help with improving our health by bettering our stress levels and getting better sleep.
How do you establish an effective freelance routine?
Miller advises to not be afraid to say no or put yourself first and to decide what’s important to you and take baby steps to get there. “Transformation doesn’t happen overnight—it’s ongoing and it happens in what seems like the minutiae of your day. Can you set a timer to get up and stretch and take a walk for 10 mins every hour? Do it. Can you schedule in time to have coffee with a friend once a week? DO IT. As a freelancer, you are your business. Your personal growth fuels the growth of your business.”
Xavier says to play to your strengths and to try freelancing in niche work.
Della Giovanna advises to figure out what time of the day you work at your best and are focused. “You can spend four hours working at your best and get the same amount of work done as eight hours when you are tired and distracted. It makes life so much easier if you are able to get your work done, and still be able to relax. Otherwise, it’s hard to be creative and write well.”
Here are 7 useful tips!
Rakotonirina lists these as her main tips to help you find a freelance routine that works well for you.
1) Understand your needs: social, financial, intellectual, health
2) Be clear about your values and strengths — who do you want to work with, what things will
stress you out and are better being outsourced or automated. For example, I PAY someone to
do my taxes every year and not only does it ultimately save me money, but I also spend less
time and headaches on it
3) Reward yourself and celebrate the small wins
4) Be realistic — don’t hustle until you die — choose the life because of what you value, so treat
yourself the way you wish your ideal boss would treat you!
5) Keep your integrity — speak up for what you need (check back in with your needs and values)
6) Set goals
7) Take your ‘M.E.D.S.’ (move, eat, drink water and sleep)
Routines don’t only help freelancers get their work done, it allows them to have time for other important aspects of their lives, accomplish long-awaited goals and it ensures freelancers have a boundary and balance between their work and personal lives. Routines are powerful and there’s no time like the present to harness its power to improve our lives.