Working from home can bring a lot of distractions, and when I starting freelancing full-time almost six months ago, I had a tough time getting down to work.
Without the structure of a traditional schedule, workplace, or paycheck, freelancers have to be as good at scheduling deadlines, juggling projects and tracking invoicing as they are at their actual work — it requires a lot more work. To understand how others manage it, I asked a few successful freelancers who’ve been in the game a while for their best advice on productivity and finding the balance. They did not let me down.
Freelance writer Fahrin Zoee Kermally uses a free app called Self Control to solve that problem. “It basically blocks whatever websites you tell it to, for however long you tell it to,” she says. “A simple and effective way to keep myself off Facebook and Twitter and get my words down. It is very easy for me to get distracted by news and social media. But when I can’t get to it, I can get a lot of work done.”
Another productive freelancer, journalist Erika Ashley Couto, uses a productivity app called Forest to keep her off her phone when she’s working. “You set the length of time you want to be distraction-free from your phone,” she says. Once you start the timer countdown, a tree is planted and begins to grow. For each session you complete without touching your phone, you add another tree to your “forest.”
“If you touch your phone before the time’s up, you kill your tree,” Couto says. “For every successful time period you make it through, you collect points, which you can put towards planting real trees!I feel guilty about not making my environmental contribution and that always keeps me away from the temptation of checking my email or seeing what’s up on Facebook.”
Stepfanie Romine, a productive feelancer who is a writer, editor, health coach, and yoga teacher, schedules everything — even helping her husband take out the trash on Thursday mornings.
“I use a paper planner as well as Google calendar,” she says. “I treat my planner like a mini journal, and I schedule everything into my Google calendar. Even things like reminders for chores I tend to overlook, yoga classes I’m teaching and fun stuff like my workouts.”
Since freelancers usually get paid on a per-project basis, it may be tempting to want to say yes to every assignment and deadline that comes your way, but Couto, who writes about business and culture with an LGBTQIA+ focus, says it’s OK to push back.
“When editors ask if you can get something done by a certain date, I’ve found that in almost every case you can say no and give them a date that works better for you,” Couto says. “Editors want your best quality work and as long as you’re not pushing your deadline out much farther, they’re usually able to accommodate.”
Working from home makes it easy for a productive freelancer to work from morning to night without realizing it.
Romine schedules workouts, self-care, and personal development. Her average day consists of a series of scheduled intervals of work hours, interspersed with breaks. “I usually write from 10 a.m. to noon, take a quick break for lunch, then write or edit again from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. I get up every hour or so to stretch, play with my cats or check social media.”
“Every day at 3:30, I take a 10- to 15-minute walk around our property. This used to be the time I would reach for caffeine or feel my energy dip. Now I use exercise for a natural boost.”
Caring for Yourself
Romine says starting her day with exercise helps her stay busy the rest of the day. “I like to front-load my day with healthy habits, including exercise. Not only does this reduce the chances of life interfering with my workout, but it also gives me plenty of energy for my busy day.”
For Kermally, her best environment is one where she feels ready to work—that means committing to wearing real clothes during work hours. “I can write any time of day, but during normal business hours, I don’t like to be in my pajamas. It just makes me feel lazy and tired.”
A change of scenery also helps. Kermally says: “I also find that I can only work from home a few days at a time. Then I need to go to a coffee shop or something.”
Being a productive freelancer is all about self-discipline. But if you have what it takes, it can be very rewarding.
For this post, we’d like to thank our friends at Levo.