Scheduling Strategies for Freelance / Work from Home Beginners
I saw what had to be the stupidest conversation on Twitter yesterday. It talked about how people in other cultures don’t understand why Americans who are self-employed tend to stick to a more traditional schedule of 9 to 5…and how those people make fun of that. They’ve forgotten a couple of key components of scheduling strategies that remain the same regardless of where you live in the world:
- Being self-employed, someone who works from home, a digital nomad, a freelancer, or (insert descriptive term you prefer that still essentially says you’re self-employed and do your own thing) means that you get the freedom to set your schedule up in a way that works for you. You can also change it as necessary to fit your needs. So, it may be 9 to 5 this week and 8 to 2 another week. Your schedule is your schedule and you don’t have to answer to anyone else who is self-employed unless you’re subcontracting for them.
- Culture plays a big part in the hours that most people choose regardless of whether they’re self-employed. Let’s face it – banks are open certain hours…so are doctors…so are lawyers. There’s a large portion of both lawyers and doctors who are self-employed and work traditional hours. It’s stupid to judge someone and their business because they choose to adhere to the dominate schedule in their culture.
If you judge someone because their schedule is different from yours, you’re the one with the problem – not them.
Now, with that chastisement out of the way for the assholes out there, let’s address some scheduling tips for the newly initiated freelancer / work from home types.
Consider the Needs of Your Client
While this seems obvious when you read it, you’d be surprised at how many people don’t consider this before going into business for themselves. There’s a belief that’s partially true: you can work any hours you want, any days that you want. You’re not necessarily relegated to business hours. Here’s why that’s only partially true: depending on the industry you plan to serve and what you do, they may expect you to be available, at least to some degree, during regular business hours. That, and clients like knowing when they’ll get a response from you. So, think about the needs of your client when you’re setting your schedule. My clients know that on most days they’ll hear back from me by the end of the day if they sent a question. They know I’ll always show up (virtually) for scheduled meetings. They also know I work my schedule around my family since my youngest son has special needs.
Consider Your Own Needs
This isn’t necessarily a complaint, but I know that it can read like one (hence my short disclaimer), I’m turning 40 this year (2018). For as long as I can remember, my life has always revolved around someone else. First, it was taking care of my biological parents who were addicts. Then it was my first born son. Then, my second son entered the world. My entire life revolved around my family. Not just the children. It’s natural for a mother to put her children first. We chose to give them life. When the first marriage fell apart, I started teaching college. I also ran the internship program, acted as a student adviser, and tutored students regardless of their program. I also started my business as a writer. When I remarried, I inherited my bonus baby who is almost 9 years old. He was 4 when Bull and I got married. There was no way in hell that kid was going into daycare. He doesn’t talk…so he couldn’t tell us if something happened. Fuck that noise. So, Bull and I basically worked opposite shifts and his mom filled any gap we needed for about a year when I was able to make the leap to stay home full time and bring in a decent income.
Now, my primary need is to ensure that the little one gets to school essentially all year ’round, makes it to all of his therapeutic appointments, and has someone around (me) to help him learn life skills. Most days are great, but life isn’t perfect. Sometimes he has a bad day or wants my total, undivided attention. That can bring my day to a screeching halt. Most of my clients know and are quite understanding. (The majority of my clients I’ve had for at least two years.)
I also have cardiology appointments for myself (generally once a year unless I’m sick). As a family, we also try to stay fit. Most everything we eat is made from scratch. I juice the shit out of anything that can be juiced. So, I guess you could say that I also have to work around my desire to be Suzy Homemaker.
Oh, and we also go to the gym as a family. Yes, even the little one (although he just sits, watches, and plays with the “bag of tricks”. The “bag of tricks” is a bag of toys that we take with us on outings!). Since it’s a martial arts gym, we go at the same time Monday through Friday.
Right now, I try to be in front of the laptop by 8:30 am. Doesn’t always happen…right now, it’s happening closer to 9 am. I work until lunch. We eat, do yoga, and I go back to work until 4ish. Then, I start dinner. I also take breaks in all of that to take care of various things (like Mount Washmore). After dinner, I may or may not do more work. It depends on my deadlines and my energy level.
Generally, I go balls to the wall from Monday through Wednesday. I work as long as I have to work to get pretty much everything done. Thursdays and Fridays I may not work at all. Sometimes, I end up working seven days a week for months on end.
You should also consider the time of the day when you’re most energetic. Choosing to schedule your most demanding projects during that time so that you can engage in a concept known as deep work…you know, what the rest of us continue to call dedicated time to one project.
Protect Your Schedule
After you’ve considered the needs of your clients and your own needs or restrictions, it is your responsibility to protect that work time. I harp on this a lot. It’s easy to fall into what I consider one of the biggest traps of working from home: the fact that you can work whenever you want. And, you can…if you enjoy fatigue and burnout. The main problem is that “I’ll do it later” generally results in “later” not materializing. Then you have unhappy clients. And if you DO get around to doing it “later?” That could mean mistakes and you rushing through the project and cutting corners. If you hired someone to help you, would you like it if they kept putting you off and cut corners? Of course not. You must protect your schedule from yourself.
You must also protect your schedule from other people. Over the last four years, I can’t tell you how many people have said the following (or a variation thereof) to me:
- Since you have free time, can you do X for me since I have to actually work?
- Can you run these errands for me today since I have to work?
- Can you watch my kids for me since you stay home?
Their theory is that either you don’t actually work (HA!) or you can work later. The problem with work later in this scenario is that you spend your entire day expending energy toward their needs. Then you must take care of your own responsibilities. And you need to work. It could be night before you work. By then, you’re tired. And if you’re a night owl, you’re not safe. You’d spend your entire day doing for others and be tired when you’re usually full of energy.
You must learn to say no to the requests of others. Obviously, I’m not referring to field trips for your own kid or those last minute “Mom, I need 200 cupcakes for the bake sale I’ve known about for a month and am remembering to tell you the day before” scenarios. Field trips are easily put onto your calendar since you’ll get a permission slip at least the week before. As for the bake sale, good luck with that. LOL
Use Scheduling Software
I don’t care if you use OneNote (I love OneNote as a planner), Google Calendar, a paper planner, or project management software (I love project management software…then again, I have multiple clients and it’s easier for me to create a schedule with it). Get in the habit of using something. This helps ensure you don’t overschedule yourself, double book yourself, forget something, or otherwise make your own life a living hell. And trust me, you’ll still make your work from life a living hell at least once.
Disregard Ridiculous Criticism of Your Schedule
Ignore the bullshit on social media or that so often comes out of the mouth of someone else who works from home and thinks their way is the only way. It’s your life. It’s your schedule.
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