In a perfect world, your freelance schedule would be driven by sheer motivation. But for most of us, that just isn’t the case.
And then you have the other side of the coin. While working from morning to night might lead to happy clients, it will quickly take a toll on your mental and physical wellbeing.
So, how do you schedule your day as a freelancer? After all, you don’t have the benefit of a time clock to keep you accountable.
Fortunately, developing the ideal schedule for you isn’t as hard as it may seem.
Maintaining a Freelance Schedule = More Productivity
Even if you find yourself getting your work done on time and with little deadline stress, flying by the seat of your pants each day is rarely the most effective way to live your life.
Although the ability to work when and where you want is a major plus of freelancing, too much of a good thing is rarely in your best interest.
From your morning skincare routine to when you sit down with clients, a daily schedule will help increase your overall productivity.
Just take a look at some of the most successful entrepreneurs throughout history, and you’ll quickly see a trend.
Individuals from Benjamin Franklin to Twitter founder Jack Dorsey have relied on structured routines to get things done each day.
Whether you stay in bed until 11am like Winston Churchill or wake up at the break of dawn like Leo Babauta, everyone can benefit from sticking to a schedule.
Here’s how to get started:
1. Start With Your Week
Take a quick scroll around the world of internet search results, and you’ll find most freelance scheduling articles focus on creating a productive daily routine.
But this ignores the big picture.
Before dissecting your day-to-day work schedule, step back and think about how your week plays out. Do you currently take a regular weekend? Or do you work a day here and a couple of days there, with no real consistency?
Nailing down a (semi-)consistent weekly routine is the building block to creating a more productive daily routine.
And if you don’t currently have guaranteed days off programmed into your weekly schedule, it’s time to reevaluate your work-life balance.
2. Plan Out Your Working Hours
The life of a freelancer is one of freedom. You don’t have a daily commute to endure or a boss expecting you in your office by a certain time.
However, this can mean that your working hours are inconsistent and unpredictable. And this is fine — as long as you account for it in your freelance schedule.
For those who charge by the hour, knowing your working hours is not just important for productivity but also for your income. This also means you need to understand what counts as billable hours and how you should value your time.
Keep in mind, though, that your working hours don’t necessarily need to be tracked by the clock. Many freelancers, including myself, track their work by individual projects rather than by billable hours.
But you should still hold yourself accountable to a daily “quota,” per se.
If this is also the case for you, then you will likely have some workdays that are longer than others. All that matters is that you finish your scheduled work before you call it a day.
When are set hours a necessity?
Sometimes, though, flexible working hours just aren’t a reasonable option. The most common example of this is any freelance position where you need to be in contact with clients/other organizations.
In these cases, you’ll probably be more-or-less bound to local business hours. Or, if you work closely with clients overseas, you may find yourself working odd, but consistent, hours.
3. Account for “You” Time
Those who work in an office or another business environment start most days by waking up to an alarm, going through their morning care routine, maybe eating some breakfast or grabbing a coffee, and heading into work.
When their shift is done, they make the trek back home and get ready to do it all over again the next day.
Even if you work entirely from your home, the perfect freelance schedule isn’t just about your active working hours. You also need to take your personal time into consideration.
This can mean setting aside time to cook and eat a proper lunch. Or, time to go for a run or pop into a yoga class.
Whatever you like to do with your “me” time, be sure to account for it in your freelancing schedule.
4. Keep a Physical Schedule
We’ve all done it.
You get ready for bed, set your alarm, and envision how you’re going to spend the following day.
Once you wake up and get going, though, it doesn’t take long before “working from 9am to 5pm” turns into watching Netflix or cleaning the house.
And since that hypothetical schedule was all in your head, there’s nothing tangible keeping you accountable to that productive day that never happened.
Instead of dreaming up a schedule and going off of memory, take the time and practice the discipline to maintain a physical schedule.
Popular time management techniques to try for yourself
Whether you opt for pen-and-paper or a Google Calendar, daily schedules are trendy among professionals, students, and anyone wishing to lead a more productive life.
But that means there’s an overwhelming number of options when it comes to keeping a freelance schedule of your own:
The Time Blocking Method
If you’ve ever seen an example of a time blocking schedule, you likely recognized that it looked a lot like a daily class schedule for a college student.
And you wouldn’t be wrong.
Time blocking involves deciding on specific start and end times for tasks you want to complete throughout the day. This could look something like:
9:00am: Alarm goes off
9:00am-9:20am: Get ready for the day
9:20am-10:00am: Make and eat breakfast
10:00am-11:30am: Answer client voicemails and emails
11:30am-2:00pm: Work on Project A
2:00pm-2:30pm: Eat lunch
2:30pm-6:30pm: Work on Project B
6:30pm-7:00pm: Check-in call with Client C
7:00pm-8:30pm: Go to the gym
8:30pm-9:30pm: Make and eat dinner
9:30pm-1:00am: Chores and relaxation
1:00am: Go to bed
Many professionals like this form of scheduling, as it keeps them on-task throughout the day. However, this method can cause some issues if an unexpected task comes up or one task takes significantly longer than you allowed for.
The Most Important Task Method (or M.I.T.)
As the name implies, the step of this scheduling method is to prioritize your to-do list. But instead of writing out every single thing you need to get done, your job is to decide on a small handful of things that are must-do for the day.
With this short list in hand, you then focus entirely on these tasks until they are all done.
Some days, this can mean an extra-long workday. Others, you’ll find yourself finished and with time to add in a few other tasks from your to-do list.
While you might think this method only works for those who work on a per-project basis, this isn’t necessarily true.
The M.I.T. Method also works great for freelancers who need to sit down and work for a set amount of time, and need to stay focused on priority tasks.
The Getting Things Done Method (or G.T.D.)
This method has a reputation for being rather complicated, but if you have the resolve, it can definitely be worth the effort.
The G.T.D. Method can be broken down into a few key steps, which include:
Capture — Put together a thorough to-do list and add to it whenever new tasks come up
Clarify — Be specific and break down your to-do list items into smaller, action-oriented tasks
Organize — Make note of due dates/priority for each task and its individual steps
Reflect — Regularly review your to-do list for completion and any changing priorities
Engage — Choose the most urgent/appropriate task for the moment and get to work
Many time management experts swear by The G.T.D. Method for their own scheduling needs. However, this technique can be too broad for many freelancers who are just looking to create an actionable daily schedule.
5. Hold Yourself Accountable
At the end of the day, nothing can force you to stay focused. Instead, sticking to your completed freelance schedule is entirely up to you.
In this regard, a little self-awareness can go a long way:
Do you find that you’re more productive during a certain time of day? If so, arrange your daily schedule so you’re working during this period.
Are you easily distracted by your surroundings? Then invest in a designated workspace in or outside of your home.
Do you start your days strong, but fade out before you’re done with your work? Consider scheduling times for a walk or stretching session throughout your day.
6. Invest in Technology
We often think of personal technology as the ultimate distraction. But these innovations can be some of the most powerful tools if used correctly.
We’re not just talking about time management and calendar apps, either.
Organization is the core of a productive schedule and the bane of the average freelancer. With the help of productivity software — such as using invoicely to keep track of estimates, invoices, billable expenses, and client payments — you can ensure you stay on track throughout the whole day.
No matter how you choose to schedule your time, it won’t take long before you see the real benefits to your work.