I think I should start by telling you, I am not a morning person. There were times when I worked a 7am-3pm shift and I loved it, but I was definitely infused with a lot of caffeine before getting to the office. I enjoyed working super early or super late because I was most productive when no one else was in the office. I would honestly get way more done without anyone there and that is why I love working from home. I can take time in my morning to ease into my workday because I’ve learned to work smarter, not harder while working from home.
But how – how do I stay productive from home working as a freelancer?
Plan Out Your Day
First things first, you need to plan out your day. Now I don’t mean plan out your day to the very minute, but you should have an idea of what you need to accomplish that day and how much time you have to do it. Are there any deadlines coming up or meetings scheduled? How about activities for your kids or possibly a doctor’s appointment you forgot about? It’s super easy for the personal time and work time lines to blur if you don’t keep these things in mind when you’re trying to plan out your day.
Now that I am living in Norway (7 hours ahead of Central Standard Time) it is extremely important that I plan out my day accordingly because most of my clients are in the US. So even though I can get a lot of work done while my clients are still getting some zZz’s in, there are some things I can’t do, so I have to plan efficiently. When am I going to allow myself to be available for client calls or answering emails during the evening? It’s all something I have to consider
Time Yourself for Tasks
When you start out working from home, whether it be because you’re having to work remotely for your brick and mortar job thanks to COVID-19 or you’re a freelancer, you need to time yourself for tasks. This is something that you should do throughout your entire workday for the first week or so. Don’t just start a timer when you start and stop your task. You should write down the name of the task on a piece of paper and write down the time you start the task and set an actual timer on your phone, your watch, or even your project management tool. Then when you feel yourself getting side tracked by scrolling through the Instagram feed, or getting up for just a minute to go get your 3rd cup of coffee, or your sister called to tell you something “you just had to know”, pause the timer and write the time down. For everything that takes you away from your actual task, pause the timer and write the time down. When you get back to the task at hand, start the timer again and write the time down. How many times did you stop the timer?
Maybe you’re a stickler when it comes to tasks and you don’t spiral down the social media rabbit hole, but for most people it is surprising how much time the task actually takes vs. the time they spent “working on just that one task”. The interesting thing about working an hourly contract through Upwork is you have to write out what you’re working on and the app takes a screenshot of your screen every 10 minutes and scales your activity. If you haven’t been active on your computer during that time frame, it shows on your screen report so your clients can question your time card. It’s best to nail down the time it actually takes for your tasks for your clients sake, but it also shows you how you can be more productive by not stopping so much.
Schedule Time Out In Your Calendar For Tedious Tasks
Maybe you start and stop your timer so much because you just don’t like the tedious task or it just feels like it’s never ending.. Trust me friend, I feel you. That is why I schedule time out on my calendar for stuff like this. It doesn’t have to be a work task that you schedule out on your calendar either. While I do schedule out stuff like responding to emails, I also allocate time to other things like shopping for presents. I know it sounds kind of silly, but it really works!
A few days ago I found out one of my very best friends is having a baby. While I don’t live in the US anymore, I can’t go run to the store to find her the perfect gift and shipping from Norway is hella expensive. I had to do what I do best, turn to online shopping. I searched a few of my go-to’s like The Confetti Post and 1800 flowers but they just weren’t personal enough, so I went down the blackhole that is Etsy. Unsure if I was going to find the perfect gift I wanted to send, I scheduled out 30 minutes for gift shopping. If I didn’t find the perfect one, too bad, I’d have to schedule out some more time another time because I needed to get back to work.
Offline Mode Is Your Friend
Is your inbox never ending, or do you find yourself being distracted by social media notifications, or phone calls? I swear since I started working from home my family and friends think I just sit at home all day binge watching Netflix shows, so they can ask me for favors, proof-read something, or just call to chat all the time. I love a good distraction as much as the next guy, but when I need to get stuff done, I need the distractions to go away.
If it’s the distractions on my phone bothering me, I use the Do Not Disturb setting. My family knows if its important to call twice and it will ring through, but if they catch my voicemail the first time, it means I’m in the middle of something. I also love to write out my blog posts and content in airplane mode, or I just turn off the wifi. Offline mode works great for responding to your emails too! Just hit send and they’ll sit in the draft folder until you turn the internet back on.This is a great hack to respond to emails as they come in, instead of responding to the new notifications first. No wifi = no distractions, so remember that offline mode is your friend!
Breaks Are NOT Optional
One thing working from home has taught me is it is important to take a break. It might sound counter-productive but honestly you’re not going to be your most productive self if you’re sitting at your desk, table, sofa or co-working space hours on end if you don’t take a break. Take the time to have your lunch uninterrupted, or go for a walk outside. There are some days where I feel like I never leave the house, but honestly your body needs that fresh air. If you don’t want to go outside, at least open a window during your break and just rest and reset. If you can’t find yourself taking a break throughout the day, schedule it out. Put a few 10-20 minute breaks on your calendar and make sure you take them. Breaks are not optional, your brain needs that time to switch off.
Downtime Is Super Important
Working from home means you’re working 24/7 around the clock and you’re available whenever someone needs you, right? That is a hard NO! I personally have made this mistake over and over again. It’s like I felt guilty being able to work from the comfort of my own home so I had to make up for it by constantly being available to everyone else. But when you’re available to everyone else who are you not available for? Yourself. Your family. What’s the reason you wanted to start working remotely to begin with? It wasn’t to be working like a dog all day every day, right? Well, at least I hope not.
Maybe you wanted to travel more or be the one to pick up the kids from school or actually go on that field trip. Take some time to unwind and be present in the moment. Working from a regular office you were only required to be available 8 hours a day, so treat your home office the same way.
I hope you find these tips helpful and make the most out of your time working from home. Have a tip that you don’t see here? I’d love to hear from you! Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or let me know in the comments!