One of the funniest jokes about being a freelancer goes as follows: I did not want to work 9-5, so I quit my job and became a freelancer, and now, I work 24/7. While it sounds funny, it is largely true. Most freelancers work way more than people in regular jobs. But, there is a way to have a freelance job while working normal hours. The secret is staying productive. Here is how I do it.
I hate unwanted visitors, last-minute things, and disturbances to my schedule. To say the least, it has caused a lot of friction between me and people close to me. It is to the point where I refuse to pick up calls, answer texts, or communicate in any way when I am working. This is not me being mean, this is me spending time working so that later I can spend time with people that matter. Let’s dive deeper into the mystery behind a freelancer’s work schedule.
Being Your Own Boss: More of a Curse Than a Blessing
The most common myth about being a freelancer is that you are your own boss and you get to decide when to work and when to not work. On the surface, this seems great. You can simply decide to not work on Tuesdays and nobody will prosecute you for that. You can also decide to work longer hours one day and shorter hours the other day. I used this approach and always justified procrastination by “I will do it when I have time.” How can I possibly get anything done if something always comes up? A mate might call up and ask to meet, or mum might ask for help, or god forbid, a last-minute shoot comes up. The outside perspective of a freelancer is that they are always available and can push work later.
However, the truth is far from that. Unless I work normal hours, I will not get anything done. If anything, I often work far beyond normal hours. My day is really hectic sometimes, it depends mainly on the type of day it is. An admin day is usually a standard 9-5, while a writing day, editing day, or shooting day really messes up the schedule. I might easily sit until 3 am working on something. I love my job (I can’t keep track of time). This means I am sitting, concentrating, and focusing on the task at hand.
It is super easy to let your mind wander. This happens to me a lot. Being the procrastinator that I am, it makes it incredibly difficult to concentrate. This is why I have been hard at work, tackling this very habit of mine.
Ban Social Media
The biggest problem with keeping concentration is social media. The dopamine rush that we get from browsing Instagram is hard to compare to working on an article for hours. The only way to concentrate, for me, is to physically prevent myself from going on social media and any distracting activity. To enable better concentration, I use SelfControl: an app that blocks off certain websites for some time. My list consists of Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. It goes without saying that I don’t keep any games installed. While games are fun, the last time I played was when I was 15, so this isn't much of a concern anyways. Another thing I do is put my phone on silent and beyond arm's reach. The more steps it takes to do a bad habit, the less likely I am to do it. There are always messages awaiting a response in my inbox, which makes it incredibly difficult to concentrate sometimes. I feel pressure to reply as soon as I see texts, which is why I turn off notifications as well. If something is truly urgent, the other person will call.
Having tried the 25/5 minute Pomodoro technique, I saw that it does not quite work, as getting back to work after a 5-minute break can be difficult. Perhaps this works for sciences, but for writing or editing. It is more about catching the wave of inspiration and not working for 25 minutes. That is not to say that I don’t set time-sensitive deadlines for myself. There is a limit I have set for myself on a single image, article, and even a look at a photoshoot. That way, I move forward, get more done, and progress. Done is better than perfect, because it is never perfect.
Ban Unnecessary Visits, Respect Your Own Time
The myth that all freelancers do is sit in a coffee shop at a laptop whilst having a flat white is far from true but very common. Your surroundings may be inclined to casually pull you during work hours to have a pint. The thing is, every working hour you lose, you have to make up for. If every day, you spend just an hour hanging out, that is 5 hours a week, 10 in two weeks. In two weeks, you have worked one whole day less. This adds up, and in a year, you are easily a few weeks behind someone with the discipline and power to say no.
Being your own boss is a curse and a blessing. While you decide what career path to take, you have to be way more disciplined than someone who has a manager overseeing them. There is no immediate penalty for slacking off, but as we saw, it adds up over time. Developing a sense of discipline and self-control is something every freelancer must master. Otherwise, you will be outperformed by someone else. Why would anyone slow down their progress by slacking off the job they chose themselves to do? Sure, not every day is full of motivation, but next time you are slacking off, ask yourself if this is worth doing. Maybe it seemed like a romantic career that turned out to be another 9-5, just more difficult (more rewarding, though).
The current version of my work ethic suits me best. While it is a fairly new system, I already see the results. Simply putting away distractions, setting deadlines, and banning “hanging out” during working hours have worked wonders. There are really only a few things that can’t be done over text. I kindly asked my family and close friends to call only in urgent situations. Otherwise, it gets too messy. There is nothing wrong with asking people to respect your work hours, quite on the contrary.
Being a freelancer, I have banned anything that is not work-related to improve my discipline. Behind a notorious procrastinator, I know far too well how bad it can get, which is why freelancing is best suited for those of us who are great at self-control or strive to be great. If there are times when I procrastinate on something, I try to not fail two times in a row. Slacking off one day may be ok, but not two days in a row. I am far from perfect, though. Productivity and self-discipline can still be improved.
What are some productivity tactics you use as a freelancer? Share with us in the comments!
You mentioned the keyword: discipline...To stay focused I fully agree to the idea of banning applications. The reason why I kicked out the TV years ago.
Then: setting targets and respecting them, giving priority to them and ask: is it urgent, is it important or urgent plus important. If it's just urgent, skip the topic, task, query.
Thanks for reading, glad it resonated! Fully agree with you on the ability to prioritize point.
"I'm not alone!" was my first thought upon reading your article. So, thanks Illya! As a professional procrastinator, freelance entertainer, (creative) writer and dito (freelance ánd creative 😉) bookkeeper, I relate. My best trick for when I really need some work done: take my laptop and go to a befriended co-freelancer's place to sit at his or her kitchen table together with our phones together in the middle of the table. First one to pick it up has to get up for the next round of making coffee and sandwiches. Up the ante by taking the laptops to a coffeehouse (live and work in Amsterdam. 'Coffeeshop' has a different meaning here 😎). Picking up the phone will then not only cost you time but also money. And money is always a good incentive.💸