A quick guide to productive (and happy) freelancing

Freelancing seems like an amazing career path – there is no boss over your shoulder, you schedule your work as it suits you, there is no fixed working hours, so you can take a break whenever you feel like it and you can wear your pyjama at the "office". But what seems to be a blessing, it’s also a curse of this type of work. Well, except the pyjama part – this is a perk that comes with no strings attached. The biggest problem while working from home or freelancing is to organise all of your tasks and to stay focused. How to do this?


1.Set working hours

Just because you don’t have to leave your house to go to work, it doesn’t mean you should not have "business hours".  It helps to stay focused and you’ll be able to plan your tasks better. Plus – your customers will know when it’s best to reach you. You will also avoid phone calls from them in the middle of the night (except emergencies). As a freelancer you have a freedom of specifying your business hours, but I’ve learned that despite the fact that I’m an owl person and enjoy working at night, most of my customers prefer more "civilized" time of a day. This is why I do my best to keep my working hours same as most traditional businesses.  I’m not so strict though, I won’t drop things in the middle just because it’s let’s say six o’clock ;) And there were many times I worked overnight – inspiration is a tricky thing, it comes when it comes, not when you want it.


2.Keep notes

Whether you’re a pen & paper person or you prefer to use one of the many applications, keeping notes and making to-do lists helps a lot to keep track of your tasks. And if you’re a planning maniac like me, there is no better feeling than marking things as done on to-do list ;) Personally I use traditional notebook to write down daily tasks and new things to do and Google Keep as a digital notes application. I save links for later, articles to check, ideas for the next projects and whatever inspire me. And because Google Keep synchronizes across all of my devices, I can manage my lists wherever I am. You know this feeling when you suddenly have an idea for some great post or drawing or whatever and if you don’t write it down it’s gone forever in no time? Been there and hate it, so now when I have one of those “lightbulb-over-my-head” moments, I write a short note – on my cell phone, tablet or PC.


3.Don’t lose track

When you’ve got many projects running at the same time it’s very easy to lose track of them and either forget something or miss deadline. In order to be able to follow several projects in parallel, I’m using Trello. Trello as a web tool allowing you to create boards for any project you’re working on, set milestones and specify details as well as time needed to get them done. It’s much easier to manage your tasks, when you know exactly how much time is left for every one of them. You can also prioritise them easily and check those that are finished – it’s very satisfying!


4.Stay away from distractions

Let’s face it, when there is no one to report you for not doing your job, it’s extremely easy to lose track of time and spend hours watching funny cats’ videos (don't judge, cats’ videos are the best!), checking your Facebook, browsing internet, posting photos on Instagram etc. Don’t take me wrong – your presence in social media is extremely important for business’ promotion, but it’s better to schedule it, than take a break every now and then with an excuse "I’ve got to check if I got new likes/comments/messages" and then spend few hours on scrolling the newsfeed. Funny thing is – even the habit of checking the mail can be a distraction. Even though it’s a part of a job, it’s best if you set specific times for doing so. I’m still fighting the urge to check my e-mail as I’m writing this post, so it’s not easy!


5.Take a break

I know I’ve been talking about business hours and all that, but sometimes you really need to step back from what you’re doing and take a breath. Working continuously for many hours lowers your productivity and causes frustration. Not to mention neck pains if you’re sitting at the desk for a long time. So it’s perfectly fine to make another coffee or a snack (I cannot concentrate when I’m hungry, so it’s justified ;) ) as long as you don’t overdo it. Working from home gives you the privilege of taking a break when you need it, so enjoy it! Go outside for few minutes if you’ve got a balcony or a garden, move around a little bit and then go back to work with fresh mind.


6.Don’t lock yourself in the house

Because your home is your office, you may end up practically not leaving it and that’s a bad thing. First of all, you’ll start missing people –  even as a die-hard introvert like me, after a while you will start feeling lonely which will lower your motivation and your spirit will go down. You might also fall in the same trap as people working at the office and feel angry because you’re sitting at the desk while it’s so beautiful outside.  This won’t help your productivity at all! So, if it’s possible, try working outside – if you’re a writer, designer or anybody who works on computer, it’s really not a bad idea to get a laptop (if you don’t have one already) and take your work to some other place than your house once in a while. It could be your favourite cafeteria if you feel like being around people or a chair on your balcony (where I’m working at the moment) if it’s a nice, sunny day ;) You could also look around to find if there are any workhubs in your area. They're being created in many cities, as coworking becomes more and more popular. Workhubs provide a shared office space plus snacks and free coffee many times, but most of all – a company of other people working in a similar way. 


7.Live your life

If you already chose or thinking about choosing this type of career, most likely it’s in order to be able to do what you love. And that’s why maintaining a healthy work-life balance is the hardest thing. When you’re doing what you love, at your own house and in your own pace it’s very easy to forget about other important parts of your life. Or to get so preoccupied with your work, that you neglect them for too long –  this never ends well. Spend time with your family, your beloved ones, your friends. Reserve some time for them every day. Include some “me-time” in your busy schedule. In the end, no matter how much you love your job, it won’t love you back ;)

Working from home definitely has its pros and cons, many times it's harder than a regular job, because everything depends on you and your level of motivation. First time I tried it many years ago - I wasn't ready and couldn't make it. Back then I wasn't aware how much responsibility it takes to actually keep yourself focused on a task without anybody telling you to do so. Now that I'm older, and I dare to say a little bit wiser, I believe I can do it - with the right amount of self-motivation, persistence and hard work. It turns out, that in order to actually enjoy perks of being a freelancer, you need to work your fingers to the bone - but it's totally worth it!

Do you think being a freelancer is a blessing or a curse?

Are you working from home or thinking about it? 

What are your ways to stay focus at work?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

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About Katarzyna Wójcik

I'm a passionate blogger and freelance graphic designer. When I'm not working, I'm either reading, researching, learning new stuff, playing games or writing about cool findings. Oh, and I cook too! If you'd like to get in touch - whether it's about a collaboration, your awesome project, feedback, or you just want to exchange views - drop me a line!
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53 comments:

  1. I struggle with setting working hours due to the feast or famine nature of freelancing. Some weeks are easier than others, but it's important to set limits. I like to work a bit in the morning, then take a walk to buy groceries for dinner around noon, then come back and work until early evening. I definitely work more hours as a freelancer than I did as a full-time employee, and I love it!

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    1. Same here! There are weeks when I can be pretty much relaxed and then there are weeks-from-hell, when I'm running 24/7 to get things done. But I still love it!

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  2. I agree with everything written here, and if I may add one more thing... <--- reminds you of Steve Jobs...

    Having no one to mind us as a freelancer, there is a danger too. Well, it's not really danger, more like a pitfall. You see, one of the most common causes why people either fail or stay stagnant is because there is no one to be accountable for.

    On your own, no one tells you when to wake up, what needs to be done, push you to excellence. It's all up to you.

    Which is why, regardless if freelancing, you have to find people who could mentor you.

    AMAZING LIFE DAILY

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    1. That's a very good idea, self-motivation might not be enough sometimes!

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  3. All of this is so true. Very very hard to keep set hours and not be distracted by multiple projects. Lists, lists, lists!

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    1. Lists are life-savers, it's impossible to keep track of everything otherwise!

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  4. The distractions like the phone always slows me down. I have to keep getting up and it is anoying.

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  5. This is so true. It's so easy to lock yourself in the house. I find I'm looking at a screen constantly. It's hard with motivation too.

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    1. It's waaay too easy, especially if you're an introvert and not really craving for company so much!

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  6. i've worked at home for decades. All of your points are so right on the money, too.
    carol
    http://carolcassara.com/kissing/

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  7. I pinned this to Pinterest, these are some great tips.

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  8. This is a very impressive guide to staying motivated while working from home. its important to have a balance between work and play. Isolation can be an issue so its so important to keep in contact with outside world.

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  9. This is a great post. I completely agree with what you said above. I particularly like #5. When you are freelancing, you need to take a break from time to time or else you will get tired or burnt from freelancing. Even people who work in the office take break, so , why shouldn't you? Thanks and great post.

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    1. Taking breaks is as important as all the work you're doing - it helps to stay productive and enthusiastic about your projects :)

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  10. Excellent tips!, in my case im super lazy, sometimes i wish i had more energy to get all my stuff done =D.

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  11. I agree with what you are saying! Sometimes working at home is a blessing and a curse! I like to take breaks but I think they can become distractions. I like your idea of keeping organized and also taking breaks when needed.

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  12. Some brilliant tips here that Iam going to take on board, since my split with my husband I've really had to organise myself with my blog. I have now set out times that
    Are my working hours which are mainly when the kids are at school or in bed, I need to work on the distraction though as I get far to easily distracted by everything and anything so I need to learn to switch of and get into the zone! Keeping track is a big there for me to, my house can be a hectic house with 6 kids and it's easy to forget what I was doing what I need to do next etc, so that's one thing Iam working on no :) thank you for the tips!

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    1. I can imagine how hard it can get with 6 kids at home to stay focused and get everything done! I'm not sure I could pull it off! :)

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  13. That's all very effective. I find that I am more productive when I give myself a fixed working schedule and breaks. Thanks for sharing the list! Definitely tried and tested.

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  14. I don't think I could ever work freelance because I need more structure to my day. I think setting yourself working hours is really important otherwise it could be quite easy to get distracted!

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    1. I know what you mean! I've been working for companies for many years and I appreciated having fixed working hours and this experience helped me a lot in setting my schedule now as a freelancer:)

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  15. I am thinking about a freelance career but it really scares me. I don't know if I will be able to make enough money to live. Also I see my home as my little paradise that keeps me away from everything. Looking at it as my working place it would change everything. But the feeling that you can work from anywhere is really a big pro to start this type of job.

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    1. In the beginning it is a little bit scary, indeed - you never know if you'll get enough projects to be able to support your living, but over time it gets easier, as people get to know you, they recommend you to their friends and so on. It's best if you start building your customers' base before you decide to do freelancing full-time and then one day you will just jump into it!

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  16. I hardily recommend not attempting to work on getting it done by the deadline. Instead, get it done well before it is due just in case of any mishaps.

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    1. That is a great advice! Procrastination is a killer and you might end up not meeting your deadlines just because something unpredictable happened.

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  17. I think working out of a home-based office is not for everyone, it's important to consider the pros and cons before you make it a part of your work process. What I like most is that there is greater flexibility and your day is often less stressful. Thanks for sharing such helpful post! I’d love to try this Trello, seems like a great tool!

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    1. Like with every career path, freelancing comes with its ups and downs, that is true. I'm not so sure if it's less stressful, I find myself worrying and thinking about work more than when I was hired as a regular employee :)

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  18. I forget to set my hours so I'm scrambling during the day! I definitely need to set my hours and stick to it!

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    1. Yes, that is very important - it makes life easier and more relaxed :)

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  19. Great post, I can totally relate. I also love crossing out my to do list, such an accomplished feeling! I also have to write things down right away when I have an idea or else I can never get it back. I think scheduling set business hours are important when working at home and yes! be super disciplined about social media, it's a real time sucker : )

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    1. Hahah, marking things as done on my lists is one of the best feelings ever! Very true about social media, you go to "just check something" and BAM! suddenly it's 3 hours later :D

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  20. I would love to start up freelancing, but need to work on my time management!

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  21. I think it would be great to freelance. If it would pay the bills. :) I can see how easy it would be to get caught up in the work though, and you'd have to urge yourself to take breaks.

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    1. If you're determined and really want to do it, then it will bring profits and pay the bills definitely! But this is how it works for any type of career ;)

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  22. Freelancing is the best way I now to be in total control of your life. I work from home and love that I can take a break whenever I want to or even plan a trip without having to wait for vacation time.

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    1. I love it too, somehow I'm being able to manage my time better and it's so much less frustrating to not have to explain yourself to anyone if you need a little bit of time off.

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  23. I agree that freelancing and self employment at home can be a blessing and a curse. Right now, I am on the curse side. The weather changes have me feeling really out of it, so it's making it harder to concentrate and complete work while at home. All I want to do is sleep it off.

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    1. I go through down periods like that too, especially during the Winter - I just want to hibernate until Spring. It's really hard to fight it sometimes, but then I get a positive feedback from a client, or I find a new exciting project and I remember why I ever started this :)

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  24. It can be difficult sometimes to concentrate us a freelancer especially when there is other distractions. It is good to set working hours!

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  25. Living life to the fullest no matter how busy and piled-up your things needed to be done. Enjoy and count every day as the greatest blessing! :)

    ***keeping notes as always.

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    1. That's the spirit!:) You've got one life, make the best out of it!

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  26. What an awesome and helpful guide! Motivation and hardwork go hand in hand. Thanks for sharing.
    www.gregdemcydias.com

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  27. These are great notes for me since I want to better myself at being a freelance writer.

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  28. I agree not locking yourself in the house! It can be so counter productive. I try to go out and walk the dogs or run errands.

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    1. Yes, it can totally kill the motivation! I go out for a little walk, or a coffee - just to get my mind off the work sometimes and then I'm back with fresh ideas and clear vision. Besides - sitting at the desk all day is not good for your eyes or health in general, so there is that too ;)

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  29. Great suggestions and tips! Having office hours can help keeps goals on track but also not over do it.

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  30. Taking notes is something I have recently started doing and I can say that it has made a huge difference in my life!

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  31. I do sometimes feel like a bit of a recluse when I get busy with my work. But I still love it! Just have to take breaks and be willing to put down work for life ;)

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  32. I have a hard time following the set work hours. When inspiration hits, I need to write and be on the go.

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    1. Well...you don't argue with inspiration, when it kicks in, you drop everything and create!;) It happens to me a lot during late night hours, so these are the days when my work schedule goes down the drain!

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