Last week a friend called me and asked if I could meet for lunch.
I checked my schedule, thought for about 2 seconds, and said: yeah, sure. Where do you want to meet?
I didn’t have to ask my boss, didn’t have to let anyone know I was leaving the office, didn’t need to swipe a time card. I just got up, and left.
Setting your own hours is one of the main benefits of being a freelancer.
The flexibility and freedom I have to decide when and where to work is one of my favorite parts of freelancing. It's one of the primary reasons many people choose the freelance path.
Combine setting your own hours and working from your home office?
The perfect combo.
Being in full control over my schedule allows me to spend more time with my wife and kids, as well as be spontaneous about my plans and vacations.
But time management isn't easy to figure out, so let's tackle these two important questions:
- Are there specific hours in the day that are optimal for freelance work?
- How do successful freelancers make the most of their day?
Optimal work hours for freelancers
Are there optimal working hours for freelancers?
Not in my opinion.
The best time to work will be depends on multiple factors.
- Some freelancers will prefer to spend the mornings doing personal things they enjoy and work later in the day.
- Others will get up at 5 am, get the work done early, and take the rest of the day off.
- And others will split up their day between work and personal activities.
All the above options work and there’s nothing wrong with any of them.
But with the freedom and flexibility to control your time, comes big responsibility and self-control.
And that’s where the challenge lies.
Freelance time management
Time is the one most valuable and limited resource we all have in common. Last time I checked, it was 24 hours a day.
In the most basic level, our day can be split into 2 categories:
Sleep and Wake time.
The average person is ok with 6-8 hours of sleep, which leaves us with 16-18 hours of wake time (let's go with 16 for the sake of this example).
That's 16 hours that we are awake and need to decide how to split our time between these 4 categories:
I know this is obvious, but just to make sure we're all on the same page…
Family and work are self-explanatory. (Education can replace or be added alongside work, but that would take us off topic).
‘Life' includes your hobbies, friends, commitments, vacations…
Rest combines relaxing, eating, procrastinating and taking time off.
Now here's the thing (and this is what makes freelancing so great).
As a freelancer, you have the freedom to mix and distribute your 16 hours between those four categories, to best suit your needs.
If you feel like going out for a run in the middle of the day, go for it.
If your schedule is free, you can take the entire day off.
No one will tell you to work from 9-5.
Clients want the work to be done, when you promised, at the quality level you promised. When you do it, is not important if you keep your promise.
You are in control of your time
But here's the catch.
If you want to have a successful freelance career, you need to have the right mindset and you need to set the right priorities.
If you think you can be successful by working 2 hours a day, you're probably wrong.
Here's my personal philosophy on this matter:
Strive to make the most out of your day (or ‘wake time'), without compromising either the quality of your work or the project delivery deadline.
Some days you'll work 7 hours, other days you'll work 10, and at times you might even need to throw in the all-nighter.
-- If you're primarily work on hourly projects, grab my free calculator to help track your time.
Work vs. Family time
One of the main struggles freelancers face is setting the boundaries between work and family life. This is especially true because most freelancers work from home.
Freelancers who work from their home office don’t leave home in the morning, head out to the office, and come back at a certain hour.
Work and Home are at the same place.
Working from home has plenty of advantages:
- No annoying traffic jams during rush hour.
- No need to wear business clothes.
- You’re always able to grab a snack from the fridge.
- You can change your kid’s diapers.
But the problem with working from home is that it’s hard to differentiate between when you’re at work, and when you’re at home – because you’re at both places, all the time.
There are multiple ways to make this challenge easier.
- Have a dedicated office in the house and close the door.
- Define clear mindset boundaries for yourself and your family. For example, when you're out of the office, you're at home. Not working.
- Have a public schedule so your family is synced with your daily schedule (especially important for meetings and keeping the noise level down at home)
Sticking to your work hours is where self-discipline and prioritization come in.
When you’re passionate about your business, you’ll always have something to work on – create a new product, work on your blog, update your portfolio, do client outreach...
It’s up to you to know where to draw the line, and say that you’re done with work for the day.
Be mindful of your mental health
Having the mindset of working hard and smart, is crucial to your success. But while working hard is essential for your business growth, it's also crucial to get enough sleep. Rest. Do sports. Live your life.
Take time to relax. To give your mind a break.
This can include spending time with your family or friends, doing something you enjoy, reading a book, going out for a run, taking a shower, playing an instrument. You name it.
Whatever your thing may be, the goal is letting your brain relax, unwind and re-energize.
Staying focused and productive at work
One of the best ways make the most out of your day is by making the most out of your work hours. To do that you need to stay focused and productive at work.
There are plenty of methods and strategies you can apply to stay productive at work, and I'll share an entire post about this in the very near future. But for now, try these 3 quick and easy tips:
1. Put your phone on silent (or priority mode).
Our phones are very useful devices, we take them everywhere and rely on them for many things.
But when you're trying to fully focus on a task, there's nothing more distracting than a vibrating phone or the sound of an incoming message.
So set your phone to only allow calls and messages from your priority contacts, and then put your phone aside (or flip it over) – you don't even want to be distracted by the LED notification light.
2. Listen to music or background sounds.
Listening to music can really help you focus at work. I found that the best music to listen to is one that you're so familiar with, that it simply plays in the background and you're not distracted by trying to hear the lyrics.
And following that same thought, the second type of music I found most helpful is one without words altogether.
But if you want to take things to the next level in terms of focus and productivity, you need to check out Noisli right away.
Noisli improves your focus and boosts your productivity by allowing you to mix different sounds and create your perfect environment.
Based on my own experience, Noisli has been a game changer in terms of my focus and productivity.
Not only when I need to concentrate on writing blog posts like this one, but also when I'm working on sound sensitive projects.
Pro tip: if you plan to use Noisli, install the free Chrome extension – it will allow you to quickly access your favorite background noises from your Chrome extensions toolbar.
3. Take breaks at defined intervals (aka the Pomodoro timer).
I have to admit I actually don't do this myself, but I know many people find this to be extremely useful, so it's definitely worth a mention.
“The Pomodoro timer is a well-known productivity interval that has been shown to improve your productivity. It gives you a prescribed interval of 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break. After 4 work intervals, there is a 15-minute break”.
If you want to give it a try, check out this Pomodoro Timer.
- As freelancers, we have the freedom to set our own hours – and that's one of the biggest benefits we have.
- We have a limited amount of time each day, and it's up to us to be responsible with our time and divide it in a sensible way.
- Successful freelancers know how to prioritize their time between family life, the projects they have at work, and other activities.
- By staying productive during your work hours, you'll manage to make the most out of your ‘wake time', since you'll be able to finish your tasks quicker and will have more time for your family, life activities and rest.
- Strive to make the most out of your day, without compromising either the quality of your work, your health, or the project delivery deadline.