I’ve worked at home for three years now. When people find out, the first thing they say is: “Wow! I’d never get anything done at home. How do you do it?” I’m not going to lie. Being productive at home is tough. When you don’t have a supervisor watching your every move, it’s easy to say: “Eh, I’m not feeling it. Let’s binge-watch Netflix!” As nice as that might sound, it’d put you in the poor-house fast. If you want to excel as a freelancer, you must learn to focus. Here’s how to be productive at home.
Structure is everything.
I used to work “whenever I felt like it.”
(Spoiler alert: You won’t feel like working most of the time, so this is a terrible mindset.)
As a result, I’d be lazy in the morning and find myself hustling to finish a project in the evening. The stress had me wound up so tightly that it was hard to fall asleep.
Don’t depend on motivation. It’s too unreliable. Stephen King put it nicely when he said, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work.”
Freelancers don’t have a “boss.” They have to be their own boss. This requires self-awareness and the ability to be brutally honest with yourself. If you’re a delicate flower, freelancing is NOT for you.
To thrive as a freelancer, you need structure. Answer these three questions to give yourself clear boundaries:
- What are my office hours?
- Where is my work station or home office?
- When will I respond to emails from clients?
You don’t want to be available 24/7. This is a total disaster for your work-life balance. You’ll never be able to relax. Create a set schedule and don’t deviate from it. Ask clients to only contact you during those hours whenever possible.
You need to have designated work areas. That could mean a home office (how professional!) or even a plush sofa (how comfortable!). Operating from the same room every day will train your brain to associate that area with work. For the same reason, you shouldn’t let yourself work all over the place, or your home will stop feeling like “home.”
Sadly, every client won’t have a schedule that matches yours. Let’s say your normal office hours are 6AM-2PM. Check your work-related emails in the evening. If a client makes a request that can be fulfilled in minutes or seconds, go ahead and get it done. If it’s more complicated than that, tell them you’ll take care of it during your office hours tomorrow morning.
Create a morning routine.
Note: if you’d rather work later in the day, replace “morning” with “afternoon” or “evening.” You’re the boss!
I have a morning routine. I wake up, stretch, brew a pot of coffee, eat breakfast while watching an episode of Friends (laughter is good for you), and take my dog on a walk (so is exercise!).
The specifics of your routine don’t matter. The important thing is to have one. If you follow the same process before every workday, it won’t be as difficult to get started. You’ll just do it on autopilot.
Stay away from social media.
It’s crazy how you can tell yourself: “I’m just going to scroll through my feed for a minute;” and before you know it, an hour passes. This is especially true when you’re addicted to Facebook.
The same fact applies for any time-wasting website. If you don’t have enough self-control to resist the urge, block those websites during your office hours. Your productivity will skyrocket when you’re less distracted.
Take breaks at strategic times.
The human mind is only capable of concentrating for so long. If you force yourself to work non-stop, you’ll burn-out. Your brain is like a muscle. It needs time to rest and recover. Without that, the quality of your work will suffer.
Francesco Cirillo developed the Pomodoro Technique in the 1980’s. He recommends working in 25 minute chunks, which are separated by a 3-5 minute break. Conveniently, that’s enough time to stretch, go outside, use the restroom, check your text messages, and/or drink a glass of water.
Websites like TomatoTimer make it easy to implement the Pomodoro Technique. Simply click the “Start” button and work until the buzzer goes off. This sounds counter-intuitive, but sometimes taking a break is the absolute best thing you can do for your productivity. I dare you to prove me wrong!