This post is all about work-from-home tips for freelancers to maximize productivity, stay inspired, and protect your mental health.
People often ask me how I stay focused or productive when I work from home, and the truth is, I’ve worked remotely way longer than I’ve ever worked in a physical office.
Outside of college, I got an eight-to-five copywriter and editor job at a literary consultancy that forced me to learn how to manage my time well. I had to pump out a certain amount of content every day, so I quickly learned (1) I couldn’t wait for creativity to strike, and (2) I had to take advantage of every hour to complete my daily tasks.
After owning my editorial business now for several years, I’d say I’ve become pretty comfortable working from home—even before the coronavirus pandemic. I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it—I struggle with productivity from time to time, too—but these are the things I’ve learned to make working from home a wonderful and efficient experience.
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1. Task batching is your friend.
I plan to go into this concept in more detail in another post, but I’ve found I’m much more productive as a freelancer when I batch similar tasks together rather than try to tackle several different smaller things within an hour or a day. As a freelancer, you wear many hats, and it’s not always easy to switch gears from creative tasks to invoicing or admin work, for example. Setting aside a day a week or a month to do certain tasks ensures you don’t leave them on the back burner!
I will say, time batching became much more challenging when I became a mom. I didn’t have four hours back to back to knock out all of my blog posts for the month. Instead, I had pockets of time and had to learn to use every minute. If your freelance work is a side hustle or you’re balancing other jobs or family life and it just feels like too much, remember that your time blocking doesn’t have to be set aside in huge chunks of time. Group similar tasks together, even if you have a small window in your day.
2. Habit stacking is your other friend.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about the simple concept of habit stacking. I’ve found that creating some order to your work-from-home routine through habit stacking is the best way to establish consistency in your days, slowly reach your goals, and make sure you’re prioritizing your mental health.
For example, I set a goal of meditating every day, even if it was just for five minutes a day. Doesn’t seem hard, right? But I had the hardest time remembering to do this. The day would pass me by and I would think, I’ll do it later. I intentionally started meditating as soon as I dropped my daughter off at preschool, around 9:45 a.m. It was so easy for me to walk into the house and set aside those first ten minutes to transition into work mode by first focusing on my breath, being still, and slowing down.
After meditating, you can habit stack with something else that might be small but important things to consistently complete throughout your day. Go take your vitamins. Make your bed. Feed your dog. Unstack the dishwasher. Little habits and routines are crucial when you work from home, especially as a freelancer, when your work can be a little unpredictable at times. Whatever it is, stack little habits one after the other and you may be surprised by that longevity.
3. Set regular hours for yourself.
This sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many people I talk to who say, “Oh, I wish I could be a freelancer—then I could work whenever I want!” That’s not really how it works, friends. “Working whenever you want” usually ends in burnout, and you probably won’t easily allow yourself to have “break” times.
Even if you aren’t physically working on something, it’s hard to turn off your freelancer brain, but rest time is so important. It doesn’t have to be a Monday through Friday, nine-to-five schedule, but if you consistently show up at your desk around the same time, you’ll be able to get into a good flow faster.
4. Find jobs like it’s your job.
Freelancing is usually a feast-or-famine career path, and while you may feel comfortable with one gig for a time or a few projects on your schedule at the moment, it’s always a good idea to keep looking for work. This is more of a general freelance tip, but I’ll also say that I like to look for work at coffee shops instead of working at home. I just find I’m able to apply to more/pitch more projects when I’m outside of the house, and that’s okay.
Remember what I said about batching? Try to set aside time to look for work, even if you’re working full time on other things. When you get to the point where you’re scheduling out projects several months in advance, you won’t need to focus on this as much, but for the most part, freelancers succeed by having multiple eggs in multiple baskets.
5. Make your work space pleasant to be in.
When I made my office cozy, I actually didn’t mind spending several hours working in there, because I was inspired, comfortable, and just downright happy to be home. It goes without saying I don’t recommend working from your bed (though I do it from time to time when my projects don’t take as much creative energy!). And if you can’t set aside an actual room for your office, maybe you can create a cozy corner. However you create this space, make sure it’s organized, clutter-free, and full of inspiration.
You may have to get creative. At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, my husband starting working from home, and since he has several work calls, it made sense for him to be in my office. We thought he’d be home for about two weeks (ha!), and now, two years later, he works from home indefinitely. He slowly took over my office, and I had to get creative. I ended up reorganizing our closet (so not kidding!), and I made it a cozy little office space. It’s now one of my favorite places in the home!
6. Create boundaries.
This goes hand in hand with my tip to keep regular hours, but creating boundaries means communicating those hours to your family and friends. It means being specific about what that time looks like. Create rules for yourself so you don’t end up watching Netflix when you should be working.
Similarly, create boundaries with your clients. If you develop a habit of responding to emails late into the night, clients will come to expect that. Find out what healthy habits you want to establish right away—what works for you—and make sure you share those habits with clients, friends, and family.