One of the many joys about working for yourself is being in charge of your own schedule. Yes, you have more time to spend with your kids, friends, family, or whatever other impetus caused you to quit your “day job.”
But being in charge of your own schedule means just that; you’re in charge. No one is going to yell at you for not getting your work done, except you.
There are lots and lots of websites/articles/books out there that will tell you how to manage your time, especially when working for yourself. If that’s what you’re looking for, please go read those. I’m not going to reference those here.
I’m going to talk about what I do, and what I’ve found to be true as a freelance copywriter, a full-time musician and a professional costumer (all businesses I currently own or have owned in the past.)
So, if you want a dose of what being your own boss is really like, please read on…
If Nobody Does the Work, It Doesn’t Get Done
This is the first rule of working for yourself. Especially when you are the Chief Cook and Bottle-washer. If you aren’t there to do the work you’ve promised to clients or to create the products you’re planning on selling, no one else will do it.
This means you need to build free time, sick time and vacation time into your schedule if you plan on taking them.
We all know that being sick never comes at a “good” time. But if you allow yourself a little extra time within your schedule to do a given project, you give yourself a cushion for being sick, just in case. And more importantly, clients love it when you finish their projects early.
Want to go have lunch with your mom or take a day off to get a personal project done? Great! Go for it. But make that time up somewhere else during the week.
“But I’m master of my own destiny!” I hear you cry. “I should be able to do what I want.” Yes, you should. But working for yourself means working for your clients/customers. You’re still accountable to someone, regardless of who writes your paycheck.
So yes. Work four 10-hour days so you can take that extra day off. Work into the evening so you can enjoy Mom’s company at lunch. Working for yourself doesn’t mean having all the free time in the world. It means having the freedom to manage your time to suit yourself. That includes how much you work and when you work.
Want to take that vacation in the Bahamas or go see a friend for the weekend? Awesome. Do it. But again, build that time into your schedule, or be willing to bring your work with you and get some of it done while you’re away.
One of the many things I love about being a freelance copywriter, as opposed to some of the other businesses I’ve owned, is all I need to do my job is a computer and an Internet connection. That’s it.
Music ties me to specific places at specific times, even though I choose where and when I perform. Costuming meant a lot of equipment and materials, which are really hard to haul around with you. (So are instruments and CDs, for that matter.)
Compared to my previous businesses, working as a freelance copywriter while traveling is a delight!
Manage Your Day to Stay Sane
I will be the first to admit that I used to work crazy hours, especially when I was costuming. I would go downstairs to my basement workshop (most costume shops are in the basement, we costumers are notorious for this,) around 10:00 am and start working.
Sometime around 4:00 pm I’d look up and say, “Oh, I should eat something.” I’d go upstairs to the kitchen, make something to eat, bring it back down with me and eat while I worked. Then I’d keep working until 10:00 pm.
Don’t do this. Seriously. It’s bad for you.
I’ve altered my habits considerably since my youthful freelance costuming days. Here are a few simple steps I now follow to stay sane during my work day:
- Get up and move around – Doctors, ergonomic professionals and pretty much everyone else agrees that this is absolutely necessary during the day for physical and mental health.This can be something as simple as getting up and stretching for a couple of minutes to getting away from a frustrating project to take a walk and clear your head. Do it. Your body and mind with both thank you.
- Eat – Yes, this seems obvious, but if you read the first paragraph in this section, you’ll see how easy it is to forget to do this during the day, especially when you are deeply focused on a project.
- Give yourself permission to stop – As a business owner, and the person responsible for, well, everything, it can be hard to do this. But you must. Sleep, relationships with other humans and time away from your business are incredibly important. Sometimes they can be crucial to solving whatever problem is at hand.So yeah. Give yourself a firm stop time every day and go do something else. (And yes, this time will change from day to day. See managing your time above.)
Figure Out How You Stay Focused
Everyone has their own way of getting into the zone.
Legendary copywriter Eugene Schwartz would set a timer for 33.33 minutes and concentrate solely on the project at hand. (Okay, he also drank coffee.) Then he got up and did something else for 10-15 minutes. He’d do this over and over, every day.
Other folks can multi-task, absorbing information from several sources at once, all while finishing whatever they’re working on, on time.
Me, I like to buckle down and work on something for a couple of hours, then take a 20-minute break. (Okay, I take some very short social media breaks in there, and I certainly research whatever I’m working on, but that’s how I roll.)
You will have to figure out what works best for you. Once you find it, keep doing it. Trust me, it will help.
Figure Out What Makes You the Least Distracted.
There are so many fabulous distractions to grab your attention, whether you work from home, a workshop or a coworking office space.
Your kids, your neighbors, your phone, your email, other folks using the same space, the construction work across the street. You name it, it is out to suck up your time.
At my house, it’s the cat, the laundry, the dishes, the birds at my bird feeders, or during the summer, all of the fabulous wildlife that visit me while I’m writing on the patio.
You need to figure out what will help you focus the most and distract you the least. Please notice I don’t say “will keep you laser focused all day, every day” because that’s unrealistic and unhealthy. But do find what lets you be the most productive.
For me, I need music. I love music. I don’t remember a time I didn’t sing and I’ve been musical in one way or another for most of my life.
However, it’s really hard for me to listen to music with words while writing. (And I don’t think my clients appreciate having weird lyrics sprinkled throughout their copy.) So I tend toward classical, electronica, jazz and music in languages I don’t speak.
I also have certain places I work in the house (or on the patio) that seem to keep me the most focused. No idea why, they just do.
When I was costuming, I listened to books on tape. They gave my mind something to focus on while my hands were busy.
Figure Out What Helps You to Stay On Task
I like having a list of things I have to do every day, or for every project. I use my calendar, Reminders on my computer or phone, and Trello to keep track of these.
Other folks use Post-It Notes, note books, alarms, or any number of other triggers to help them remember what they’re doing and when they’re doing it.
Feel Free to Throw All of This (and Any Other Advice) Out the Window.
Really, this is all about what works best for you. Everyone will give you their own tips, tricks, studies or whatever in an effort to be helpful. But ultimately, this is about building your ideal work situation. So feel free to experiment.
If the dog running to the window every 10 minutes to bark at the squirrels distracts you, send the dog off to daycare a few days a week.
If your family refuses to let you have a moment’s peace, commandeer a room with a door and say “You are not allowed to knock on, open this door or come into this room unless you are dying or the house is on fire.” Then hold to that. (They’ll never learn otherwise. Trust me.)
Most importantly, have fun! This is your life and your business. You chose this over working a “real job” because you wanted to enjoy what you do. So do it.
What has helped you the most when figuring out how to manage your time? Tell me about it in the comments.