Time is money, and when you work from home, time is almost as good as gold. Time to be productive and stay focused. Time to get all your household to-dos done. Time to pay attention to loved ones. Time to get your administrative work done. And time for downtime; remember, those hours where you don’t have to worry about deadlines, clients, past-due invoices, or work, commonly known as nights and weekends. When you’re freelancing, the temptation to work late and start early is always there and time management quickly becomes crucial for creating and maintaining a balanced life, with room for both work and play.
Working from home can be a very satisfying and rewarding endeavor. It can also be overwhelming. When you need to get a handle on your time to work profitably and productively, you need more than a hope and a prayer. What you need is a plan.
There are different distractions and challenges for those who work from home. Rather than meetings, deadline-driven project work, the boss’s demands, and competitive co-workers, domestic concerns tend to creep in. I know I’ve struggled with this before. It’s great to be working from home and avoiding a long commute, BUT the dog has to be walked, friends stop by unexpectedly, lunch breaks turn into a two-hour Netflix binges… the point is, working from home creates many, many more opportunities for distraction. When you’re a freelancer, other people around to keep you on your toes like there are at the office.
So where to start? How do you gain control of your time and make sure distractions don’t ruin your productivity?
Set a Work Schedule
Have you ever stayed up until the wee hours of the morning working? Have you set your alarm and your programmable coffee pot three hours before everyone else in the house wakes up to squeeze in extra work time? Have you locked yourself in a room for three days straight for a big push either when you got behind or had extra work to do?
Stop right now and decide what your ideal work schedule is. Most employers have schedule policies and set up their work environments by shifts to get the most productivity from their workforce. You can do the same when you’re freelancing. Do you want to work first, second, or third shift? Is the standard nine-to-five work day a good fit for what you do or would another schedule be a better fit? Give yourself a set schedule, including breaks and lunch hour, just like an employer would. Make sure you build in enough time for family, fun, and sleep. Give yourself a set schedule and get control of your work week.
Get App Happy
Need to get better at time management? There’s an app for that. Or rather, there are a TON of apps for that. Take a look at these, pick the one you like best, and start using it:
- RescueTime – Monitor how you spend your time so you can see how you’re spending your time, block out chunks of time for specific activities, and get a handle on how you work at home so you don’t lose one more minute.
- Freckle – This app helps you analyze your work time by setting timers for work, creating activity graphs and budget overviews, and summarizing billable hours.
- Focus Booster – Track time for profitable tasks with Focus Booster’s user-friendly dashboards, set timers for breaks, and get total at-a-glance visibility of your time with easy reports.
- Emergent Task Planner – Just can’t give up the pen and paper for electronic time management? Don’t worry. Emergent Task Planner lets you write down your tasks and activities so you don’t forget anything and can block off segments of time for work.
Think of all the things that distract you when you work at home. Unless you have constructed a completely sound-proof room for working in, you’re at the mercy of concentration-breaking noise like the phone ringing, the doorbell, television, people talking in other parts of the house, and any other activities outside of your work space. These can all make you take much longer to complete work than if you didn’t hear them and get interrupted. When you need to focus on the task at hand, noise-cancelling headphones or white noise can be great ways to help you tune out background noise and tune in to your work.
Get Out of the House
Sometimes freelancing from home just doesn’t work. You might be stuck in some bad habits, such as breaking for your favorite talk show or stopping every time your kids have a question. If you find yourself losing too much time every day, pack up your laptop or tablet and head out to your local library or coffee shop for some quality work time. A change of scenery can be a real refresher, new source of creativity, and good focusing tool. It gives you a break from the distractions at home and lets you re-focus all of your attention on the work.
Some work requires more focused attention without surrounding noise and interruptions. For example, if you’re a graphic designer, background music may actually be a good thing and help your creativity. But for transcriptionists, music might be the enemy because there’s a significant amount of listening and focused attention required, and music could make it more difficult to hear the audio you’re transcribing.
Books are also a great source of inspiration and ideas for increasing your productivity. Read a couple of these top-selling books on the topic to get started:
- “15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management” by Kevin Kruse
- “ Scrum – The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” by Jeff Sutherland
- “The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy” by Chris Bailey
Freelancing is a wonderful thing, but it comes with unique challenges, particularly around time management. You and you alone are responsible for starting on time, getting work done, putting in the hours, and getting paid. That makes time management all the more important for those who work at home. Don’t waste any more time. Put these time management tips into practice right now and see how much more productive you are this week. Start with a list of your biggest time-wasters and go after them with some or all of the tips described above and see what a difference it makes.