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3 Ways to Stay Motivated as a Freelancer

One of the biggest hurdles for new freelancers is the transition from employee to self-employed.

You’re now your own boss. Sure, your clients expect you to make deadlines and provide high-quality work. But there is no oversight of your daily routine.

There is no boss to notice you left early or spent an hour watching YouTube videos. That’s why self-motivation, time management, and even guilt can play a critical role in a freelancer’s success.

Here are three tips to stay motivated when you are both the employer and the employee:

Set a work schedule and keep to it

Being a full-time freelancer is a job. Your livelihood depends on finding clients, keeping them, and making them want to use your services again. It’s really that simple.

So, you must treat your freelance workday just like if you worked in an office.

I’ll use my daily routine as an example of one way to set up your freelance workday.

I wake up at 6 a.m. each morning. I don’t need an alarm clock — I have two dogs. They want to eat by 6 a.m., so that’s when I get up.

After feeding the dogs, I spend an hour on my iPad. I read The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Washington Post, read through morning newsletters from Axios and Politico, and review my Twitter feed. I might squeeze in a quick game or two on the iPad, and then I eat breakfast.

I start work usually at 7 a.m. Morning hours are when I’m most productive, so I focus on the most complicated tasks first.

I work for four hours with occasional short breaks before taking a shower, and then I eat lunch. During those morning hours, I get most of my work done.

(One quick aside — I work from a Caffe Nero for an hour or two either in the morning or afternoon most days. I need that change of environment, it helps me focus, and gives me some human contact, which is definitely an issue for people working remotely. Plus, they have great English Breakfast Tea and comfortable booths with plenty of table space that let’s me spread out my work if I have papers to review.)

Morning hours are when I’m most productive, so I focus on the most complicated tasks first.

The afternoon hours are usually spent wrapping up projects or performing less daunting tasks. It’s also interrupted by a half-hour walk with the dogs and time to make dinner. (Working from home also means you become the cook!)

Most of the time, I’m done with my workday by mid- to late-afternoon.

This system works for me.

I had a similar system when I worked remotely for two different companies before becoming a full-time freelancer.

I had roughly the same schedule — though one of those positions usually required me to work more hours and weekends. That job helped improve my efficiency and focus. If I didn’t improve those things, I would have never had time off!

Being self-employed, you have the benefit of choosing what hours you want to work. Find out what schedule works best for you and stick with it.

Use a calendar

There’s no way I could function as a freelancer without a religious use of my calendar.

I plan out my days and weeks by jotting down what I want to accomplish each day on my Gmail calendar. So, I may block off three hours for researching a topic one morning or a couple of hours for writing an article.

You don’t want to underestimate these tasks, so I always give myself more time than I think it will take. Why feel rushed and stressed out if I’m my own boss, right?

By Thursday each week, I map out my following week on the calendar. If there are gaps, I look for ways to fill them. Namely, checking in with clients to see about possible assignments.

Whichever calendar you use, make sure that’s part of your daily routine. It will help you plan and reduce stress.

Take time off when you need it

A great perk of freelancing is you set your own schedule. Though it’s important to stay focused, it’s equally critical to take time off.

Don’t let self-employment take over your life. Try your best to avoid working at night or on weekends. Give yourself time to unwind.

Give yourself time to unwind.

My half-hour dog walks each afternoon are a great way to decompress. Being a freelancer can mean a lot of alone time sitting in the front of a computer. Getting out will help your well being and can spark creativity. I often come back with new ideas after a walk.

It’s also OK to take a day off if you’re sick or take an afternoon off. The key is to work as productively as possible when you are working so you can take time off.

Taking time off also means taking vacations. You might need to work extra in the week or two preceding the time off, but you need to get away and unplug.

It’s worth it for your sanity.

What do you think? What keeps you motivated? Leave a comment and let me know.

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