You don’t have to look far on the internet and social media to find tips on how to get started as a freelancer, how to hustle, how to pitch, how to set your rates, and so on.
That stuff matters, no question. But all the optimization in the world won’t do you any good if you haven’t first optimized your working habits.
Here are a few tricks that have helped me get shit done amid the distracting freedom of working from home and being my own boss.
Treat it Like a Job
…because it is.
Not only is freelancing a “real job” it’s a job where the very survival of the company (AKA You Inc.) depends on your personal productivity. Act accordingly.
If you’re unstructured and undisciplined with your time, it ’s unlikely that you’ll use it to do consistent work. You need a routine and a schedule.
The beauty of freelancing is that your workday and mine don’t have to look anything alike. Your workdays don’t have to be Monday through Friday.
Lately, I’ve been experimenting with a six-day week with Wednesday’s off.
Have a Separate Workspace
Even if it’s just the corner of your bedroom or a table in a cafe you rent for the price of a cortado, you need an office that’s separate from your living quarters.
Set aside your own headspace too and be unreachable while you’re working. For me, that’s earplugs, airplane mode, and lots of natural light. For some people it’s music and a blank wall.
If your clients are ever going to see where you work, you’ll want to take that into consideration and make it presentable. That includes video calls. I like to do Skype calls in front of my bookshelf. On more than one occasion, this has turned into a book chat after a client noticed one of the titles over my shoulder.
In theory, you could work remotely in your birthday suit. People joke about putting on a suit and tie from the waist up for video calls…
You should use this freedom to dress in a way that makes you feel ready to get work done. For me, that means putting on shoes and whatever I’d wear out in the world. Sometimes, when I need a motivation boost, I’ll get slightly dressed up (in a shirt with buttons.)
In my experience, there’s a psychological edge to looking sharp even when no one’s there to appreciate the sauce. Research suggests that dressing up for a phone interview can change the way you sound.
I drafted this article in a suit and tie just for fun. It improved my posture if nothing else.
Schedule Mandatory Fun
A real danger of working for yourself is blurring the lines between work and downtime. Either you end up working even when you’re trying not to or you give in to the temptation to sleep in and take random days off.
Schedule vacations and days off. Genuinely checkout when you’re not working — this means no email or work-related calls — and have a set date to get back to work.
Author Will Self offers some tips on downtime and how to throw a solitary Christmas party:
“Regard yourself as a small corporation of one. Take yourself off on team-building exercises (long walks). Hold a Christmas party every year at which you stand in the corner of your writing room, shouting very loudly to yourself while drinking a bottle of white wine. Then masturbate under the desk. The following day you will feel a deep and cohering sense of embarrassment.”
(Will Self’s Rules for Writers)
Be your Own H.R Department
Nobody likes working for an asshole… Take care of yourself mentally, physically, and (don’t scoff) spiritually. Have a meditation practice, do yoga, see a therapist.
Make friends outside of the freelancing bubble too. One simple remedy for the stress of working for yourself is to have people in your life who don’t earn their living on a laptop.
A friend of mine is a commercial fisherman. He wakes up before dawn to work out in the North Atlantic in a small boat. When I’m lacking motivation, I let his example shame me into dragging my ass out of bed to type in a climate-controlled room.