One of the best perks of working for yourself is that you can manage your own schedule. This means you can meet friends for lunch or coffee if you choose. You don’t have to spend your time commuting which means you can either sleep in late or fit in a workout instead. However, all of these perks of working without boundaries come at a cost… over-working, being ineffiicient, seeming unprofessional, etc. While I started like that, over time I found ways to enjoy both ends of the spectrum - enjoying the flexibility while being efficient.
It’s been a while since I left my independent career behind (and got a job) but I distinctly remember the lessons I learned and the habits I inculcated over time.
1. Wear your shoes at home.
This has by far been one of the most unique, unexpected & quirky influencers that increased my productivity when working from home. It’s very easy to be relaxed at home, in your shorts, in flip-flops… but I never felt the rigour when I worked that way. The days when I wore my shoes, I felt like I had a purpose, I felt professional and felt like I needed to get stuff done. This tiny shift, put me in a whole new state of mind. Try it for a few days and let me know if you feel the difference.
2. Keep your workspace away from the bedroom.
Since my sister had moved out of her room (after her wedding), I was lucky to have an extra room to use as my office. I made her room my bedroom and converted my bedroom to my office/workspace. Having a separate workspace helped me ‘switch-on’ my work mode when I entered it and ‘switch-off’ when I left the room. Living in New York, I know that space is a luxury, and if you can’t do this, you should atleast try and do the next thing.
3. Move the bed out of sight & get a workdesk.
In a country like India, where it gets really hot during the afternoon during particular seasons, it would always be tempting to just lay down after lunch resulting in laziness leading to procrastination. I made it a point to get rid of my bed (from my newly transformed workspace) as I knew that I would convince myself to ‘lay down for 5 mins’. Not having that option, made it easier to not succumb to temptation. Something that made this a lot easier is when I got myself a nice desk and comfortable office-chair to work. It reduced the temptation to get comfortable and rest my back on a horizontal surface.
4. Start your day early & follow a daily routine.
Luckily for me, I’m a ‘morning person’. Waking up early isn’t a feat. I quickly realized that if I wanted to be productive, I needed to make the most us of my mornings. I chose to wake up early, have a shower and walk into the work space by 8:30 a.m.. I walked into the room like I would walk into an office space - with nice(ish) clothes and my shoes on. This pattern allowed me to get more out of my day and still have time of other activities.
5. Divide tasks between morning & afternoon.
If you’re anything like me, mornings are a lot more productive than the afternoons. Once I understood this pattern, I split my day into two halves - the productive morning & the social afternoon. In the morning (9:00 - 1:30) I managed to get most of my design & problem solving tasks out of the way and in the afternoon (2:30 - 6:30) I decided to head out and have client meetings or meet vendors. This way when I was bright and awake, I took care of the diffucult brain-intensive tasks and when I could potentially slow down, I would engage in social activities or client meetings and stay on my feet.
6. Make a to-do list, just so you can scratch it off.
I was never a believer of to-do lists and am still bad at managing my personal tasks but somehow the practice of creating to-do lists for work became a habit. I guess it started with my love for stationary, and especially the Behance Action Pad Mini. I wanted to try it, so I ordered it online and when it came in, I immediately started using it to manage my work tasks for the day and made sure to scratch if off by end of day. It is so gratifying to scratch of a to-do list and look back at it at the end of the day, you have to try it to believe it. I even went one step further and put up all scratched off lists on a wall next to me to remind me that if I’d done it once, I could do it again.
7. Pack your non-work hours with fun activities
While all of the above were great to keep me productive when I was working, they did not help me manage my time and tell myself to stop working. I accidentally discovered how adding activities to your after-work hours helped in making me more efficient since I had something else to get to. I started by going to the gym every alternate evening at 7:00pm or meeting a friend around the same time on rest-days. This forced me to complete any work I had for the day before that time. Later I started playing tennis in the mornings from 7:30 - 8:30, which gave me reason to be more efficient with the time I had between the morning and evening schedules. Suddenly, I was doing so much more in the same time I had before (when I thought I had no free time) while being efficient and being more active at the same time.
That sums up my experience and learnings when working on my own. Hope that some of these methods work for those of you who are in the process of building efficiency within your internal workflows.
Freelancing is great only if you know how to manage yourself and your time well. If you can’t do that, then it’s not for you and you won’t be respected by your peers.