• Advice

3 simple tips to structure your workdays

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

There are a lot of perks to working from home as a full-time freelancer! The dress code is notoriously lax, and there’s a noticeable dearth of inane water cooler talk.

But freelance workdays can also be dangerously nebulous. Without structure, there is a lot of frustrating wasted time, and work can bleed endlessly into free time.

So how do you structure your freelance days… without losing your flexibility?

1. Build a ritual to begin your day

One of the dangers of working as a freelancer is the ease with which you can slip in and out of your workflow. Sometimes that’s great – I’m a big believer in organic productivity, or giving yourself time to stare at walls and ponder.

But when you don’t have clear delineation between “work” and “play” time, it’s easy to look at a clock and realize you have spent two hours poking around the Internet and desultorily answering emails… without getting any closer to accomplishing your goals.

I combat this slow drift towards lassitude by creating work-specific rituals that cue my brain to focus. Whenever I start a day of copywriting work, I take time to set up my space and warm up my brain. I pour a cup of coffee, put on my favorite Pandora station, and read the New York Times online for 15-20 minutes.

That’s just my set ritual; I MUST listen to instrumental music (lyrics tend to distract me), and I MUST read something interesting in order to cue up my desire to write.

Find the ritual that works for you – maybe it’s meditating, or taking the time to clear your inbox, or setting up your desk. Allow yourself the warm-up! Before long, you’ll know exactly when each workday begins… and that will help cut down on procrastination.

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2. Take breaks - including for meals

Unless I’m really on a can’t-stop-now-the-action-is-too-hot productivity roll, I swear by the 45/15 method; 45 minutes of work, followed by 15-minute breaks.

This considerably lessens the anticipatory dread of completing a big project – you never have to concentrate on the big picture! Instead, you focus on bite-sized chunks.

Some people prefer to work for longer spans of time, and then break. That’s fine!

But DON’T forego breaks altogether – it’s easy to slip into this habit, and easier still to court burnout via the same.

Make sure to build in reasonable breaks, both within your workdays and within your workweeks. And for the love of all that’s good and holy, MAKE TIME FOR FOOD – preferably something reasonably nutritious.

Extensive personal research has proven that the best work is not created from the fuel provided by two Twinkies, eaten standing up.

**3. Set the goal of 3 **

During your warm-up pre-work ritual (or the night before, if you choose), pick three goals you want to accomplish during the selected workday. Try to make them vaguely realistic – it’d be really cool to write your whole novel on a Tuesday, but that would be a short opus.

Why three goals?

Three is a nice, magical, satisfying number – there’s a reason why comedians rely on it for jokes.

One goal is good, but can feel underwhelming if it’s too easy, and overwhelming if it’s too big.

With two goals, it can be tempting to split the day into halves – tackling two enormous projects at once.

With three goals, you MUST have at least one lesser goal. Three is just ambitious enough to be do-able, while still feeling “impressive.”

I like to pick one onerous, annoying, or enormous task, and two less-irritating tasks.

If I’m focusing on one really big thing, the other goals can be as small as “eat a good lunch” or “make a phone call.”

Even with these little cheats, it feels good to review and list three accomplishments at the end of the day.

Once you’ve finished your well-structured day, make sure to take time to wind down.

Just as you have a distinct beginning, you should create a definite end to your workday – signaling to your brain that it’s time to break until the next structured period.

You can schedule your workdays however YOU like – that vaunted freelance flexibility often means you can work whenever and wherever you prefer – but make sure that you build in a structure that works best for you!

Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.