Freelance or WFH? Here's how to make it work

It's a blessing and a curse to work from home or as a freelancer. The secret is to know thyself.

It's a blessing and a curse to work from home or as a freelancer. On the plus side, you're not expected to fit into the prefab 9-to-5 box. Unfortunately, that means you have to create the whole day from scratch. For some, this is divine freedom. For others, it's a lot of free-floating time to eff up.

The secret to a successful work schedule is to know thyself.

The Seeker's Approach to the Work Schedule

The very notion of "time management" makes some of us want to rebel. It sounds restrictive — which anyone who has been on a crazy diet knows is a recipe for disaster. Rather than start color-coding a planner in blocks, artist and writer Laureen Marchand, says making a work schedule that works for you is about asking questions:

  • What do you want?
  • What's important?
  • What's important enough so you can commit to it?
  • Do I have goals? If so, what are they? If not, should I develop some?
  • What do I want to change?

"Remember, there are no wrong answers," she suggests. "What's right for you is right. But you're more likely to know what's right for you if you ask the questions."

For Marchand, these questions boiled down to values that could guide her days: "Almost daily time for the work that matters most to me. Enough money so I don't have to think about it. Recognition. Connection. Possibility."

The Structure-Is-Freedom Work Schedule

Some people, like Mark Wahlberg, like to schedule every hour of the day. For those who thrive in conditions of ultimate order, hand the job of taskmaster over to Google Calendar or the scheduling function of your choice. Rather than only putting in meetings, doctor's appointments, and the occasional lunch date, create a calendar that is your Daily Routine, suggests Whitson Gordon on Lifehacker.

Set up recurring events with pop-up reminders on your computer and cell phone that will remind you to shift gears. And here's the trick: When you get that pop-up to "Eat Lunch," "Yoga with Alison," "Draft Grant Proposal," drop everything and actually do it.

"Take these events seriously, and respect the calendar, and you'll find your routine becomes much easier to stick to," Whitson writes. "The key here is to set up the calendar and stick to it. Be serious about following to it. It's okay to 'boss yourself around' with this calendar. You're making these appointments with yourself b/c this is the way you want your life to be, so respect that. Don't put yourself at the bottom of all your other priorities/responsibilities. This calendar is here to remind you of that."

Create a window of time for revolving but endless errands and admin, so that you have time each day to go to the post office/drop bike off for a tune-up/call the insurance company.

"It may seem like overkill at first," writes Whitson. "Like you're scheduling every second of every day like a crazy person, but once you get it all set up, it won't seem so bad. Again, the idea isn't to interrupt your important work, just to send you little blips that remind you to shut down the distractions and get your daily routine back on track."

Know your own rhythms

Do you work best in short increments? Or will a long chunk of quiet and solitude lead to better productivity? Will getting email out of the way free up brain space for more innovative and big picture work? Or is that a form of procrastination for the real intellectual heavylifting your job requires. Again, know thyself. And then create the boundaries in your schedule that set you up for success.

We All Have the Same 24 Hours. What Can You Do With Yours?

There are real obstacles to getting our work done — childcare, meal planning, the whole great wide Internet. Feeling like we don't have enough time is such a constant many of us have adopted it as our mantra. There's never enough time!

"Of course, you don't have enough time! Who does? But then again, do you really not have enough time?" asks Laureen Marchand. "Or is it that you have lots of time and you aren't using it for what's important to you? Is your time taken with things that used to be matter but don't so much now? Are you busy doing things you don't really want to do? How can you do less of what you don't want and more of what you do?"

Rethink "Enough"

Defining what is enough for you — and "for you" are the operative words — means learning to silence what Jennifer Louden calls the "Hounds of More, More, More," who have endless suggestions for how to live well.

"Improve yourself! Make more money! Be more awesome! Rise to the top! More, more, mooooooooorrrrreeeee!"

The hounds also love to mess with your routine, yammering:

"Meditate first thing in the morning! No, I meant start with yoga! No, you should go to the gym! But it's summer so walk in nature! No, I meant writing, working on your side gig/sketching!"

It's exhausting. Why? Because the Hounds of More are concerned with illusory perfection, Louden writes, and are never satisfied.

But building a sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment into your day is essential for creating momentum in a routine. Louden's Conditions for Enoughness help create finite and measurable action plans so that you can declare you did enough at the end of each day — even if you don't feel like you did.

Know your No's and Yes'es

We'll quote the master, here. As Steven R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People put it:

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically, to say "no" to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger "yes" burning inside.

But how do you say no when we've been taught that abundance in all things is about saying yes?

"One thing that helps in this process of choosing a bigger yes is knowing that you do not have to choose one 'big yes' thing forever; you simply have to choose what you want to focus on for now," writes Melissa Dinwiddie, who says that all time management problems are really priority management problems. "In other words, 'no' does not have to mean 'never;' it can mean 'not right now.'"

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