(Flickr photo by David Martyn Hunt)
Successful freelancers know that the key to keeping a great gig is staying organized, meeting deadlines, and doing great work. They also know that it’s easier said than done.
Being a freelancer — or just having the freedom to work from home — has plenty of perks. Setting your own schedule, working in your pajamas, and getting a load of laundry done in between tasks are just a few of the benefits that people who work remotely enjoy. But working from home — or the coffee shop, or the beach — comes with even more distractions than perks, and before you know it, you may find yourself procrastinating and falling behind.
It isn’t just freelancers enjoying the perks of remote work, and struggling to stay on task. As Tom Ashbrook said on the May 2 edition of NPR’s On Point, “Now, work and the workplace are going free agent. To a corner of Starbucks. Or anywhere.” Today, even employees with 9-to-5 jobs have the option to work from home. But working in an unstructured environment can be challenging for some.
Establishing a routine that works for you is integral to working remotely. Luckily, plenty of workers have come before you, and they are happy to share their tips for staying on task.
1. Plan Ahead
Based out of Oakland, Calif., Nancy Davis Kho is a freelance writer and columnist for EContent. Like many freelancers, she understands the importance of sticking to a schedule.
“My number one piece of advice is to plan your workday the night before,” she says. “I use Outlook like crazy to manage and prioritize even the smallest tasks, so as soon as I start in the morning, I know exactly how I’m going to tackle things and in what order, and I try really, really hard to never let a task slip by a day.”
Davis Kho also finds that keeping busy keeps her mind from wandering. “I find the need to sort of overload myself; otherwise it’s too easy to get tempted by the siren song of Facebook and Twitter,” she says. If her hands go idle, she’s more likely to get distracted and end up falling behind.
Loving your work helps, too, says Brad Harris, a software engineer at Yahoo who works from his home in Denver.
“For me, setting up a schedule of when I start and end work for the day has been crucial,” Harris says. “I don’t see staying on task as much of a problem if you genuinely enjoy what you do. Rather, it’s hard to put work down at times because it’s so accessible. Having a specific time of day where I’m ‘done,’ even if that means putting work away for a few hours until dinner is over and kids are in bed, has helped me keep it from creeping in too much.”
Part of planning ahead is prioritizing — deciding what needs to get done now and what can wait until tomorrow. Kho says, “When I prioritize, I start with the jobs that pay. If I do have to let something slip, I’d rather it be something I’m not directly earning money on (i.e. backing up files, reading someone else’s blog and commenting, returning a call to the pharmacy.)”
2. Find the Tools that Work for You
One of the wonderful things about technology is that there is a tool (or an app) for just about everything. Just like Davis Kho uses her Outlook to create a task list, other freelancers rely on tools to stay organized and focused. Ron Miller, a freelance writer and enterprise reporter for TechCrunch, swears by Evernote — but he also likes a good old notepad.
“I use Evernote to organize my content so I have quick access to notes and related articles and such on any device and I’m a big believer in lists,” Miller says. “I still haven’t found an electronic listing tool that I like as much as simply writing one at the beginning of each day and checking off things as I go.”
Carolina K. Reid, a freelancer who is working on a startup in on-demand housing, relies on a truly unusual tool: an egg timer. Reid says she uses the kitchen gadget “just to keep on track and devote x-amount of time per day in a week — minimum 30 minutes and no distractions.”
Harris has one must-have tool that may seem a bit unusual at first, but also ingenious: “Bose noise-canceling headphones are a must if you have kids at home. They’re pricy, but well worth it in my opinion.” But Harris also has tips for people who have to stay in touch with co-workers in an office — or in their own homes — during the workday.
“We use a team chat tool called HipChat, which is super-helpful for staying up to speed with what the team is doing. There are other solutions, but something similar is extremely helpful if you are a team with remote workers,” Harris says.
3. Get Out of the Office
One of the biggest perks of working from home is the ability to pick up your laptop and work from anywhere. That may sound counterproductive, but there can be a lot of distractions in your house. Whether you have kids running around the house, or the temptation to turn on the TV is too strong, sometimes it can be smart to get out of your home office — though it isn’t for everyone.
Some people enjoy heading down to the local coffee house to grab a beverage and to bury themselves in their work. But be sure that you’ve planned your day to suit itself to a few hours at the coffee shop or the library.
Reid says, “I like the coffee shop idea but I am too fundamentally social not to look up… Also I get on the phone a lot, setting up interviews, and calling for copies of reports or books. So I like to be able to make calls from a quiet place.”
For people who aren’t cutout for business in the coffee shop, there are other options. Co-working spaces are on the rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, freelancers, independent contractors and the like will make up 40 percent of the workforce by 2020. By allowing freelancers to rent as much or as little office space and time as they need — while providing all the important amenities like Wi-Fi — co-working spaces are filling the gap between the home office and the cubicle farm.