If you’re just starting out doing freelance, independent work, or if you’re a recent grad or entry level professional who’s been given a remote position, let me tell you, it can be challenging. At first you’re enticed by the prospect of doing work in your PJs or waking up later, but soon enough you discover that having the freedom to create your own schedule has its downsides. Because you don’t have anyone to report to or a set structure like you would have in a traditional office setting, it’s easy to let things sit on the back burner.
The work can also be lonely and unmotivating when all you have is yourself.
It’s definitely something that required a bit of a learning curve when I first started working. Throughout college and even know as a recent college graduate, the internships that I’ve had (and the one I currently have) required me to do my work independently and remotely. I had to really find what worked for me to ensure that I was organized and on top of my tasks. So today I’d like to share four tips that I think are essential for anyone working independently and on their own time.
1. Choose the right office space for you
As an independent or remote worker, you often don’t have a designated office space. So, it’s important for freelancers to find a space that stimulates them creatively and motivates them to be productive. An easy fix, and probably the most common one, is to work at a local coffee shop or Starbucks. The atmosphere of a café ensures a quiet, casual location, and personally I find the quiet murmur of passing conversations inspiring. There’s also the option of going to a library if you want to make sure you have absolute silence, but sometimes the quiet zone at a library can be a bit too quiet.
Another great option, if you have the financial means, is a coworking space like WeWork. As a member, you’re given access to all WeWork locations around the world, and it’s specifically designed for creatives to collaborate and grow. Not only do you get a workspace, but you also have the opportunity to meet people in your area who are also freelancers, entrepreneurs, small business owners, etc.
The main takeaway is to create a space for yourself that is specifically dedicated to work. That can mean going to a coffee shop, library, coworking space, or even just setting up a desk at home. Your space is super important to your productivity and motivation, and it’s especially important to get it right as a freelancer.
2. Take 15 min breaks to stay productive
This tip is for anyone that spends most of the workday staring at a screen. Take a break! Rest your eyes, take some deep breaths, we all know how exhausting it can be to look at the same screen for hours at a time. Muse did a study of their most productive employees, and they all have one thing in common: they take effective breaks. More specifically they work for 52 minutes and take 17-minute breaks. The numbers seem a bit arbitrary, but it does have two main benefits: one, you have to take advantage of the hour you do have and end up working with more purpose. Second, taking short walks and disengaging from the work helps to clear up any mind fog and improves your overall health. We weren’t meant to just sit around for hours on end.
The first step is to acknowledge the moment we start to get that mind fog, and rather than trying to push through it, allow yourself a break. Setting an alarm for periodic breaks is also a great option.
3. Create a routine
In a similar vein to the previous tip, it’s important to be aware of when you’re the most productive and work your schedule around that. Working by yourself means that it’s up to you to create structure. For example, some people love getting up early in the morning and getting most of their work done before lunch. But others prefer a slower morning and are much more engaged in the afternoon. And we all know those night owls whose prime hours are well past midnight. You are the maker of your own time, but the key is to set up a predictable routine. Embrace your work hours even if they don’t fall under the traditional 9-5 structure, that’s the whole point of doing freelance/independent work anyways. And make a routine based off of that.
Some find routine stifling, but there are ways to create structure while still not doing the exact same thing every day. One idea is to change work locations every couple of days. And leading into the next tip, you can even invite friends to come work with you every now and then.
4. Get a work buddy
Even for those who are more introverted (myself included), freelance and independent work can get lonely. That’s why making connections with other freelancers and creatives is essential. Agreeing to meet up and work together makes the work so much more motivating. Having a friend who is also busy doing their work definitely keeps me accountable and I’m much less likely to be browsing Amazon when I’m working with others. We are social creatures after all, and it’s important to keep a sense of community even if you’re work isn’t really set up to give you one. A work buddy can also serve as a sounding board for new ideas and can provide helpful feedback. I’m lucky to know a couple of creatives in my social circle that I can call up to work with but taking advantage of coworking spaces or local interest groups (checkout Meetup.com) can help you meet more freelancers in your area.
Working on your own time definitely requires a lot of self-motivation and planning. If you’re a recent graduate who is in between positions or trying out freelance for the first time, I know it can be daunting to go out on your own. But it does offer a great option for those who might not fit into the traditional 9-5 work structure, and who want a better sense of independence and creative freedom. For anyone who is currently working on their own, hopefully some of these tips prove helpful, and please feel free to share any additional tips that we haven’t mentioned!