Four years ago, I started freelance writing as a side gig while working full-time. After a year of squeezing my freelance work into my days off, I was able to leave my job in health care to work from home as a writer.
I was so happy to be home and so thrilled by the chance to do what I love full-time, that I never considered what kind of challenges I might face. It never crossed my mind that I might have trouble finding a routine that worked well for me, that I might get bored, or struggle to stay motivated.
It wasn’t long before I felt like I was losing my grip on a balanced schedule. Some days, it seemed like all I did was work. Other days, I avoided my work and got caught up in housework and errands.
I loved my freedom, but I also began to see the benefits of a routine. By experimenting with different schedules and reading blogs written by people who were making freelancing work well for their lifestyle, I finally found the perfect routine for working from home. Here’s how you can do the same.
Get it all on paper
One thing I quickly realized was that I wasn’t super clear on what I needed to do in a given day. I had a rough idea, but random tasks kept popping up that required my attention, distracting me from my work.
So, when I knew it was time to get a better handle on how I was spending my days, I started by getting a handle on everything I wanted to squeeze into 24 hours. I did this by spending a few minutes freewriting a list. I walked away with a pretty long list that included plenty of work-related to-dos as well as personal tasks like working out, half an hour of reading, housework, and touching base with a friend.
Be honest and realistic
One of the most important things I learned is that I needed to be honest and realistic about my schedule, and unafraid of doing things a little differently to create the lifestyle I wanted.
When I first started working from home, I had this idea that I would hole up in my home office for several hours a day happily typing away. Instead, I found working from home five days a week to be lonely. Instead of buckling down and forcing myself to stick with what I thought was normal, I gave myself permission to take advantage of my freedom. Specifically, I made plans to work in public places a couple times a week, joined monthly meetups with other freelancers, and started taking an entire weekday off of work. Be honest about your hopes for working at home, and be realistic about what you can do each day while still enjoying your work.
Block it out
At first, I tried to schedule all of the tasks on my list into my day from start to finish. Mapping my day out in 15-minute increments proved to be tedious and stifled the freedom that attracted me to freelancing in the first place.
This is when I learned about time blocking. The idea behind this method of scheduling your day is that you dedicate larger chunks of time to tackling a task or a group of tasks. It’s a way of taking control of your time and making it work for you, instead of feeling like you’re a slave to an endless list of to-dos each day.
For me, this meant creating time blocks that I named based on the time of day. I have a sunrise block, which is an early morning block dedicated to two hours of uninterrupted writing. A morning block follows, which is dedicated to getting breakfast made, working out, and getting myself and my family ready for the day. After that, I have blocks dedicated to working, dinner and family time, and self-care in the evening.
The beauty of working from home is that it does offer some freedom and flexibility. Once I created my ideal schedule, I got pretty caught up in sticking with it at all costs, but found that certain circumstances required me to practice a little more flexibility. For instance, a nasty virus just swept through our house and turned my entire routine upside down. I would have loved to keep getting up early and staying on task, but I ultimately had to take some time to rest knowing I’d have to play catch up once we were all well.
At first, I was worried that a strict schedule was going to rob me of my flexibility, but ultimately it did the opposite. Having a schedule actually protected my free time from my work. I found that work easily bled into family time and free time if I didn’t block off the hours that were meant to be work-free each day. Finding a routine helped me create smart boundaries, and although it isn’t always perfect, it has helped me to create the life I want for myself.
Originally published July 11, 2018.