How to Create a Flexible Work-at-Home Schedule as a Freelancer

Having such a flexible schedule can be both a blessing and a curse. Here are 6 tips for making the most of your flexibility as a freelancer by creating a successful work-at-home routine.

This post is from writer Erin, who owns the blog Journey to Saving. Over a period of six months she documented her backwards journey to self-employment. You can read her next steps here.

Those of us who work from home often hear how good we have it compared to everyone else. According to some, all we do is sleep in till noon, watch Netflix all day, never get out of our pajamas (OK maybe that part is true), and the money magically rolls in.

That would be nice, but as we all know, that is far from the reality of our situation as freelancers.

As a backwards freelancer, working from home has been a new experience for me. I’ve never worked away from an office environment before, and I’ve faced (and continue to face) my fair share of challenges when it comes to managing the glorious flexibility we’re granted as biz owners.

In my first post, I mentioned that working from home and for yourself is a different beast than simply working from home for an employer. They delegate tasks, and you have to do them.

As your own boss, you’re responsible for prioritizing and scheduling any tasks that need to get done. This can be overwhelming if you’re not used to it.

Managing a flexible freelance schedule

Having such a flexible schedule has been both a blessing and a curse. If I’m allotted all the time in the world to work, I’m going to take advantage of it. I work on weekends, log hours until 2am, and sometimes have trouble falling asleep thinking of all the things I need to get done.

Because I started out with a low workload (read: non-existent) and have been working my way up, I admittedly got used to spending my time as I wished, working when it suited me (within deadlines, of course).

As a result, I haven’t been able to establish a routine (like Carrie has), and as my workload increases it’s been tough to keep my head above the water.

I’m now putting forth the conscious effort needed to get organized and stay on task. We all work in different ways, and the best advice I can give is don’t be afraid to try something new if what you’re currently doing isn’t working. It’s all about finding what works best for you!

With that said, I’m going to share with you 6 tips on making the most of your flexibility as a freelancer.

Tip #1: Keep track of tasks

I’ve been using Asana to keep track of deadlines, as well as any personal projects I’m working on. The Careful Cents team also runs on Asana, and it’s a favorite of ours! It’s also a great way to keep track of all the business ideas that have been circling around in my head! If Asana isn’t your cup of tea, try Trello, Evernote, or even your Gmail calendar as a task management system.

While digital tools are great, there’s also something nice about putting pen to paper and making an old-fashioned to do list. I find physically crossing an item off to be more satisfying than clicking a check-mark!

However you do it, keeping track of your time and deadlines is the best way to stay organized. I would be lost without a system!

Tip #2: Create a “hit list”

This one I stole from Carrie! I love the idea of having a hit list, which consists of a 1-3 tasks that you must get done that day, no matter what. This really helps me prioritize. I know if I at least get those tasks out of the way, I can take a small break and have some fun.

While it’s nice to be able to breathe a sigh of relief once in a while, I also want to use this list to work ahead. If I can focus on the most important tasks and push through, I’ll have more time to dedicate to other things later on.

Tip #3: Schedule it in

Some freelancers have success sticking to a self-made schedule, and I can see how that’s possible. I actually thrive on schedules — the thing I loved most about college was having my day laid out for me. I knew when my classes were, and I had to schedule everything else around that.

The struggle I’ve had with this is not being able to accurately estimate exactly how long a certain task will take me, so is taking some tweaking to get right. But that’s the fun part of being a freelancer, you can experiment with your schedule and test out new productivity tips.

Tip #4: Time yourself

I tried the Pomodoro Technique to no avail. I ended up working through the timer and ceased to pay attention to it. I suppose you could say you need the will to stop working to use this technique, and I currently lack that will. If I get into a flow, I want to continue on and take advantage of it!

At the same time, I’ve also been guilty of staring at the screen until my brain is ready to melt. It’s best to be aware of your limits and take breaks when you need them. Listen to your body!

If you’re looking for other resources to track your time, check out Toggl or RescueTime.

Tip #5: Don’t forget to have fun

I am very guilty of this. There are many days when I hole myself up in my office, refusing to think about anything but the work I have to complete.

It’s important to take care of yourself to avoid burning out — something that’s especially important as a new freelancer. While it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, you don’t want to run yourself down within four months of becoming a freelancer!

Burnout leads to exhaustion and a forced break. And sometimes that break will last months or even years. So, take time for yourself every once in a while to unwind, so you don’t crush your passion altogether.

Tip #6: Recognize when to say no

There is nothing wrong with finding certain work uninspiring. After all, if you’re freelancing on the side or doing it full-time, it makes sense that you’re trying to escape work that isn’t fulfilling.

I hesitate to say no because I’m still building my client base, but it’s important to recognize the power of this small word.

In an effort to discover what I truly enjoy doing (aside from writing), I’ve been wearing as many hats as possible. Some of those hats haven’t been the right fit, but now I know what I need to let go, and what I’m enthusiastic about.

Knowing your personal freelance schedule

When I embarked on this journey, I didn’t think working from home was going to be a challenge at all. I ended up being very wrong, and for reasons I didn’t expect.

However, I would really like to nail down some sort of routine, so I’ll be experimenting with all of the above suggestions for the remainder of the year. I’ll continue using Asana and my own combination of a hit list/to-do list to make sure I stay sane, but I hope to incorporate some other techniques into my system as well.

My hope is that by prioritizing what’s important (both inside and outside of freelancing), I’ll be able to manage my time more effectively, while increasing my productivity and my happiness. I’ll let you know how everything’s going in future posts here on Careful Cents.

How do you manage your time as a freelancer? Have you struggled with turning off the “work” switch? What’s your favorite tool for keeping your schedule sane?

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  1. Kirsten says:

    when I first started Cat’s freelancing program, I had trouble sleeping because my mind was swirling with ideas. I’m oVer that now 🙂

    I do schedule my time for freelancing, because I don’t have much of it at the moment. It’s working ok and if I need more time, this means drastic measures like staying up even later or typing on my phone while rocking a baby.

    I use Evernote, but I know what you mean about the satisfaction of crossing off an item on paper! But I can’t bring myself to carry around a notebook everywhere (especially at work) and risk being outed!

    • Erin says:

      You are SO not alone there, though I’m glad you’re (hopefully!) getting sleep now. I think that having less time is probably slightly more beneficial, as you know you need to get everything done with the time you have. When I have a full day available, it’s easy to get distracted!

      That’s a good point about being “outed” at work. I was super paranoid about that when I had a full-time job, too. Evernote is a great tool!

  2. Kayla says:

    Great tips Erin! I loved this post. Even though I’m not freelancing full time (yet), I still need to implement some of these so I don’t spend all of my evening and weekend time working.

    • Erin says:

      That’s been a problem for me as well. The weekdays and weekends blur together as I’ve decided to work each day (even if it’s just on one thing). It’s a hard habit to break out of!

  3. Emma Healey says:

    I actually wish I could hole up in my office and work for a whole day, but with a 2 year old I work in stops and starts – mainly while he’s asleep. I pretty much work right until I go to bed (which is terrible for sleep) but it’s a labour of love so I’m sticking with my crazy schedule for now!

    • Erin says:

      I can’t imagine having your groove interrupted so often! When I get into “work mode” I try to hold onto it as long as possible. I admire your work ethic and how you’re sticking with it!

  4. Elna says:

    I’m 2 months into freelance writing and I’m still in the ” this is exciting” mind set. I thrive on new topics and expressing myself. This enthusiasm must be paying off as businesses are approaching me!

    Anyhow, I’m a mom of twins so scheduling is the number one thing I live by. I work only when I can and it seems to be working out. For a while I was waking up and working before my children woke up for the morning, but I soon started conking out at 8pm!

    Now I allow myself to work more in the evening to compensate. I’m also learning to type faster and get more work done with what time I have.

    Great tips!

    • Erin says:

      That’s awesome, Elna!! Being excited about your work certainly makes it easier to focus. I’m glad you learned that you get more done at night. Waking up early is advice that’s often spread around, and while I do see the merit, some of us just work better at other times!

  5. Kay says:

    Well, I’m not really a freelancer but I did find this post interesting. I’ve wondered what it’s like for you guys/gals that do that. I just do this for fun and it can be tiring. I can’t imagine what it must be like doing it as a money-making biz. It sounds like you have a good handle on it though, Erin! Was there ever any doubt? 🙂

    • Erin says:

      Thanks, Kay! If you ever have any other questions, feel free to send me a message! To be honest, when I was blogging on the side/as a hobby, it was sometimes difficult to work on it after coming home from my full-time job. It’s a little different now that I don’t have to deal much with outside stress (I worked with the public, which can take a lot out of you!), and there’s always the option of taking a midday nap!

      Lastly, YES, there was a ton of doubt, and I still struggle with it from time to time.

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