When’s the last time you got off schedule? Come on be honest.
We lay out our work, we get ourselves organized and prioritized, and then we schedule our time in a way that will most effectively see that work done and submitted on time.
But reality is generally not reflective of the effort we put into that schedule or the balance we are trying to achieve. All too often, we find ourselves veering off, falling behind, or just plain hitting a wall.
Creating a schedule is never going to be perfect and neither is following that schedule. But here are five tips that will help make your scheduling efforts at least a little more reliable:
1. Just Because You Work From Home…
Working from home, which most freelancers (and other creative people, such as novelists and screenwriters) do, does not mean you are available at all hours. Yet, there is the potential for many distractions from home that are avoidable if you set boundaries for your family and for yourself.
Family: Make sure they understand that when you have office hours, you are not to be disturbed. No, you aren’t available to make a quick run to the store. No, you don’t have time to walk the dog. No, no, no…
Set appropriate boundaries. Make your office hours clear. And if you have a door to your office, close it when you are working. It can be very easy for family members to think that just because you are physically in the house, you aren’t doing anything important. It’s up to you to remind them that you are.
I know I have told my kids many times to pretend I’m not there and to figure it out themselves. Unless the house is on fire or someone is dying, don’t interrupt me.
Yourself: Even if you are alone in the house, distractions are all around you. While doing a chore or two while on a break is productive, procrastinating on work by doing that sink full of dishes, then mopping the floors is not, then folding the laundry, then… Well, this just isn’t productive.
And don’t forget about those other distractions, like the television. Checking to see what Ellen is up to is not going to help you get your work done. Unless. of course, you happen to be writing an article about Ellen. If you are, then lucky you!
Then there is the potential distraction right under your fingertips. It is so easy to go off on a tangent while conducting research or answer that Skype message that just came in. Next thing you know, you need a break from looking at the screen and you haven’t gotten very far in your work. Turn off email and other notifications. Get rid of distracting websites. And ultimately, use some self-discipline, which is sometimes easier said than done.
2. Take Breathers
Schedule break time. Everyone needs a work break. In fact, it has been shown that the brain follows the same rhythm of activity during the day as it does when you’re asleep. It’s called the ultradian rhythm and following it will ensure your mind is operating at its peak when you need it to.
Essentially, the human brain can only keep its focus for 90 to 120 minutes before it needs to rest. The ultradian rhythm is a cycle of 90-minute work periods, followed by 20-minute breaks. By working in this manner, your brain will work extremely efficiently, then you will rest it, and then it will work efficiently again. And during that rest time, that’s when you can do that sink full of dishes and work in time for lunch and walking the dog.
3. Set Reasonable Deadlines
This goes for both you and your clients. Granted, you don’t always have a lot of control over the deadlines clients set, but what is reasonable for them might not be for you when considering your overall workload. If you find the deadline too tight, let your client know. They might be able to adjust it, and if not, it’s better you all know that upfront.
When it comes to setting your own deadlines, let the client deadlines be the guideposts. Schedule the tightest deadlines first and work the more flexible ones around those. You really need to have a good feeling for how much you can get done in a certain period of time and set deadlines accordingly.
It took me a few years to determine how much I could get done in a certain amount of time. Packing too much into one day is something I am frequently guilty of, but something I have been working to improve. This practice does no one any favors.
4. Leave Room to Wiggle
Speaking of packing too much in, it is important to leave wiggle room in your schedule. You need to do this on two levels:
- Sometimes, a work task takes longer than you intended. Maybe you’re having an off day or maybe the research took longer to pull together than you expected. Either way, if this happens and your schedule is back-to-back, you’ll run out of time before getting everything done. So, schedule a cushion of a few minutes around each task to ensure you have enough time.
- You never know what life will throw at you or when. You could lose your internet connection. The power could go out. Your mother might call and keep you on the phone for a half-an-hour. Leaving a little wiggle room on a day-to-day level will help with these unexpected interruptions.
5. Check Your Schedule Regularly
Finally, check your schedule throughout the day and each evening. During the day it is a good idea to check in and see how on-track you are. You might find you have gotten behind, which means you can make small adjustments to get back on track. Or you might find you’ve gotten ahead (a rare occasion that would be something to celebrate), in which case, you can get ahead with work (the responsible choice) or you can take off early (the fun choice).
And check your schedule every evening (or first thing in the morning if that works better for you) and see if you are on track on the grander scale. If it looks like you might not make a deadline, then you might have to make adjustments as you go. Better to do that along the way than be surprised at the end of the week.
Keep Your Sanity
Ultimately, creating and keeping to a schedule will help you keep your sanity. It will also help you schedule in your days off and hopefully stick to them. I’m not always successful at this. It depends on what I have on my plate at a given moment, but I always try to take my weekends. And if you are just starting out in freelancing, this is a great time to get into the habit of managing your schedule, when your schedule may not yet be too full.
I would love to hear your ideas of how you stick to your schedule. Please share with us in the comments section below!