The life of a freelancer can be something of a mystery. Where do they go? What do they do? Do they even put on pants?
To demystify the daily affairs of these laptop wielding enigmas, we've asked three successful freelancers to share their schedules with us. They have also offered tips on how to structure their days for maximum productivity.
Jessica Greenwalt – Freelance Graphic Designer – San Francisco, CA
Jessica was voted 2012’s top freelance designer by DMZ Interactive and has worked with such high-profile clients as LinkedIn, Yale University and Behr. Her design business is called Pixelkeet.
On Mondays, Tuesday, Thursdays and Fridays, Jessica commutes to the city to work from her office. Wednesday is her work from home day, and Saturday is her day off. On Sunday she organizes something called Side Project Sunday (SPS) where she and her friends get together to work on any projects they weren't able to get to during the week.
This is her schedule on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays:
7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.
Wake up and perform morning ritual, which includes light yoga and a shower. Then wake up Lord Jello Worthington II, my parakeet, and replace his food and water.
8 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Check emails, texts and voicemails accumulated overnight.
9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Commute to San Francisco office.
10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
Check work specific email account and review status of projects in the task management software Asana.
10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m./11:30 a.m.
Team meeting to discuss what we've been working on, what we've learned and what we'll be working on next.
11 a.m. or 11:30 a.m./Noon
Check emails, texts, and voicemails accumulated during meeting.
Noon to 1 p.m.
Lunch. Sometimes lunch is with the team, sometimes it’s with friends, sometimes it’s with business contacts.
1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Work on projects (mockup, wireframe, code, plan projects, review experiment results, etc). Rid workspace of any distractions during this time, meaning no email, phone, or social media sites unless it’s directly related to work I'm doing at that moment.
6:00 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Spend time with friends or attend an event.
10 p.m. to 11 p.m./Midnight
Review calendar for tomorrow and prepare for tomorrow's events. Respond to team's messages about projects.
Jessica's Words Of Advice
The productivity trick I've used that has made the biggest impact on my life is using lists. I've been using Google Calendar as my daily checklist. I fill up to eight hours of each work day on my Google Calendar with tasks, blocking off a minimum of 30 minutes for each one. Placing tasks on my calendar gives me a visual for what my day will be like and gives me concrete goals to accomplish. Limiting myself to eight hours of calendar time per day also forces me to focus on completing the most important tasks first.
Another thing I've learned to do is quickly identify problem clients and turn them away. Problem clients are a major time-suck, usually don't pay enough to make them worth the trouble, and distract you from opportunities with other potentially awesome clients.
The events I attend often end up being networking events because I'm in the Bay Area where everyone has their own startup or app. Conversation eventually comes around to what you're working on.
Chris Howard – Freelance Web Designer, Developer and Digital Planner – Cheltenham, UK
After spending nine years working for digital and marketing agencies, Chris began freelancing full-time in 2012. He has produced work for software companies, pharmacies, historic preservation organizations and colleges.
Chris has a partner who works full-time so he tries to match his own schedule with his partner’s. To accomplish this, he breaks his day into roughly four two-hour slots. Occasionally he’ll need to work evenings and weekends, but over the years he's minimized this by maximizing his productivity during the day.
On any given work day, Chris might schedule in either four smaller tasks, two medium tasks or one big task. If he's working on a big project, all four slots might be dedicated to the same task, but the milestones still motivate him by serving as mini-deadlines. While working on larger projects, he tends to formulate his schedule on a weekly basis rather than a daily one. For example, he might assign himself three days for a large project, and four half days for smaller ones.
This is his schedule:
Before 9 a.m.
Catch up on emails.
9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Early morning slot.
10 minute break.
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Late morning slot.
10 minute break.
1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Lunch/gym/anything away from the screen.
2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Early afternoon slot.
10 minute break.
4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Late afternoon slot.
After 6 p.m.
Catch up with emails.
Chris's Words Of Advice
One of my best tips from a productivity point of view would be to keep a consistent file structure across every project. Don't leave things as email attachments or on memory sticks. Find a file structure that works, and stick to it.
I normally start my day by catching up on some emails (and taking on board some vital caffeine!). I usually get quite a few emails – around 20 to 30 on an average day – and I just don't have the time to reply to them all straight away. So throughout the day I prioritize responding to the ones from existing clients, meaning I then catch up with the others (new business, social, etc.) either in the evening or the following morning.
I go to the gym three times a week at lunchtime (and often that means an extended lunch break) – the exercise is important of course, but it's nice to be away from the screen.
I use Wunderlist as a basic to-do list, then Google Apps for Business to manage my calendar and docs. For larger projects, I use Basecamp for project management. I also use Dropbox to store all my working files. That way I can access anything from anywhere, on any device.
Karen Anderson – Freelance Writer & Content Strategist – Seattle, WA
Karen has been involved in the writing and communications industry for more than two decades and maintains a rich skill set in journalism, publication management, web content design, arts reviewing, fundraising, blogging and social media consulting. After working for top companies such as Apple and Group Health, she started freelancing full-time, and currently works with clients in the fields of medical devices, product development, luxury travel and emerging technologies.
Over time, Karen's freelance schedule was shaped by the schedules of her family, friends and clients, as well as her own internal clock. She says her current schedule is natural and easy to follow.
Here is her schedule:
7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.
Check VIP mail folder via iPhone while still in bed. Shower, feed cats, eat a light breakfast of eggs or granola, brew a large cup of Yorkshire Gold tea.
8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
Sit down at my desk. If I have to place any calls to the East Coast, this is when I do it to catch those folks before they head out to lunch. I whisk through the rest of my email and flag messages that look interesting but can be dealt with later.
9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Research and writing (usually a blog post or a press release).
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Call/email/message West Coast folks before they get out to lunch and deal with most of the flagged emails. Take a 15-minute break (a walk around the neighborhood, or yoga stretches). Back to work until 1 p.m. The goal is to finish up short projects.
1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
I avoid time-wasting lunch invitations (early breakfasts or late afternoon coffees work much better). Lunch is a bowl of soup, half a sandwich, or a salad.
1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Back at my desk focusing on longer projects — usually websites or Keynote/PowerPoint presentations. Review the clients’ background materials. Consolidate comments and feedback from three or four people. Sometimes attend Skype meetings for these projects. I firmly resist the pull of emails or phone calls!
4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Reply briefly to emails and other messages. Then off to Zumba, yoga or a long walk.
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Two nights a week I’m out of the house at board or committee meetings for nonprofits I volunteer for. The other evenings I’m cooking dinner with my partner or friends. We try to cook dishes that provide leftovers for a second dinner or lunches. I get in my Facebook and social media time after dinner.
8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Two or three nights a week I plunge back into one of my longer client projects, wrap up a section, and send it off to the client or other team member so they can review it first thing in the morning. One night a week I devote to my fiction writing projects — sometimes going out to a writing group, sometimes writing in my office or upstairs in my overstuffed “writing chair.”
10:30 p.m. to Midnight
Reading new fiction or watch DVDs (Buffy, Deadwood, Inspector Montalbano, Nero Wolfe, Dr. Who).
Karen's Words Of Advice
The three-hour afternoon focus period is extremely important — 'urgent' emails and calls are always a problem, but the benefit of ignoring them for that period of time outweighs the cost.
I use two computers, a desktop machine and a laptop, with most of my files synced to Dropbox or via iCloud, so they are accessible from either machine. When I’m traveling with the laptop, I’m able to keep very close to the schedule.
My new Apple watch does a brilliant job of supporting me in avoiding interruptions. It tracks my VIP mail and keeps me away from distractions.
My technology clients use Skype; I look forward to the day when everyone feels comfortable using online conferencing."
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