Working from home can be a great way to take control of your own career. There’s no more commute, no more coworkers, and no more boss looking over your shoulder.
Unfortunately, there’s also a lot less structure to which you can cling.
If you’re like most workers, the idea of working without a schedule is foreign. When you take the leap to work from home, though, you’ll be working without that safety net. It’s up to you to create the kind of schedule that will make you a success.
Fortunately, many others have been in your shoes. If you’re looking for a way to get your work done and still enjoy the experience, you’ll want to take heed of this friendly advice to create an ideal work-from-home schedule.
Creating the Work from Home Schedule That Works for You
According to the writers at MindTools.com, creating a schedule is the best way to figure out what you can accomplish with the time that you have available. Every freelancer faces unique scheduling challenges, based not only on the type of job that they do but also on the type of environment in which they work.
Your goal in scheduling is to figure out how to balance the unique elements of your position with the realities of your job. If you’re willing to put in the work to create an ideal schedule, you’ll be more productive and find more time for yourself.
Before you start on your journey towards making a better schedule, you may want to stop and look at this video, which will spell out the very real benefits of learning how to manage your time.
Preparing for Work by Setting Goals
One of the most valuable skills you’ll learn as a freelancer is the ability to set your own goals. Dawn Papandreawrites that one of the primary benefits of freelancing is the ability to define your own goals, so remember to take the time to do so when possible.
Before you can create an ideal schedule, you’ll need to figure out what you want to do with your time. You need to take some time to sit down and determine what needs to be accomplished in a given business day and what that’s going to look like from a time management standpoint.
As a freelancer, you get a great deal of say in what goals are achievable. The writers at Automated Trackers note that solid planning helps you turn goals from pipe dreams to reality, giving you a stronger footing in your attempts to succeed.
Given the importance of setting goals, your scheduling process can start without a calendar or a clock. Instead, it needs to start with a blank sheet of paper. It will be on this document you outline your goals for what you want to accomplish with your job.
Taking this step actually helps you to do a few different things. First and foremost, it allows you to take a broader look at your own definition of success. If you’re like most freelancers, you’ve thought about these ideas in the abstract but have rarely done so in more concrete terms.
Writing down your goals also allows you to figure out what’s really achievable. There are some goals that might not align with your current job. There are others that are not achievable in your set-up. Knowing what you can and cannot accomplish is important.
Once your goals are down, you can start putting the other pieces in place. The speed at which you work, the length of your workday, and even the tasks that you prioritize will have their roots here. A little early preparation will start you off on the right foot.
Because the process of creating an ideal schedule is cyclical, you’ll find yourself coming back to this step. Don’t be afraid to scrap everything and start over as your goals change. Keeping true to your goals is the best way to get more from your career.
Now that you have your goals firmly in place, you can concentrate on the mechanics of scheduling. You’ve created the big picture, so now it’s time to sit down and start hashing out the details that will help you best create a working schedule.
You’re not quite up to timesheets yet, though. Now you’re going to have to work on designing your ideal workday from first principles. It’s not always eas, but it’s worth doing.
Laying Basic Ground Rules for Success
Don Saylor writes that one of the major goals of creating a work schedule is preserving your work-life balance. While work-life balance means something different for every freelancer, it does reveal a truth about scheduling – you’re going to work towards the type of success that works for you.
Now that you have goals, you’re going to take a more granular look at your work life. You will have to decide what a successful workday is going to look like and you’re going to have to use several metrics to make this decision.
The obvious place to start is with your monetary needs. Many freelancers work on project-based schedules, so you know exactly how much money you’re working towards with each project. Do a little math to determine what this means for your per-hour paycheck.
Once you’ve done the math, you can figure out how much you want to make per week, per day, and even per hour. It’s not always a good idea to schedule yourself down to the minute, but knowing how much money you’re making with each task can be helpful.
Once you have your pay rate set, you’ll determine how much money you want to make per day. You can then use this number to calculate the precise number of hours you’ll need to work to feel successful. Balance the two and you’ll get a good basis for your schedule.
Of course, money’s not the only thing in the equation. You’ll also need to think about your life outside of work. Try to determine what kind of goals you’re looking at in order to feel successful there.
Your work day might feel more successful, for example, if you’re always able to take time off on Tuesday to play in a local baseball league or get out in time to pick your kids up from work. You’ll need to weight these factors as well if you want to ensure that you feel successful.
At the end of the day, you are the architect of your own success. Figure out how much you want to accomplish and what outside commitments will confine your working hours. From there, you can start to put together a schedule that makes sense.
Note again that your definitions of success are going to change with time. Keep a running list of what makes a day feel successful and change it as the need arises. You may find after a day or two of your new schedule that some of your success criteria are simply not realistic.
Now that you have solid goals in place and the criteria created for feeling successful, you can get down to the process of actually scheduling your time. From here on out you’ll be looking at more concrete goals.
Don’t forget to keep these criteria in mind as you move forward. While there are real-world issues that will impact how you craft your schedule, you need to make sure that you’re keeping your eyes on these factors as well.
Starting Your Engines with a Dedicated Start (and End) Time
One of the best parts of being a freelancer is being able to determine your own hours. One of the worst parts of being a freelancer, though, is being able to determine your own hours. You’re going to fight a lot of inertia at the beginning and end of the day to reach your goals.
Whitson Gordon states that setting your work schedule around your internal clock is one of the most important factors in creating an ideal schedule. Indeed, you’re going to be in a unique position to actually start your day when it feels right. What you need to avoid, though, is being too comfortable with that idea.
It’s very easy to get into the habit of waking up late and starting your workday at random times. This is an awful idea for several reasons, not the least of which is that it can destroy your ability to schedule. You need a real start time in order to succeed.
A good way to look at the start of your workday isn’t by figuring out how late you can sleep in, but rather at what time you can be the most productive. If you’re not a morning person, there’s no reason to be up before dawn. There will, however, always be a trade-off.
Try to remember that you’re also going to be hemmed in by what your clients expect. Think about when you’re expected to hit deadlines and when you might have to communicate with others. You should make sure that you’ve got enough time to get up and look ready before you interface with the people who pay you.
It’s often a good idea to work backward in order to figure out when you need to start. Think about the number of hours that you’ll need to work per day to consider yourself successful and accomplish your goals. Make sure to factor in breaks and meals as well.
It is also important that you stick to the end of day that you’ve created for your schedule as well. It can be very tempting to work just a little bit longer, especially if you can make more money doing so. This way absolutely lies madness, though, so avoid it when you can.
The other major downfall of being a freelancer is feeling like you always have to be working. Any moment when you’re not at work, after all, is a moment when you’re not making money. Feeling like this may make you decide to work more than you should.
If you’re accomplishing your goals and meeting your milestones for success, you should feel comfortable ending at a specified time each day. If you’re not meeting those milestones, you need to decide if you’re being realistic with your expectations.
There can – and should – be wiggle room when you’re deciding a freelance schedule. If you want your schedule to be successful, though, you need to ensure that you have a dedicated time by which you must start and one by which you must end.
If you can start with a solid beginning and end of your day, it will be much easier to fill in the rest of the time with the types of useful tasks that will help you to succeed.
Keeping on the Right Track with a Task List
Greg Katz says that the first thing you should do every day is to check your tasks list. This is one of the best pieces of advice you’ll get, especially if you aren’t internally motivated. Your task list is what’s going to keep you moving throughout the day.
When you work in a standard office, you’re going to be constantly reminded of what needs to be done. There will be supervisors and co-workers around to keep you moving. Even being in the office itself is a bit of a reminder of what needs to be done.
When you’re at home, though, you’ll be faced with distractions. It’s not just your bed or your television that will keep you off-task, but the sheer number of work options that you may have. Most freelancers have several irons in the fire, and it can be very tempting to switch projects mid-stream.
A good task list will outline exactly what needs to be done that day. There are a few solid types of lists that can help you to accomplish your daily goals and get done in time to enjoy the rest of your day.
The first type of list is an hour-by-hour schedule. This will tell you what needs to be done in what order throughout the day. This is incredibly useful if your freelance gigs involve talking to clients or going to any types of meetings. It’s also very useful for meeting specific deadlines.
Another type of schedule is a priority schedule. This tells you what tasks need to be done in order of relevance. You might have certain tasks that need to be done that day while accomplishing others will put you ahead of schedule. This is great for those who need help avoiding the harder tasks.
You can also use a simple checklist that outlines everything that needs to be done. This won’t tell you what’s important or when it’s due, but it will allow you to see the full scope of what’s out there. This can be a good tool if you’re just trying to throw together a framework that will help you succeed.
Note that a good task list is only as good as your drive to acknowledge it. You’ll need to make this list an important part of your job. If you’re just going to ignore the list, you’re going to have to find a better way to stay on task.
Many people find that these lists provide the structure that freelance life often lacks. It’s a good idea, though, to make sure that the list isn’t too rigid. If you’re freelancing specifically to get away from typical office life, you don’t want to lock yourself into an office schedule.
It’s also important that you don’t overload your task list. If you can’t really accomplish something, you need to either rebalance the list or push items back to another day. If your list isn’t feasible, it’s not going to work.
Once you have a realistic list available, you’ll be able to both accomplish more and keep yourself from working more than necessary. This list should be one of your most cherished tools and it should also be one of the guiding forces in your freelance career.
Keeping Yourself Healthy With Scheduled Breaks
It’s also incredibly important that you work your breaks into your schedule. Yes, a great part of being a freelancer is being able to take a break whenever you need it. Unfortunately, doing so can introduce a host of problems.
The obvious problem, of course, is that many people take too many breaks. This hurts your productivity and it can damage your credibility with your clients. If you find yourself taking breaks all the time, you’re definitely doing something wrong.
Others have the opposite problem. Because they are in charge of their breaks, they’ll refuse to take the breaks at all, telling themselves that they can take a break later or stop earlier. In reality, though, they just keep powering through.
While this might seem like a great work ethic to some, it’s also a good way to get burnt out. There’s a reason why typical jobs have mandatory break times, after all, and you need to be as observant as a more traditional manager would be.
An issue that some don’t automatically identify, though, is how taking random breaks can look to friends and family. Appearances matter and random breaks make others think you can stop working at any time. As you can imagine, this can be problematic.
Susan M. Heathfield identifies the tendency of friends and family to misunderstand the availability of freelancer as a major issue plaguing those who work from home. You’ll soon find others infringing on your work time if you don’t take your schedule seriously.
As such, one of the best things you can do is to schedule your breaks. It honestly doesn’t matter how many breaks you take or how often, but rather that they are regular and that they don’t interfere with your work. You know what you need to function, so use that as a guideline.
If you’re afraid that you’ll be too lenient, look back at your work goals and success milestones. Insert your breaks at times of the day that will allow you to better tackle big projects and still stay within your work hours. Give yourself the ability to take time to rest while still accomplishing your goals.
A good way to set up breaks at first is to adhere to the regulations that are set up for hourly workers. Give yourself at least one ten minute break for every four hours your work and at least half an hour for lunch. From there, you can start to adjust to meet your own needs.
Once you have your breaks in place, stick to them. Don’t work through lunch and don’t power through your rest time. Don’t take extra time, though, and don’t let others guilt you into moving things around unless you feel doing so is necessary.
Once you have your starting time, ending time, and breaks in place, you’ll have a solid schedule with which to work. From here, you should be able to make adjustments on the fly in order to have an ideal workday.
That is, of course, unless you find that something has gone wrong.
Keeping Yourself Honest by Tracking Your Time
It’s inevitable that your schedule is going to slip, especially when you’re new to working from home. You’ve got your goals, your alarm is set, and you’re ready to work. Somehow, though, you’ll notice that your day is slipping away from you.
This isn’t something that happens because you’re not committed or because your scheduling efforts didn’t work. Instead, this tends to happen because most people aren’t very good at keeping track of what they’re actually doing. The ‘To-Do’ list can absolutely help, but you might need to take things a step further.
One of the best ways to make sure your schedule sticks is to track your time. You might be familiar with this basic process if you’ve had an hourly job before, but you’re actually going to get a little more granular here. You’re going to look at what you’re doing during the work day to find where the flaws lie.
The best way to implement this plan is to start from day one. Every time you start a new task, log that start time. When you finish, log that time as well. Clock yourself in and out when you take breaks. Keep track of everything you do.
Gathering this data will allow you to better see how you spend your time. In some cases, this will help you find places where you waste your time. You might have too many long calls, for example, or you might spend too much time working on basic tasks.
In other cases, you might notice that you’re getting lax with your timing. You might have a tendency to take longer lunches or more breaks than intended. You might even catch yourself with long gaps of unexplained time before you find yourself texting with friends instead of working.
The goal here isn’t to punish yourself for mistakes. Instead, it’s to figure out if the schedule you’ve built is realistic. You can certainly optimize certain processes and work towards better discipline, but you’ll also get a better idea of what you can realistically accomplish.
Once you’re done here, you’ll head back to the first step. Now that you have real data to work with, you can adjust your goals and your milestones. YOu’ll be in a better position to determine what you can really do and what kind of discipline will be needed.
Tracking your time might seem like putting restrictions on yourself, but it’s the best way to stay honest. You’ll be free to view yourself more honestly and, ultimately, to make the kind of schedule that’s actually going to help you be a better at-home worker.
Reach Your Goals with a Spectacular Schedule
Ultimately, creating your schedule is something you do to reach your goals. Take the time to figure what success looks like for you and what you want to accomplish, and then take the steps to create a realistic schedule that will help you get your work done without negatively impacting your freedom.
A good schedule will change the way you look at working from home. It will go from a casual arrangement to something that will allow you to take charge of your own career. When you’re ready to get on the road to success, make sure you create a work from home schedule that will guide you where you want to go.