By Marlo Garner
When people find out I work from home and I am my own boss, their almost invariable reaction is: “I’d never get anything done.”
My response is: “Sure you would—if you wanted to pay your bills.”
The questioner smiles and nods, but then they say something along the lines of: “But I’m not that disciplined. I’d sleep in then sit around in pajamas watching TV all day.”
Other questions include: “How do manage your time? How do you stay focused? What does a typical day look like for you? How do you stay sane?” And most popular of all: “As a wife and mother, writer/illustrator/editor, how on earth do you get it all done?” I’m amazed at just how often I receive these questions and with how much longing they’re asked. Many people dream of working from home, or of being a full-time writer, but just have no idea how to make it work for them time and sanity-wise.
Whether you’re a freelancer with your own business, a full-time writer or illustrator, or a creative person trying to get your project completed beyond the 9 to 5, staying in focus, on target, and in balance can be very tough, especially when the demands of home life including family, chores, and various distractions are all so close at hand.
So, I’m going to answer these questions and provide some tools in the hope that showing what works for me will help you develop systems, balance, and success in your freelance or creative life. (While these tools work for the freelancer, many also translate well to the writer or illustrator trying to make progress with limited time—I know all too well what that’s like.)
Starting your workday right—setting yourself up for success: First of all, I strongly recommend that you do NOT sleep in or sit around in pajamas all day. Treat your freelance or work-from-home job like any other and rise and prepare in time to get to work on time. (What that time is for you you’ll need to work out based on your natural rhythms and what else goes on in your day. I will talk about that in a moment.)
While I don’t go to work in heels and a pencil skirt, I do walk the dog, bathe, dress, groom, eat a healthy breakfast, and arrive at my desk by 7:30 each day. This routine and attention to self-care and healthy living just set up the right mental attitude, and you’ll feel better about yourself as the day progresses, I guarantee.
Systems: One of the great things about working freelance is the freedom and malleability of one’s day (though many freelancers I know work even longer hours than those who “go” to work). But just as systems are important to a multi-person business or corporation, they are equally important to the freelancer who wants to get anything done and grow a successful business—or get that novel written. I truly believe that for the freelancer, systems are the key to living a productive, healthy, balanced, and successful freelance life.
So where do you even start? I’d begin by mapping a typical day.
Your day, like mine, can probably be divided into distinct sections. Here’s how I divide mine based on when I rise, family needs, other stuff I need to get done, etc. in order to work out my optimum periods for working. (I define “free time” in this case as any time that isn’t taken by the needs of others.)
- Pre 6:30: free
- 6:30-7:30: family morning routine
- 7:30-1:30: free
- 1:45-5: free-ish—my daughter is home so there are frequent distractions
- 5-9: family phone calls, dinner prep, family time, etc.
- 9-bedtime: free
As you see, I have four distinct periods of “free time,” and Prime Time—my optimum, distraction-free work period—is between 7:30 and 1:30, but I’m early to bed, early to rise. Therefore, I schedule all matters that require a “distraction-free” environment within those hours. During Prime Time, my phone is off, I use social media blockers (see below), and I accomplish the bulk of my work.
Take this opportunity to map out the distinct sections of your day and define your Prime Time(s). Try to make sure you have a 7 to 8 hour period (or two blocks half that length), no matter what time of day in which they fall. (Are you an owl, rather than a chicken? I have some freelancer friends who start late and work until 1 or 2 AM, and you may find that is perfect for you, too.)
Mapping your day into distinct time periods for specific purposes will help you stay in balance. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But when you work from home, your environment is never truly distraction-free. There is always something to be done: chores, errands, phone calls, and so many other distractions (such as family and social media) and all with no boss watching over you, cracking the whip.
MARLO GARNER is an editor, writing teacher, published children’s author, and working illustrator, and her multifaceted experience provides a unique perspective on children’s books and the children’s publishing industry.