Ah, the freelance life. Such a carefree existence. No boss breathing down your neck. No co-workers belching incessantly at their desks. And no need to watch the clock like a hawk. It’s a virtual paradise. Or is it?
Certainly there are plenty of advantages to being a full-time freelancer. Being your own boss, making your own hours and deciding what jobs to take are all pretty nice perks. The fact you can do it all from the comfort of your own home is an added bonus. Except all of that can be a double-edge sword. As a freelancer, you’ll have all sorts of new distractions to keep you from getting the most of your work day. And without the benefit of a supervisor breathing down your neck or colleagues keeping you in line, it’s very easy to slip into bad form.
No, I’m not bashing the freelance life. Far from it. If you’re a self-motivated individual who doesn’t need the normal structure of a daily grind, freelancing can truly be a blessing. But there are things even the most focused freelance writer can do to maximize his or her workday. If you’re a freelance writer, or even editor, here’s a list of 10 things you should be doing every single day.
1. Put on Some Pants!
Yes, I know. Working in your jammies is one of the coolest benefits to being a full-time freelance writer. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it at one point. But be honest, do you find yourself far less productive when you’re sitting at the computer in your PJs? It’s real easy for the day to quickly get away from you. Your mind is still in morning mode, so you’ll spend a bit more time on Facebook or Twitter, maybe email a few friends, etc. Before you know it, it’s 11:30 and you still haven’t even started work. So do yourself a favor and treat your home like a traditional office. Shower, get dressed and get to your computer at the same time everyday. It’ll put you in the correct frame of mind to start your work day off right.
2. Just Write
Whether you’re working on a current assignment or in-between gigs, you should be writing. Daily. Doesn’t matter if it’s for a client or just for you. Whether it’s professional or pure creative fun. Write a poem, a short story, a blog post about your midnight run to Taco Bell to try their insanely delicious new Doritos Locos Taco. Just write. It keeps your mind fresh and your creative juices flowing.
3. Gimme a Break
I’m the type of person who can literally sit at my desk for hours without getting up. It drives my wife nuts and she’s constantly reminding me to just get up and stretch. Your eyes can use the break from your monitor, your legs need to walk, and even your mind can use a small breather. Try to give yourself a short break (even 2 minutes) every hour if you can. There’s all sorts of timers and alerts you can get for your phone or computer to remind you. (My programming buddy Brian swears by the Pomodoro technique, which is a full-on time-management tool that’s worth looking into if you need a more set structure.)
4. Be a Brand
Freelancers wear many hats. You’re also your own accountant, managing an hourly rate calculator for your output. Another one of the biggest besides writing, is marketing. You need to get yourself known out there. It’s a crazy, big Internet world and if you don’t make some noise, nobody’s going to find you, except for the occasional Google Bot. So spend some time daily on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter; make sure you’re not just playing Words With Friends. Spend the time connecting with other individuals to build an audience. And go ahead and try out other sites regularly too like StumbleUpon, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc.
5. Do Feed the Bears
And by “bears,” I mean yourself. Don’t forget to eat! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a Tweet or Facebook update from a freelancer in the late afternoon saying something like, “OMG, totally forgot to eat lunch.” As a fan of food, I personally have never had this problem. But try to eat a solid breakfast before work, and then be sure to take a lunch break, even a short one regularly. If you can eat away from your desk that’s worth bonus points since you’ll also be taking a break.
The first thing I do every morning when I start my day is hunt for more freelance jobs. This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or so, depending on what’s available on any given day. As freelancers gain more experience and more regular gigs, they can spend less and less time job hunting. Referrals do work wonders. But besides hunting for new jobs, there’s always research to be done. Either research for a specific project I’m working on or researching a website, magazine or company that I want to pitch on a new article idea.
7. Get Outta Here
No, really. Get out. You sit at your desk all by yourself all day long. There’s a reason so many people joke that work-at-home people turn into crazy social pariahs. Do yourself a favor and get out of your house. Take a walk. Drive to the store for some milk. If you just can’t leave the house, then at the very least, pick up the phone and call someone (preferably someone you actually know) and chit chat for a few minutes. It’s another form of mental break, but it also helps remind you that society still exists.
8. Work the Paper
It may be the worst, most-boring part of being a freelancer but someone’s gotta do it. And unless you’re a full-time freelancer with an intern (or you somehow sweet talk your significant other into doing it), you’re the only one who can handle the dreaded paperwork. Pay your bills, file your invoices and sign those contracts. Get it over with today, so you won’t have an excuse to put it off again tomorrow.
9. Channel Indiana Jones
No, you don’t need a whip and a fedora (though whatever floats your boat…) but just like the snake-fearing archaelogist, you need to be a daily adventurer. Try something new every single day. Whether it’s eating at a new restaurant, listening to new music, watching a brand-new TV show or visiting a website you’ve never seen before, do something new. Without experiences, writers become empty shells. Nobody likes empty shells.
10. Hit the Books
From all the writing classes I’ve taken in my life, the biggest thing all my teachers and professors would constantly drill into my head is that, “All good writers are good readers.” Read as much as you can. Whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, blogs, whatever. The more you read (and the more varied the styles), the better your writing will become. It opens up your voice to new directions and approaches that you’ve never thought of before.