How To Create A Schedule As A Freelancer

When I graduated college, I was SO excited to live the freelancing life. I loved the idea of rejecting the 9-5 world that so many live in, creating my own schedule and taking ownership or my life. It may sound dramatic, but it was only a few short months ago that having a structured schedule sounded like JAIL to me--and I would do just about anything to avoid it… But there were consequences to that.

I said “yes” to EVERYthing that someone asked me to do--justifying it every step of the way by saying “Hey, at least I can work from home!” But I was comPLETELY disregarding the fact that I was still living on other people’s terms.

The life I imagined as a freelancer was completely devoid of the freedom I craved.

That is, until now. I’m putting an end to it and I’m structuring my days. Yep, that’s right... Even as a freelancer!

I don’t know about you guys, but the fact that April 1st is a Monday this year REALLY makes me excited. I know, it’s a silly, very plan-y thing of me to say. But I almost feel like going into the second quarter on a Monday is a really amazing way to have a fresh start. Plus, isn’t Spring supposed to be like a re-birth or something?

So, April 1st is the day I’ve chosen to completely change my schedule. And truly I chose that day not just because it’s a Monday, but because I do have multiple projects I need to wrap up by the end of March that are not in alignment with where I’m going with my schedule.

In preparation for this fresh start, there are two major things I’m implementing starting Monday, April 1st. The first, is that I will be working multiple days per week at  Novel Coworking in Downtown Nashville.

In case if you’ve never heard of coworking before, it’s basically an office where freelancers and business owners can rent for themselves and their teams to simultaneously work in the same space.

The reason I’ve chosen to rent a desk at Novel Coworking is because I have had a lot of trouble over the last few months shutting off my work at the end of the day, because when working from home the lines can get pretty blurred as to what is “work” and what isn’t. Plus, working in the same 4 walls with crappy lighting at the same desk I do my makeup at in the morning isn’t actually the best for my productivity. This is why I’ve gotten into the habit of working in coffee shops one or two days per week--because I’ve known that I get way more done around others that aren’t my cats.

So, I’ll be going to Novel Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for the month of April, to try the place out for size and to test out my new schedule. Which leads me to the second major thing that’s changing on April 1st: I’m structuring my days. Yep, that’s right... Even as a freelancer.

I know many people think you can’t have a set schedule as a freelancer, and trust me I believed that for a very long time, but just this past week I’ve realized that I CAN create a schedule for myself, and stick to it.

So without further ado [after the longest introduction I think I have EVER done] today I’m going to walk you through the process that I followed to create my Spring schedule with the hope that you, too, can take control of your life and truly design a life you love.

SCHEDULE-FREELANCER.jpg

Step 1: Decide how many hours you want to work per week… and stick to it.

Get granular--after you know how many hours you’ll work per week, but where they will fall in the days of the week? So, if you want to work 30 hours, you can work 3 10-hour days and take the rest of the week off, or you could work 5 days per week for 6 hours per day, and so on. Then get extremely specific and write down the days and times you’ll work. This is your bible--do NOT allow yourself to change this at all costs.

Step 2: Assign approximate times to how long things you do take you.

For example, I know that my complete Dubsado set-up takes approximately 6 hours, 8 hours if my client adds on an additional workflow to their package. I know that when I include every step of my morning routine the way I want it to be, it takes 2 hours from the moment I wake up to the moment I’m ready to work.

Step 3: Schedule the non-negotiables FIRST.

Whether that be clients you have to work for or your daily exercise, these are things that have to get done, no negotiation. Some of them differ depending on the day of the week--for example, I teach violin lessons on Wednesdays and Saturday mornings and I have a one-hour call with team Jasmine Star every Monday morning at 11AM. If you have some things that aren’t time-specific but are non-negotiables, like I have 2 clients, Amanda and Meredith, that I work for just 15 minutes each every single day, then this is where you CHOOSE where you’d like these non-negotiables to be in your day.

Keep in mind that studies show you’re the most productive in the first 3 hours after you wake up… So if some of your non-negotiables are completely mindless work then you may want to consider scheduling it later in the day and using your early-morning brain power on something else. This is different for everyone and I’m trying to keep this as generic as possible--you may only have 1 or 2 non-negotiables and productivity doesn’t apply to them. I just know for me that I had some things I really did NOT need to be wasting precious brain power on and it makes a huge difference when I moved them from morning to afternoon. I also want to briefly mention that non-negotiables can ALSO be enjoyable activities and hobbies, but just know that in my case if they weren’t income-producing, I put those things in my schedule, just not during the work hours I set in step 1.  

Step 4: Decide when you’re posting on social media and answering emails.

This is a HUGE step--please do not skip it if you are someone who uses social media and email for your business or your freelance work! If you don’t, then I guess you can skip this, but I have a funny feeling that most freelancers do rely on these platforms nowadays to get work and communicate with clients.

For social media, I think it’s self-explanatory… If you don’t plan when you’ll post, it simply won’t get done. Put it in your daily schedule if you seriously use social for business, and it will always be working for you.

Now let’s chat about email. I used to be one of those people who always had email open on my computer, and the second the little red number one would pop up, I would drop everything, read, and respond. This was an AWFUL habit--and one that is still hard to break. It is awful because like I said earlier in this episode, I was spending my day reacting to other people’s problems and constantly putting out fires.

One day, a woman I used to work for told me to challenge myself that I can only open up my email inbox on the hour and to close out of it if the clock didn’t read something:00. That week was SO difficult, I felt like an addict. “Is someone trying to reach me?” “Do one of my clients need something?” I was obSESSED with the thought of unread emails awaiting my attention for the first few days, but then a magical thing happened… I got over it. I realized that nothing I do as a business owner is life or death and that is something to be thankful for. If you only want to check your email once a day, do it! No one will die. ;)

Step 5: Look at what’s left in the hours you said you’d work (but that you haven’t scheduled) and know that these are the ONLY hours you will do your freelance work.

All of your projects take place there, and since you know how long those things take, you can plan accordingly when scheduling them! When someone asks to schedule a call with you, it can only occur in those hours. And if you are really into structure like I am and have a lot of people scheduling calls, I actually set aside specific days and times just for phone calls with my clients. This was so helpful because when someone needs to talk to me, it’s happening ONLY when is convenient in my schedule… No more of this, “What time works best for you?” crap. I’m done with that.

So friend, by now you should know the following things: how many and what hours you’re working every week and day, how long typical activities and projects take you, when your non-negotiable appointments take place during your work hours, when you’re posting on social and answering emails, and finally where your freelance projects will take place within that structure.

This is the BEST way I have found that freelancers can take control of their week and build a structured schedule, despite their nomadic lifestyle.

If you’d like to see my exact April schedule, I hope you’re in my Coffee with Kristi Facebook group, The 20something Squad, because I will be posting my schedule in there for you to take a look at! So be sure to join the group to see my color-coded schedule in action.

Okay, it’s time to get out there, make a wonderful schedule and design a life you truly love!