Most of us were brought up conditioned to work in a 9-to-5 (or nowadays 9-to-9) job, with a structured work place, deadlines to chase and a boss (or bosses) to answer to. Well, that was what I did for about 17 years, till one day I decided that I needed another kind of working style, a new environment and a new direction, and working for yet another publishing house or advertising agency was not the answer. That was when I made the life-changing decision to become self-employed.
In the current digital age, traditional office jobs are not the only viable option now, and there are more choices for people to experiment with. These days, I work with clients whom I have only meet once (or never at all), and all dealings are mostly done through email and Whatsapp messages. My articles are submitted through email and so are my invoices.
In my long hours working at home, I did think about the obstacles people face working on their own, because I have heard and read so much about these issues over the years. I realised that besides the top priority of being able to find enough clients to ensure a steady stream of work, and hence, a steady stream of income, is the issue of self-management. Because now, I have become my own boss, and so there is no one to tell me to hurry up or breathe down my neck to get the work done. I realised that some people failed at working on their own mainly due to the inability to management themselves, rather than not being able to do the actual work. So, I would like to share my personal strategies for maintaining productivity on a day-to-day basis, and hope this will benefit other people too.
Tip #1: Set a Routine
For days when you do not have appointments outside, set a general routine to follow. First of all, try to wake up around the same time every day (so that your circadian cycle does not get messed up). Then, you should have breakfast, so that your body has the necessary fuel to function properly. After that, you can start work. Try to focus and keep distractions away. Try not to skip meals, and make sure you get enough sleep at night. Also, exercising regularly is important to stay healthy, so you should schedule in time for exercise at least 3 times a week.
I personally wake up around 7.30-8.00am, and go for a 1-hour swim. Then, I make myself a healthy breakfast. After that, I do some house chores. Before I start work, I have a short meditation session to centre myself. I usually also prepare my own simple but healthy lunch and dinner.
Tip #2: Prioritise
Prepare a weekly priority list and a daily priority list. Always do the first item on the list first, because it is the most important one. After you complete one, you move on to the next item on the list, and the next, and so on.
Every time you tick off an item on the list, you will feel happy and productive that you are making progress on your work.
Tip #3: Keep Track
Keep track of all your clients and projects. The simplest form of record keeping would probably be a spreadsheet file. I have one MS Excel file for clients, because my work is usually not project based. I have one tab per client, and on each tab, I have columns for description of work, when I submitted each article, how much I billed the client, and when I submitted the invoice. Every time you complete a piece of work, you should update your records. I also have a separate spreadsheet for keeping track of accounts (i.e. payments collected and payments pending), for tax purposes.
You should also find out how your clients’ finance department works, so that you know how much time they will need to process your invoice. If adequate time has passed, but you have still not received your payment, then you can send a polite reminder.
Tip #4: Schedule in Rest Time
Make a point to schedule in rest time and rest days. Try to get 6-8 hours of quality sleep every night. Adequate sleep can keep your body from falling sick and help you to focus better during the daytime.
If you work 7 days a week, it is a sure-fire way to burn yourself out. Pick 1-2 days to take off per week. If you had to rush work for a client over a weekend, then you can take a weekday off after that.
Tip #5: Keep in Touch
When you work from home, you spend long hours on your own, and people do not see you. Make it a point to keep in touch with people – not only clients (of course), but keep in touch with your family and friends. Human contact and human interaction is important, because humans are social creatures. Having a group of family and friends that you always stay in touch with also doubles up as a support group. These are the people you can call when you have an emergency or need some help.
At the end of the day, working on your own or working remotely is a test of self-discipline and self-management. Whether you can succeed will depend on how well you can keep yourself on track, focus and prioritise, in order to achieve your targets and goals.