Working at home is a wonderful opportunity to be your own boss and set your own career course, but it comes with its own unique set of challenges. Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned over the course of my freelance career.
Never Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
You’ll hear me talking about eggs and baskets a lot on this blog. Let me tell you a little story to explain why. It was 2013, the freelancing heyday. I had been a successful freelancer with several of the top content mills for years, and when a shiny golden egg popped up that paid better than all the rest, I quickly moved my efforts over to that new platform. For a solid year, it was a gravy train (or at least as close as content mills ever get). Then, it wasn’t. The company was sold and management changed. What had started out as a wonderful boutique content broker with responsive management and pay rates that would make any freelancer sigh dreamily while listening to Stevie Nicks, morphed into a freelancing catastrophe. The new management was clueless as to the fact that the workforce was the driving force behind the success of the company it had procured. We started hemorraghing talented writers, and the fraction of the original client base that carried over to the new platform began to jump ship. Lesson learned: NEVER, and I mean never, put all your eggs in one basket. No matter how much you love a company or how great the management team is, you are the only person you can trust to manage your own career.
Set Deadlines (And Keep Them)
Most people want the benefits of being their own boss without the responsibility. You’re writing your own paycheck now, and to do that, you have to approach your work with the same amount of discipline that you would any other job. In fact, because you’ll not only be performing the work but scouting for it, you’re going to be working twice as hard. Setting hard deadlines is the key to keeping procrastination at bay (and if Procrastination was a country, I’d be the queen).
I’m one of the few millennials out there who prefers a paper calendar and planner to digital apps, but use whatever you’re comfortable with. Resist the urge to start by planning everything in crazy detail (it’s going to be hard to take your itemized itenerary seriously when you remember you’re still in your pajamas at 3pm.) Start simple. Lay out the articles and tasks you have to perform today, and separate work-related tasks from other errands and responsibilities.
Use Time Blocking
Time blocking is a simple yet magical practice that will help you eek more hours out of the day. Okay, so maybe it’s not literally magic, but it’s pretty darn close! If you’re like me, multitasking is the death of productivity. There are books devoted to the art of time blocking, but in its simplest form, all it is is setting aside a chunk of time each day to devote to a specific genre of tasks. For example, rather than checking Facebook and emails first thing in the morning, then alternating between responding to clients and starting that article that’s due in a few hours, I set aside 30 minutes to get caught up on correspondence. Do I accomplish everything I need to do during that time? Usually not, but being hyper-focused and having a limited amount of time to put out the fires of email correspondence makes me use my time more efficiently. Then, I’ll set aside three solid hours to dig into my most pressing assignments, usually whichever has the closest deadline. I like to devote those first moments of my day to tasks that don’t take a significant amount of focus but still let me start the day with a feeling that I’ve accomplished something. Once my brain is awake (and heavily caffeinated,) I’ll dig into a larger chunk of time spent actually working.
By focusing your efforts on one thing, you can eliminate a lot of the background noise and avoid the deadly quicksand of the social media and email checking cycle. Flitting from one task to another means you accomplish a whole lot of nothing much. Towards the middle of the day, you can set aside an hour or two for housekeeping, both literal and figurative. Other people prefer to group all of their “work blocks” together to maintain laser focus, but I need the brain break that comes with splitting it up.
Value Your Time
You wouldn’t walk into a lawyer’s office and start shooting the breeze in the middle of her workday, and you wouldn’t call a consultant to chat knowing full well he charges $100 an hour for his time. Why? Because explicitly or implicitly, these professionals have assigned a monetary value to their time, and the world respects that. When you work at home, you’re going to learn quickly that people assume the self-employed have an abundance of free time on their hands. In fact, many of us make the same mistake by failing to assign a value on our time. I recommend a simple thought exercise to help set a productive mental attitude that will serve you well throughout your work-at-home career. Think about all the work that goes into your earnings for the day. Not just the content writing or search indexing, or whatever actual task you are paid to perform, but the time spent talking with clients, organizing your files, looking for new work and making revisions. Think about how much effort goes into the work you do and assign a fair monetary value to it. How much would you have to pay a personal assistant to do the things you do on a daily basis, just so you can do your actual job? Once you’ve set a number, divide it out on an hourly basis and ask yourself whether whatever the distraction at hand is can provide benefits that will compensate for the time and effort you’ve expended. This is a good exercise for anyone who feels guilty for not being available to friends and family at all times even though they work at home. You’re a professional, and it’s okay to be protective over the time you spend working!