A common mistake freelancers make when they’re making the switch from a 9 to 5 to being self-employed is they underestimate all the work that’s involved. It’s basically the same as having a 9 to 5, just that you get to work from home, pick what you’re working on, and be your own boss. Right?
The Realities of Working From Home
The best part about being self-employed is that you get to work wherever and whenever you want. In fact, this is likely why you made the switch in the first place: the flexibility of choosing your own schedule and work environment. And if you’re just starting out as a freelancer, chances are you chose to work from home.
But the truth is, once you’ve actually started working from home, you might notice that you are not as productive as you were before. As someone that has been “working from home” full time for the past four years, here are four common scenarios that I’ve faced:
- Distractions are everywhere. Because we’re so easily distracted nowadays (e.g. browsing the web, responding to texts on your smartphone, etc), your attention is constantly pulled in different directions.
- Can’t say “no” to friends and family. There’s a misunderstanding of how free and flexible you really are for your work schedule when they want to spend time with you.
- Lack of focus on the right things. Procrastinating on tasks that feel important and urgent, but aren’t actually important.
- Experiencing cabin fever. Entrepreneurship can get lonely and it doesn’t help if you’re always working at home by yourself.
If you can relate to any of these points, don’t fret. I’ll show you my best strategies below for dealing with these challenges.
Pro Tip 1: Fight Self-Imposed Distractions
Have you ever found yourself working on something, only to realize that you’ve somehow spent the last two hours reading Reddit, Facebook, and Wikipedia? The good news is, you’re not alone. The bad news is, the lack of focus and self-awareness can really kill your business—not just your productivity.
Dayboard’s Chrome extension replaces your new tab page with your five most important tasks to remind you of what you’re working on before you browse the web. If that’s not enough, their Focus Mode shows you one task at a time, and their Refocus Tab gives you reminders directly on distracting or feels-like-work-but-not-really sites.
StayFocusd is also a productivity extension for Google Chrome that helps you stay focused on work by restricting the amount of time you can spend on time-wasting websites. Once your allotted time has been used up, the sites you block will be inaccessible for the rest of the day.
Forest is a mobile app that aims to prevent you from impulsively check your phone. You can “plant a seed” in Forest to start a focus period based on a time you set. After as time pass, the seed will gradually grow into a tree. But if you check your phone before the time is up, your tree will wither away.
Pro tip 2: Say “NO” to friends and family
Now that you work from home and set your own schedule, it’s easy for your friends and family to think you’re “free” throughout the day. While this is sometimes okay, you need to set boundaries in order to get the same amount of working hours as a 9 to 5 (or however many hours you choose to work).
Here’s how I’ve strategically said “no” to my family and friends:
- Have an honest talk. Let them know the reality of being self-employed (e.g. not working means not getting paid). This will give them a better understanding of where you’re coming from.
- Pick days out of the week and stick to it. It’s important to spend time with friends and family, and by pointing out specific days to hang out (and which days for work), you’ve automatically said “no” to for all your regular workdays.
- Don’t be afraid to just say “no”. If you followed points 1 and 2 and it’s your day off, just let them know when you need time to yourself or have other plans.
The key takeaway here is to make sure you can protect your day with valuable time to complete the work you need to do, but be empathetic and respectful at the same time.
Pro tip 3: Focus On The Right Tasks
Distractions are lethal to entrepreneurs, but lack of focus on the right tasks would second that. Ever had a long workday, but all you’ve done is repetitively checked your email, planned out your week, or read a bunch of articles? Unless you work in customer support or sales, you really shouldn’t be looking at your inbox that often.
I call this positive procrastination (or structured procrastination) — when you’re misled by busy work and don’t get around to the real work. If you struggle with this, here are some strategies you can consider:
- Prioritize your tasks. Review your to-do list and pick 3-5 tasks that would make the most impact for the day.
- Break down your tasks. Be strategic and realistic when it comes to writing your tasks. Can you complete it in an hour? If not, you’ll have a hard time starting or completing it at all.
- Delegate tasks that are not part of your core business. Part of being self-employed means you’ll be both running your business (e.g. marketing, sales, serving customers) and making sure it’s operating smoothly (e.g. invoicing, accounting, and bookkeeping). Learn to delegate whenever you can to free up valuable time for work you’re uniquely qualified to do.
For delegating tasks, consider using a tool like AND CO to help you automate back office operations like invoicing and filing expenses, leaving you to focus on work you’re actually getting paid for and only you can do.
Pro tip 4: Deal With Cabin Fever
Later, as you continue your journey of self-employment, your sentiments about working from home might not be what you started out with. Entrepreneurship can be very lonely and it can really lower your motivational state from time to time.
But don’t let pajamas and afternoon slumps stop you. Here are two of my favorite tricks you can try:
- Switch up your work environment. Go work from a coffee shop or a co-working space where you can be surrounded by people who are working just as hard as you. Just make sure you have some headphones with you in case things get too loud.
- Dress as if you’re going into the office. Recent studies have shown that the clothes you wear have a big impact on your motivational level — a phenomenon called enclothed cognition.
If you’re thinking about making the switch from a 9 to 5, I hope there’s enough here to help you get started. And for those who are already in the self-employed club, I hope you’ve learned a few helpful new tricks. Good luck!