H is for Hours

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Illustration by Ramiro Roman.
Illustration by Ramiro Roman.

You’re a freelancer now! (Or you’re about to be). This means you finally have the ability to set your own hours.

Pretty cool, huh?

And yet, setting your own hours is a HUGE responsibility. One that I struggle with from time-to-time myself. (I’ll get into why below).

To be honest, I don’t have much more of an intro to this one. So let’s just jump in, shall we?

The 7 Most Important Things You Need to Know About Freelance Writing Hours

1. Work during your best action times. 

I spoke a little bit about this in “A is for ACTION,” but, basically, the point is this: Everyone is different. The way you work best is likely different from the way I work best.

I tend to work around my hypoglycemia and, for me, that means that my brain “kicks in” toward the late afternoon when my blood sugar levels out. So I work best in the afternoons and evenings. You might work best in the early mornings. Or the graveyard shift.

Men with PensJames Chartrand put it like this:

“Most freelancers exhaust themselves by trying to work through hours when they aren’t productive. Don’t do this. You’ll either wind up mentally exhausted or you’ll distract yourself with procrastination. If you do the former, you’ll be too tired to work at your best times. If you do the latter, you’re liable to go right through your most productive hours without even noticing you’re ready to go again.”

You’re no longer required to work 9-5. But you are required to get your work done. So schedule your work for the hours you’re most productive.

2. Set aside time to communicate with clients.

In “E is for E-mail” I shared a few tips on how to avoid going into e-mail overload without losing clients. However, I’d like to offer an additional suggestion: Only answer e-mails during your “e-mail answering” hours.

Give yourself a dedicated slot of time where you answer any client e-mails you get. After those hours are up–stop replying until the next day. And, if you can, let your clients know your availability. (My returning clients know that Mondays are my “crazy days” and it’s best to schedule appointments with me Tuesday onward).

The same goes for Skype and phone calls.

Copywriter Robert Bly suggests:

“Make sure [your] business [phone] is always covered by voice mail or an answering machine when you’re away from your desk… At night, when you’re done working, let the voice mail or machine pick up the business line.”

If you don’t set boundaries/time limits for these activities, you could easily get so wrapped up in the back-and-forth that you don’t actually do the work. Communication is a wonderful thing, but not at the cost of productivity.

3. Prepare to be flexible.

In regard to the above… Your best action times might not be your best client times. So be prepared to work in chunks. A chunk of the day for communicating with/nabbing clients. A chunk of the day (during your best action hours) for working.

Setting your own work hours will be meaningless if you don’t have anyone to work for. So get to know your audience–When are they most active? How do they prefer to contact you? How does their schedule line up with yours?–and learn to adapt.

4. Be realistic.

There are only so many hours in a day. Be honest with yourself about how many of those hours you’ll need to complete each project. Do NOT overbook yourself!

5. Let others know when you’re working.

Tell your friends and family when your work hours are. Be polite, yet firm. You’re a business now and you have to treat yourself as such. They wouldn’t pop over for a social visit if you were working at a 9-5 job, right? The same respect should be applied to your freelance schedule as well.

Of course, you might find yourself getting very lonely. Freelance writers often experience a great deal of isolation due to unsociable hours and a need for “alone time.” That’s why you need to…

6. Take breaks.

You’re obviously going to need to take breaks to eat (your brain won’t work without fuel), but you’ll need to set aside a little time for fun/relaxation as well.

According to Diana Gunn: 

“For writers, overworking is a serious danger, and it’s easy to isolate yourself when working on freelance projects. To keep balance, set aside a break in the middle of your workday and a couple hours after each work day. Setting aside recreation time helps prevent burnout and makes room for inevitable unexpected social calls.”

Word, Diana.

7. Remember to stop.

At some point your work hours have to come to an end. You have your little breaks throughout the day (or night), sure. But there comes a time where you have to be done for the day. When you decide, “Okay. This day is over. Everything else can wait until tomorrow.”

And this is the area that I struggle with.

I enjoy my work. Perhaps too much. And when I get really excited about a project (like this one!), my hours start getting longer and longer. “Just one more paragraph and then I’ll stop for the day,” I’ll say. And then, several pages later, I’ll say it again. And then again.

Before I know it, I’m getting 2 hours of sleep per night and wondering what the heck happened.

You can’t work 24/7. Trust me.

If this happens to you, you’ll have to take a little time to reset yourself. I find that taking a solid day to myself to catch up on sleep works wonders. From there, I set alarms for a week or two until I’m back on track.

When do you want your work day to end? Choose a time and stick to it.

When that time comes, you’re done for the day. No “one more paragraph.”

You’re done.

Unless someone’s paying you handsomely to make it worth your while.

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