How to Stay Productive as a Freelancer When You're on the Road
The beauty of becoming a developer is not the freedom to create my own projects and be my own boss. That’s simply a added bonus.
To me the most incredible part of my job(s) is being able to connect and create from absolutely anywhere in the world. I guess you could argue that being my own boss makes this a bit easier. But when you think about it, you’re still creating a product for a client, you’re still working on a deadline, and at the end of the day if you fail to contact and communicate with your client, you’re going to screw yourself (and definitely your client).
I’m not going to lie, I too find it difficult to cut plans short or head to a café instead of off on another adventure. Other times I feel so overloaded with projects I end my days feeling unproductive and drained. So how can you stay on top of your workload, create great content for your clients, AND have fun while being on the road?
1. Buy a Planner
Yes, a literal day book.
Look, everyone in the world will tell you the same thing: find a way to organize your to-do list and then stick to that. For me this means a physical pen and paper system, like this one. At the start of the week I’ll sit at my desk (usually this means café table) and write out all the most important tasks I need to complete each day. When I’m feeling extra flustered with work, I’ll even go so far as to create a time schedule:
9:30am-11am: add content to new web pages for client Z
Not only does this help you keep track of how to space out your day, you will literally feel better every time you cross a task off your list. In fact, I’ll even add in tasks I’ve already finished (make the bed, wipe down the counter…) because for some reason being able to see crossed off items motivates me even more.
2. Set Weekly Meetings with your Clients
Sometimes all you want to do is just finish a project and wipe your hands of a pesky client. Other times you’ll love your client so much you’ll send way more emails than you need to. Find a balance. Set up a recurring meeting to make sure you’re both on the same page.
I’ve had clients in the past send me off to build 20+ page websites only to tell me once I’ve finished that it’s not quite what they had in mind. As much as I love being able to add onto a project, I would rather go into it knowing that my client knows exactly what the final outcome will be.
Don’t want to commit to a phone call? Not a problem. Set up weekly deadlines for yourself (i.e, finish home page by Wednesday or embed social platforms by 5pm today) and share your deadline with your client via email or text.
This will hold you accountable when you find it hard to hold yourself accountable (trust me, I know how strong the pull of a good lazy day or trip to the beach can be).
3. Separate your “Work Time” and your “Personal Time”
The beauty of freelance work is that you can work whenever/wherever. The downside of freelance work is that you always work whenever/wherever.
I know I’m not the only one answering emails at 11pm or creating graphics until 2am.
Set times for yourself to get work done (I usually stick to a 9am-5pm schedule) and once that time hits, close your computer!
If you’re an digital nomad and have clients on different time zones, try to put yourself on their workday schedule. I know some designers who stick to a New York time zone no matter where in the world they are–yes, even if it means waking up at 5am to “start the day”.
4. TAKE THE WEEKEND OFF
This one is self explanatory. You can absolutely tell your clients that you’ll be back online on Monday to answer their emails/calls/questions. If they call you, go ahead and answer, listen to their needs, and politely let them know you’re away from your computer for the day but will get right on it first thing Monday.
If your client gets upset, then maybe it’s time to reconsider your working relationship with them and communicate healthy boundaries.
5. Time-Lock your Social Media Platforms
I know I’m not the only one that spends upwards of 4 hours a day on Instagram. Sometimes the work you’re doing is thrilling, and other times you just can’t bring yourself to get off Twitter and get it done.
Thankfully most smartphone will force you off your favorite apps for you during your “working hours.” Go ahead, set it up, trust me it makes all the difference.
6. Take Advantage of Your Freedom and Flexibility
Being a freelancer isn’t always easy. There are lots of uncertain days, spotty wifi, and overbearing clients. But at the end of the day we’ve all started on this path because it lets us do whatever the hell we want. So take advantage! If you want to take a Wednesday off to spend your day in the mountains. Do it!
Your work will always be there, but time to have fun may not.