Plunging into the world of self-employment is thrilling. One of the attractions of being a solopreneur is the flexible schedule and being able to set your own hours. Not a morning person? No problem! Sleep in and work late. Prefer working at dawn? Excellent. Now you can take off on a bike ride in the late afternoon instead of being stuck at a desk during daylight hours. You can’t beat that kind of freedom. But with great freedom comes great responsibility—and that requires discipline. Here's how setting a work schedule and the "freedom of entrepreneurship" can go hand in hand...
Setting a Work Schedule Starts with Business Hours
Yes, this might seem to suck some of the joy right out of the self-employed lifestyle, but it’s actually a gift. If you don’t schedule work hours, you will end up working all the time. Your customers and clients will grow to expect your 'round-the-clock availability—and that will directly impact your personal life. Moreover, there are countless studies that correlate excessive hours worked with a decline in productivity. Said differently, you plateau at a certain point! So do yourself a favor and set business hours.
Establish a Routine
Without a boss telling you what to prioritize, you might find yourself with nothing more than deadlines as your guide. This can lead to procrastination and perpetually rushed work. You need to think beyond a mere to-do list as well. Ideally you should schedule times to work on each aspect of your business throughout the day so you know just where you stand. For example, you can dedicate every Monday morning and Friday afternoon to accounting and bookkeeping tasks while assigning all day Tuesday to actual client or customer work. No matter what routine you create, the key is creating one! It will help keep you disciplined and save your sanity.
In the same vein of setting a routine, multitasking can actually be a huge hurdle to setting a work schedule. If you’re checking emails while you’re on the phone with a client, you're attention is split. And that's a bad thing. You don’t have a workable schedule. You’re scattering your resources in ways that can harm your bottom line. You don’t want to have to re-do work because you missed a critical point the client brought up on that call. Give each thing you’re doing your full attention. Schedule time blocks for "constant tasks" like email instead of trying to take care of them in the middle of other things. (Yes, this sounds like common sense, but it's actually much harder to do than it is to say.)
Take Breaks, Lunch and Sick Days
The entrepreneur's day can be endless, but not taking breaks will hurt productivity. Working through lunch (or skipping it altogether) may feel like an accomplishment, but in the long run, it's not. (Sure, there may be occurrences that simply require it, but it shouldn't be the norm.) Take breaks. If you work from home, go for a walk. Twenty minutes is all you need. And if you're at a computer all day, for the love, please get up and move around. Your 65-year-old-self will thank you.
The same goes for sick days. Yes, there will be situations in which you have to soldier on, but just because you don't have an official sick day policy like a big company might have, doesn't mean you should ignore your health. When you work while sick, you're head's not in it. So you get sick, take a sick day. Reschedule your meetings, tackle anything that can’t wait and then go back to bed. You’ll recover more quickly and be more productive when you return.
Don’t Become A Stereotype
When work gets really busy, it can become all too easy to become the trope of the self-employed person. You know, sitting at your desk at four in the afternoon, still in your pajamas and unshowered. Be sure to include in your schedule things like exercising, taking a shower, and getting out of the house or office. Schedule a meeting with a friend or mentor once a week. Go to a local event pertinent to your industry. Don’t become that isolated and unwashed freelancer.
If you prioritize setting a work schedule, productivity and happiness will scale. This will lead you to more work and help your business grow. But never forget that you’re your own. You can still shut down the computer and grab your bike now and then on a beautifully sunny day.