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Summary:

“What’s your workday like?” Whenever a cubicle-dwelling friend asks me this question, they seem to think that my answer will be representative of what a freelancer’s typical day is like. I often start my answer with “It depends.” Lately, I realized that I didn’t even know how my colleagues would answer this question since we never see each other. I had no idea if we were working on the same project in the same way, or if there were differences in our schedules, apart from the time zones.

This made me wonder: how do most freelancers schedule their day? Do they have a fixed routine? Is there a common element in the way we structure our work days? I decided to ask around and see what other freelancers have to say.

“What’s your workday like?” Whenever a cubicle-dwelling friend asks me this question, they seem to think that my answer will be representative of what a freelancer’s typical day is like. I often start my answer with “It depends.” Lately, I realized that I didn’t even know how my colleagues would answer this question since we never see each other. I had no idea if we were working on the same project in the same way, or if there were differences in our schedules, apart from the time zones.

This made me wonder: how do most freelancers schedule their day? Do they have a fixed routine? Is there a common element in the way we structure our work days? I decided to ask around and see what other freelancers have to say.

9-to-5 Web Workers

This subheading is a bit misleading: I rarely found any freelancers who stuck to a strictly 9-to-5 routine. Still, there are those who schedule their work as if it were a traditional 40-hour work week. According to this freelance business survey for the European Medical Writers Association, 52 percent of the respondents work at least 31 hours per week. Even last year’s Freelance Switch survey showed that the average work hours of freelancers across six continents varied from 37.3 hours to 41.2.

But are those work hours evenly distributed across the week like a traditional office job? For some, yes.

Molly Feuer, an illustrator, has this to say about her schedule: “I enjoy planning my week in advance, waking up early and getting dressed as if I had a job outside of the home.” She added that she leaves her evenings free for social and leisure activities, as well as household chores. But, if she’s working on an engaging project, she returns to work during the evenings as well.

Although she has some breaks within her work day, Molly says that she schedules them so that they won’t become a way to procrastinate. “It’s a reward system, more or less,” she adds.

“Typically, I do 30-60 minutes of work in the early morning before my kids get up,” said Polly Schneider Traylor, a freelance writer and editor. “After school drop-off, I work steadily for a few hours, and then typically head out around middle of the day for a workout or an errand.”

She added that she usually adds at most an extra hour of work in the evenings, after her kids are in bed.

Order in “Disorder”

There may be many freelancers who have a self-imposed fixed schedule, but those with more fluid work hours seem to outnumber them.

Freelance writer Bob McDonnell said to me that “a freelance writer’s routine is an oxymoron.” While I tend to agree, there will always be those repetitive tasks that require a routine of some sort, whether it’s household chores or billing your clients. Maybe most freelancers just shake up their routine so often that it seems like such a routine is nonexistent.

Mike Klassen, a graphic designer, doesn’t seem to like the idea of having an official work routine as having one would be too similar to having a 9-to-5 job. According to him, “…part of being a freelancer is the freedom to mix things up a bit, not only in terms of the projects I take on, but when I work on them during the day (or night).”

As for me, though I prefer to work early in the morning, my main focus is just to get a list of tasks done throughout the day. This list is typically four to six items, and it doesn’t matter what order I do them in, as long as I get them accomplished.

My schedule might seem like it doesn’t involve a routine, but when I think about it, I have the tendency to alternate knowledge work with manual labor. I get many articles done during my peak hours, but after that I prefer to cook or do some gardening. Later in the day I might do some administrative tasks. Also, like many web workers, I have some pre-work rituals that help me start my workday right.

Is it possible that we’re so in tune to our own individual work flow that we don’t see our work habits as a structured routine? There might be some order underneath all that chaos.

How about you, what are your work days like? Do you think you have a set routine when it comes to work?

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  1. Gemma Bristow Monday, March 16, 2009

    The Freelance Switch survey link points to the same URL as the other survey.

  2. GoEverywhere Team Monday, March 16, 2009

    I have a plan very similar to Molly. I wake up early to get emails out of the way, and often stay up late to clear up any lose ends. Working from home has its privileges, but I also have to work around everyone else’s schedule! Luckily even when I’m sitting at an after school activity, I can still get work done on my mobile phone. I just logon to my webtop and I can quickly send off a document to a colleague or catch up on email and social networking. It’s great having my documents and programs accessible anywhere I go!

  3. Simon Mackie Monday, March 16, 2009

    Thanks Gemma, I should have spotted that. Now fixed.

  4. I dream of having a friggin routine. Right now it’s “wake up, shower, eat breakfast,” and then all hell breaks loose.

  5. Emily Brackett Monday, March 16, 2009

    Adding kids to the mix has really changed things for me. Now, my work schedule has to fit around the childcare schedule. This means that I focus on certain tasks during traditional work hours (client calls, etc.) and am all over the place with everything else. I probably work about 30-35 hours a week, but it’s in much smaller blocks which is harder to manage.

  6. Mine is similar to GoEverywhereTeam. Start with email and work around everyone’s schedule. My schedule was all messed up a few weeks between sick kids and doctor’s appointments. I find that anything happening in the morning tends to throw the rest of the day off track. But if I have something that needs finishing, I get it done.

    I know I do my best work in the morning, so I aim to do the bulk of that before lunch. Afternoon is for tedious tasks and I try to schedule my appointments in the afternoon before kids are out of school.

  7. Scott Blitstein Monday, March 16, 2009

    I have fallen in to a routine of sorts with email, RSS reading and day planning in the morning from home. Breakfast and then off to my office.

    Once at the office, it’s critical work first – providing updates, returning phone calls, etc..

    My most productive time is the afternoon between 1-5 so that is when I devote time to extended project work or article research.

    If I do work in the evening I try to have it be “me” work rather than client work but that isn’t always possible.

    The beauty of all of this is that I can mix it up if a day isn’t going as planned, or I decide to meet a colleague for coffee. So while I do have a “schedule” it certainly isn’t set in stone by any means.

    SB

  8. I have a pretty regular schedule. 3 days per week I start by going to the gym to get some exercise and get me out of the house. Every day I start off with email, RSS and planning my day. I usually try to get WWD posts that have been submitted overnight edited and scheduled before lunch. Afternoon is usually writing. On non-gym days I usually try and head out to a cafe in the afternoon to get out of the house. Phone calls usually happen between 4-6pm due to timezones, then it’s editing any other posts that have come in.

  9. I’m sure that both freelancers and employees are scheduling their program. Of course there is a much more liberty in regard to the first category because they can choose to spent a day in a different way. The possibility that life to become a routine is decreasing.

  10. The schedule I have at home as a freelancer isn’t that much different from my old day job, just maybe more broken up with a longer lunch break. On the other hand – I don’t have any travel at all – w00t!

  11. Oh yes, I spend lunch time walking my dog (forces me to GET OFF the computer). I love doing that except when it’s cold, rainy, or both. I also sometimes do laundry at lunch — again, away from computer and guilt-free.

    I work out most afternoons now. I’d love to start my day with a workout, but that’s when I am most efficient.

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