When you’re just getting started on your own, you might feel pressure to follow norms and be at your desk or in your office from 9-to-5 every day because, well, that’s just what you do. That’s “working.”
I fell into this trap when I started working on my own. Even though I was working efficiently, getting things done in less time, I’d still feel tied to those traditional office hours I kept at my former job. So I’d stay at my desk, finding unnecessary tasks to fill the time, hanging around just in case a client might email or call.
But what I’ve finally come to realize is: It doesn’t have to be this way. On a day-to-day basis, my schedule is mine to design and dictate. The same is true for any freelancer or small business owner.
So how do you go about creating your ideal schedule?
Embrace Your Quirks
As your own boss, you get to decide when and how to work. That means there’s plenty of room for you to embrace your quirks as you design your days. You don’t have to brush your hair, get out of your fuzzy slippers, or even start work at a certain time. As long as your work is getting done, you call the shots.
Keep in mind that some people work well early in the mornings, while others do best working late into the night. Some want to spend the day wearing pajamas, while others can only think straight when freshly showered, fully dressed, and with shoes on their feet. You can also test out easily adjustable things like music, lighting, and which office equipment arrangement is optimal for you.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to find out what makes you happiest and most productive during the day. Give yourself the time and permission to experiment. No matter how you work best, just remember: It’s OK to embrace your quirks and break some norms if it brings out your best, most productive work.
Experiment With Different Workflows
In my experience, no two people work exactly the same way each day. But! Some of the most productive business owners I know use a loose framework to guide their activities. Here are a few different daily workflow ideas that can add some structure to your days:
The prioritized to-do list. Making a prioritized list of to-do tasks each day is all that some creatives need to tackle their days in a productive, effective way. Whether it’s on a sheet of paper nearby, a whiteboard hung on the wall, or a sticky note on the desk, having this visual reminder of what needs done (and in what order) is an ultra-simple way to get into an efficient workflow.
The Pomodoro Technique. This technique is based around the classic kitchen tomato timer. By working in short, focused sprints of 15-20 minutes with 5-10 minute breaks in between, you can stay laser-focused on core work for short periods of time. This is a great tactic for minimizing distractions and setting realistic goals around your deep work.
Time blocking. Scheduling blocks of time for specific tasks can help you better plan out your weeks and prepare for larger-scale projects involving multiple steps. Rather than flitting back and forth between different tasks and projects, you can plan out focused periods of work during these time slots - and then stick to them.
The secret to making this work is experimentation. Rather than committing to one technique right off the bat, try more than one and see which best fits your needs.
Establish Clear Boundaries
Another piece of the scheduling puzzle is establishing clear boundaries - both for you and for your clients or customers. Doing this helps you stay out of “defense mode,” in which you’re constantly just reacting to requests instead of being in control of your schedule.
Think about outlining:
Regular office hours. Define when you’ll start and stop working each day, plus when you’ll take breaks (and for how long). Share your office hours with clients and make sure they know that you are reachable only during these times. Avoid being constantly available, unless your business calls for it and you’re being fairly compensated as a result. Otherwise it’s an invitation for your customers to see you as their on-call help.
Preferred modes of communication. Think about how you want your clients to interact with you and when. Spell out the hours that you respond to emails and calls, and define a window of time that you’ll follow up within if someone if he or she reaches out outside those hours.
Due dates for deliverables. Always let your customers know when they can expect to get deliverables from you so there are no guessing game or unnecessary check-ins. Whether that’s estimated shipping times, outlining your workflow and the various stages of a collaborative project, or anything else: Make it clear and put it in writing.
When you create these boundaries (and stick to them), you’re setting yourself up for healthier, less stressful days. It also shows everyone you work with that you have clear processes and know exactly what you’re doing.
Make Time for Yourself
As you test and try different approaches to your daily schedule, remember to leave some time for yourself. One of the biggest perks to being your own boss is your ability to have a flexible schedule - so don’t forget to take advantage of that.
Think about what’s important to you personally, and then put it on your calendar. Literally, schedule it. If there’s a movie you want to go see on a Friday afternoon, do it. A class you want to attend to sharpen your skills? Go to it. By putting it on your schedule, you’re making it a priority much in the same way you would client work. And that’s a good thing!
The thing is: If you’re working efficiently, you probably have some free time in your schedule - and that’s yours to fill with whatever you want. Allow yourself to enjoy this perk. You’ve worked hard for it.
Kaleigh Moore is a freelance writer specializing in ecommerce and software. She also writes for publications like Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur, and HuffPost.