Ask DN: Freelancers, what's your daily schedule like?

over 3 years ago from , Web Dood @ mattsoria.com

As a freelancer myself, I'm curious how other people's work days are structured. If you're working as a freelancer:

  • What does your daily schedule look like?
  • What time do you start, and how many hours/day do you put in?
  • Do you take consistent breaks?
  • When do you find you are most productive?

I've been working from home on a contract that requires 40 hours/week, and after a while of working 9-5 I realized that usually I can't sit down and bang out 8 hours in one sitting — I need to take some short breaks throughout the day, which meant I would end up finishing work around 6 or 7, sometimes later depending on the day. I'm not much of a late-night person anyway, so now I wake up at 4:30 am, spend the first hour getting ready, making tea, and catching up on email, twitter, and DN, and get to work somewhere between 5:30 AM and 6:30/7:00 AM. This usually has me finished with work between 2 and 5 PM, which leaves time for my own projects, or to get out and enjoy the rest of the day.

I've really been much happier with the work day since I switched to this earlier schedule. I do work with a team that I communicate with throughout the day, but the time difference hasn't been a problem yet. I think I am most productive after the first hour of the work day, up until lunch.

18 comments

  • Andy StoneAndy Stone, over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

    I have been freelancing full time for the last year after leaving a startup, and it has been some of the happiest and most productive months of my career. I sometimes miss the schedule/predictability of office life, so I have found a balance that works for me. It isn't as many hours sitting and working, but the new balance has helped with productivity.

    • 8:00 — Wake up, make breakfast and coffee, read the Internet
    • 9:00 — Work through all emails and communication
    • 9:30 – 12:30 — Work on client project
    • 12:30 – 2:30 — Lunch and workout
    • 2:30 – 5:30 — Work on client or personal projects
    • 5:30 – 6:30 — Wrap up any final emails or just goof off online
    • (Two options now)
    • 7:00 — On a roll and work until 11:00
    • 7:00 — Turn off computer for the day and read a book, hang out with friends or watch TV

    I've really worked towards a better work/life balance during the last 9 months, so I've done abbreviated versions of this schedule while traveling to California, New York, Austria, and Germany. It has been amazing to gain new perspectives while working, but also meet up with new designers wherever I visit.

    10 points
    • Matt Soria, over 3 years ago

      Thanks Andy! That sounds like a good thing you've got going on. I've really got to start working exercise into my daily schedule. I will often say to myself "I'll work out after work today" and it doesn't happen, but I bet allotting time for it in the middle of the day helps a lot. It's cool to hear about how other people manage their time, so thank you!

      0 points
      • Andy StoneAndy Stone, over 3 years ago

        Definitely. I wish you a ton of luck.

        My last job was a ton of hours and a lot of pressure for me—I put on weight and never exercised (either no time or just tired after a full day of work). I did jump on the Fitbit bandwagon and got a band and a scale. I've lost 25 lbs since October and the constant tracking really, really helps for me.

        1 point
    • Jonathan ShariatJonathan Shariat, over 3 years ago

      This sounds like a dream, and not in some idealistic way but in a very real way. Thanks for inspiring me to keep on the path to becoming independent.

      0 points
  • Robert PalmerRobert Palmer, over 3 years ago

    I've been working at home as a freelancer for the last six years, and I've found that when I can bend my schedule around my wife's work schedule, things work the best.

    We're both relatively early risers, getting up at 6. We make coffee, have a bagel, and she leaves for work around 7.

    I do a seven-minute workout and get dressed. I find it's a good habit to still "get dressed for work" even if nobody but the cats are really going to see you. It makes me feel better, and it puts me in a "work" mindset. The only time I work in pajamas is when I'm sick.

    I'll work from about 8 to 11 or noon, and have some lunch. I eat lunch at the dinner table, and not at my desk, to force myself to get away from the computer screen for at least a little while. I'll read a magazine or look through the mail usually.

    In the afternoons, I'll switch my Varidesk from sitting to standing (or vice versa) for a change of pace, and work until about 4, when my wife comes home from work. We'll usually go to the gym together (which is right next door -- if I had to drive to the gym I'd probably never go), come home, shower, and eat dinner around 7. An episode or two of TV, and it's off to bed.

    There was a period where my wife had Mondays off, but worked Saturdays, and that was glorious. Working maybe a half day on Saturday was great, because I knew I could get stuff done without being interrupted by clients through the day.

    Thursdays I go to a yoga class (which I've written about on Medium) which makes for a nice break in my week.

    4 points
    • Matt Soria, over 3 years ago

      Thanks for sharing Robert! The 7 minute workout sounds great — I really need to incorporate at least something like this into my work day. Being able to switch from sitting to standing also sounds really nice. Usually by the second half, or last third of the day I am sore from sitting and want to stand, but it doesn't work so well with my current setup.

      1 point
  • Pierre de MillyPierre de Milly, over 3 years ago

    Reading you guys, I feel like I'm the worst freelancer on earth!

    I have a really hard time keeping to my schedule.

    I usually wake up at 8am, have breakfast, shower, etc. and start working at 9am. But in order to do that, I have to go to sleep before midnight which I fail to do every once in a while and end up skyping my girlfriend til 3-4am (we currently have a 6 hour time difference so it's still the evening for her).

    When it happens, I end up getting up at noon and have to gradually go back to 8am which takes about 3 days.

    I usually feel very bad about this and end up reading a lot of self-discipline articles on Reddit and various blogs.

    However, recently I realised that it hasn't prevented me from meeting deadlines and delivering satisfying work (thanks to a few all-nighters, I admit it) so I've decided to cut myself some slack.

    Moreover, the times when I'm the most productive are when I wake up around 11am, feeling like a worthless piece of **** and jump to my computer right away to catch up on a few days of late work and emails. Then I have a good shower and keep on working non-stop without any breaks until the end of the day.

    So, yeah, probably not the best example of freelance discipline but it ends up doing the job so it's probably not that bad.

    3 points
    • Matt Soria, over 3 years ago

      I think you're right — as long as you're getting the work done that needs to be done, and you're not killing yourself by working crazy hours, then I don't think there's anything to feel bad about! That's part of the beauty of it. For example, I hardly ever "go out" during a weekday, but tonight (Monday) a friend was having a going away party and I just got in (12:45 AM), which is way later than I'll usually go to bed, so tomorrow I probably won't wake up at the usual 4:30 AM, but my schedule will just work around that — no biggie!

      0 points
  • Philip KarpiakPhilip Karpiak, over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

    I just started freelancing again recently so I’m also using the days I worked remotely for my last business in mind. Times are approximate and I’m actually trying to put in less work hours in a given day now.

    • 5:30-7:30 - Wake up to my custom-designed, one-of-a-kind bespoke alarm clock app. Kidding, I don’t use an alarm clock and when I wake up depends on the season (thanks Canadian weather). But as soon as I get up I make some Bulletproof coffee and head to the gym if it’s a lifting day.
    • 8:00 - After the gym or doing some light reading, I head home or to the co-working space. First apps I launch are GitHub and a chat app (either IRC or HipChat depending on the projects I’m working on that day).
    • 8:30-11:00 - Actually do, you know, work
    • 11:00-12:00 - Open up email for the first time. If it was a gym day I fit in a pre-lunch meal for gainz. Some days I go to yoga, which is a great mid-day break since there is a yoga studio near my house and another in the same building as the co-working space.
    • 12:00-1:00 - I usually get lunch at this time when I’m at the co-working space or meeting someone, otherwise I go on a bit longer without eating
    • 1:00-4:00 - Moar work. If I’m at the co-working space and there’s an interesting workshop going on, I’ll join that for a bit as a break.
    • 4:00 - Wind work-related things down and do final checks for email, GitHub and chat
    • 5:00 - Whatever: cooking, Hearthstone, meetup with some friends. I don’t think about client work during this time but gladly continue to hack on open-source stuff
    • 10:00 - Final wind down for the day (or wine down on some nights :D) with a novel. If for some reason I need to use a computer very late I’ll use some blue-blocking glasses so my circadian rhythm doesn’t go out-of-whack (yes I use f.lux too, but found that that wasn’t enough).

    EDIT: formatting

    3 points
    • Matt Soria, over 3 years ago

      Wow, you're day sounds really productive, work and health/lifestyle wise!

      0 points
      • Philip KarpiakPhilip Karpiak, over 3 years ago

        Yeah, it’s required a lot of tweaking with my work + health activities to find the right optimization. I used to hit the gym in the afternoons but was finding myself too drained to work. I don’t find the same negatives with yoga.

        That’s the thing with daily schedules I guess: the one I posted, and the ones others have, will vary widely until you find that sweet spot. Even then you may switch things up for variety’s sake. It’s about finding the right balance between what you want, what your body needs and what your clients ask for.

        0 points
  • Mariusz CieslaMariusz Ciesla, over 3 years ago

    I don't really have a schedule, but I do have a couple of routines, like waking up at consistent hours, walking my dog in the morning, afternoon naps and so on.

    1 point
  • Alyssa Pelletier, over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

    Cool thread! It's fun to see how others break up their days. My partner & I used to have a pretty relaxed schedule but since we added this little fuzzball to the mix a few weeks ago we're getting into a more structured schedule. Here's what we're working with now:

    6-7AM - Get pup up, make coffee, walk around the block

    7-8AM - Breakfast, Emails, admin, etc

    8-12PM - Client Projects, taking pup outside every ~1.5hrs

    12-1PM - Lunch, walk pup around the block

    1-2PM - Client Projects, taking pup outside every ~1.5hrs

    2-2:30PM - train pup

    2:30 - 5:30PM - Client Projects

    5:30 - 10PM - dinner, relax, gym, walk & play with pup... varies

    10:30PM - Bed

    3AM - take pup out to pee

    Rinse & repeat! We also like to finish up earlier in order to get outside in the afternoon.

    Edit: Formatting

    1 point
    • Matt Soria, over 3 years ago

      Thanks for sharing! I'm enjoying hearing about how other people spread their work out throughout the day. Man, a puppy is seriously a lot of work! A good excuse to get up and move around, and get outside too!

      0 points
  • Luke Murphy-WearmouthLuke Murphy-Wearmouth, over 3 years ago

    Been freelancing for just under a year, but part of that Is contracting to a big company, which requires a day a week of office time. When I've got days at home it's usually:

    630/7 wake up, shower, have breakfast and get the boy ready for nursery. 8 walk the boy to nursery 830 cup of tea and read the internet 9 start client work 12 break for lunch for an hour 1-3 client work 3-330 usually take a break for a distraction, often picking up my guitar or a book for a bit 330-5 client work and finish off emails for the day

    It's pretty standard 9-5, but I find that keeps things contained to the days I want to work (I work from home 3 days a week). I also have a garden office, which makes that separation between work/home really clear. Another thing that's helped me is using those blocks of time and blocking them out for clients, so I'm not jumping between things. That way you can do work and send it off and get on with other things in the next block. Works wonders for me.

    Also completely agree about bundling meetings, coffees and general out and about activities into full days. If you write them off, it makes you a lot calmer about it than worrying that you're not doing client work.

    1 point
  • Marci IkelerMarci Ikeler, over 3 years ago

    I think one of the great things about being a freelancer is the ability to set your schedule however you'd like. I actually don't have a consistent schedule; what works best for me is to vary my plans depending on what I have going on that day. For one thing, I try to group any out-of-office commitments on one or two days so that I can have unbroken work time on the remaining days of the week.

    1 point
    • Matt Soria, over 3 years ago

      Nice! Yeah, it's great to be able to do other things day to day and just adjust your schedule around it.

      1 point