It’s 9:05 on Thursday morning, which means I’m 5 minutes into my “write FRW post” one-hour block on my schedule. And this is exactly where I’ll be every Thursday at 9:05, barring emergencies or vacations.
I know: For a lot of people who are interested in becoming freelancers, a big part of the appeal is the “free” part. No schedule, work from anywhere, manage your own life.
And those absolutely are benefits of the freelance lifestyle—well, at least the last two.
One of the problems with living entirely schedule-free is that there are no parameters and few outside forces to keep you in line.
Maybe you’re thinking, “But I do have parameters! I have to get work done between 8:30 when the kids get on the bus and 3:30 when they get home.” But if you’ve ever actually sat down with an open seven-hour block in front of you, you know how quickly things go off the rails.
The problem is that we are naturally distractible creatures. On top of that, one of our most powerful drives is for pleasure and comfort.
If you’re working from home, you have to contend with a slew of tasks and distractions—some of which are truly things you need to get done, like laundry, emptying the dishwasher, or grocery shopping.
But when those things get done, work doesn’t.
Here’s the secret: You can still be 100% in control of your life and get things done. The key is to create an ultra-schedule.
They say that “if it doesn’t get scheduled, it doesn’t get done” and that’s very true. But for most people, a “schedule” means a To-Do list. “What’s on your schedule today?” elicits a rattling off of tasks that SHOULD be finished that day…but probably won’t.
True scheduling means actually blocking off time on your calendar to devote to one task and only that task. It means avoiding alerts or text messages and sitting in your chair until the task is completed—even in spite of the siren song of your laundry or dishes.
When you schedule time to do things—literally block time on your computer calendar—it increases the chances of them getting done. (You’ll see why I recommend using iCal, Outlook, or Google calendars over print calendars in a bit.)
And this can be easy for weekly or daily tasks (like studying copywriting or pitching potential clients); you block off time and you devote that time to the task.
But what about all of the rest of the tasks on your To-Do list? And all of the other open time in the day?
This is where I’m going to challenge you to experiment with ultra-scheduling. Ultra-scheduling means looking at your To-Do list each day, prioritizing the most important tasks (the ones that will make the most impact on your business) as well as the things that must get done that day, and then scheduling out every moment of your workday.
“WHAT?” I didn’t become a freelancer to live by a schedule!!”
I know, I get it. You became a freelancer to be in control of your own time. And you will be: because you control the schedule. You decide what time you start, you decide what time you stop, you block off time for breaks or naps, you control what your day looks like.
But within your work-time period, you’ll block out individual segments for accomplishing the tasks you need to accomplish.
You’ll batch your work—schedule out a half hour to respond to all of the emails in your inbox instead of scheduling out time for each, individual email—and you’ll schedule your daily tasks to coincide with your energy levels throughout the day. Freshest in the morning? Schedule time to do your copywriting then.
The key is that your work time will be fully scheduled on your calendar. (Yes, including breaks! Don’t forget to take breaks. You’re not superhuman.)
“But what about client calls?” Block off an hour (or however long they usually take you) in the afternoon for client calls. If a client absolutely can’t have the call during that time, no problem! Just rearrange the blocks in your calendar, moving the call time to when they can chat and move whatever task was in that time period to the now-open slot.
And don’t forget: Parkinson’s Law says that “work expands to fill the time allotted.” Boy, does it! Challenge yourself to complete tasks in slightly less time than you’d like to give yourself. If you normally spend 30 minutes returning emails, could you actually do it in 15? Probably – but you’d have to stop clicking on emails from e-tailers and other distractions. Win!
Be sure, too, to set up alarms on your calendar. The ability to set up alarms and to rearrange tasks by drag-and-drop two big reasons to live by a digital calendar—at least for work. Set alarms 5 minutes before each new task or time block begins so that you can start wrapping up and be ready to start the next one.
Do you have to LIVE by the ultra-schedule to be productive? Of course not. You might try experimenting with ultra-scheduling on days when you know you have to focus and get a lot done. Or if there are tasks that have been on your To-Do list for days or even weeks, ultra-scheduling a day or two could work perfectly.
But ultra-learning absolutely COULD be a part of your regular work system. If you don’t choose to do it every day, you could do it for a few set days of the week.
And what happens if an emergency comes up and derails your day? Well, that happens—but it was going to happen no matter if you had your day scheduled or not. If an emergency comes up, just re-schedule everything to the next day you’ll be able to work.
I know that the creative element of us can resist the concept of scheduling—especially the idea of scheduling out each moment of a workday.
But the truth is that creativity and focus thrive in constraints. The most prolific and successful writers will tell you that they have a system for writing and a time when they have to get their work done each day.
You’re still completely in control of your life and your career when you ultra-schedule—remember that it’s still you creating the schedule and it certainly doesn’t have to be 9-5, Monday through Friday. Your work time could be from 2-7 every afternoon and evening in a café in Paris…and you could still benefit from ultra-scheduling.
When we freelance, we are the owners of our own business. And that business only succeeds if we prioritize and do the work that needs to be done. Ultra-scheduling is the best tool I’ve found to do that.
9:40 am. Right on time. 🙂
Your turn! Are you willing to give ultra-scheduling a try for a day or two? Or even to make it a regular part of your worklife? Let me know in the comments below!