Career Advice

Always Get Dressed in the Morning, and 6 Other Rules Successful Freelancers Break

By Meagan Francis February 27th, 2015

We’ve all read (and some of us have written) well-meaning advice meant to help freelancers be more productive, energetic, and focused. And much of that advice makes a lot of sense. But that doesn’t change the fact that we all have different work styles, and for some of us, breaking one or more freelance “rules” is just part of a day’s work.

I polled some of my freelance friends to find out what rules they commonly break. Here’s what came up again and again:

“Work on a schedule, just like you would at a regular job.

No thanks, said writer Christine Hennebury: “I don’t set regular hours. I don’t set aside chunks of time. And I don’t turn off my work at a specific time. The whole point of freelancing and working from home is to blend your work and home life together a bit better.” Instead, Hennebury plans her day using author Jennifer Louden’s “Conditions of Enoughness,” deciding what she needs to get done to be satisfied at the end of the day. Then when she’s done, she’s done.

Trying to stick to a “normal” nine-to-five workday can present logistical problems for freelancers, too, as former freelancer Holly Case pointed out. “I remember one big article I was working on required me to interview an important expert. I spent nearly a week trying to reach him and never could. He finally called me at eleven p.m., explaining that he was on his way to a party in a limo and wondered if I could do the interview then. I said yes because I didn’t know if I would get it otherwise.”

“Set up a dedicated office space and work there every day.”

Sounds boring to me. I work all over my house, semi-reclined in bed, sitting at the dining-room table, perched at a kitchen stool, and yes, sometimes at my desk. I find that varying my work environment keeps me focused and also allows me to follow natural light as it works its way from one side of my house to the other over the course of a day. Plus, isn’t one of the reasons I don’t work in an office because I don’t care about working in an office?

“Take regular breaks to stretch and rest your eyes.”

Easier said than done. “It takes me forever to buckle down and focus my mind on the task, and once I’m focused, I’m deeply focused,” said writer and designer Laura Hamilton. “Taking a break every fifteen minutes may be much better for my body, but it would wreak absolute havoc on my mind and on my creative process.”

“Don’t let household chores pull you from your work.”

It might be hard to understand for an office-dweller, but many of us home-based workers find pausing to take care of laundry or unload the dishwasher to be a welcome change of pace.

Blogger and editor Heather Spohr believes the freedom to pause and take care of “home stuff” is one of the best parts about freelancing. “Picking my kids up from school or throwing a load of laundry in the washer are easy things I can do that don’t take away from my overall daily output,” she said.

“Eliminate all distractions like music, TV, and social media.”

The idea of silencing background noise and shutting down email while we work has come to be regarded almost as a virtue, but writer Stacey Nerdin admits feeling antsy when she’s forced to focus on just one thing at a time, and as a result, and her creativity suffers. “I suppose a bee could just sit on one solitary flower all day and suck the pollen dry, but instead, it goes from flower to flower and collects what it needs from a variety of sources. I feel like a bee most days,” she said. “I get bits of inspiration, thought, and even mental rest and escape from a variety of sources, and that more or less works for me.”

“Make sure to get out of your house to work and/or chat with other freelancers in your area.”

Yes, a change of scenery and some socialization can keep cabin fever at bay, but doing so can also disrupt your routine.

“On occasion, I go to the library to work… but there’s always some semi-crazy person talking to himself or kids running around like maniacs,” writer Melody Warnick said, “and frankly, ninety-nine percent of the time it’s just easier to stay put in the house. It’s quiet. It’s free. My stuff is here.”

“Always get dressed first thing in the morning, before you begin work.”

Every time I read an article insisting that freelancers should get dressed in the morning like employees who work in offices, I feel a little mix of guilt and indignation. Half the time—if it’s before I hit the gym in the late morning—I’m reading said article in my pajamas, bathrobe, and slippers. I change into more formal clothes in the afternoon and have yet to notice a difference in my creativity or productivity levels regardless of my wardrobe.

Bottom line? Each of us probably break one or two of the established best practices for freelancing. Most days, this freelancer’s life is more about “good enough” than “ideal,” and it sounds like I’m in pretty good company.

Image by Eugenio Marongiu/Shutterstock
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