“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke
Ah, the flow. Fingers flying over the keyboard, creativity running rampant, getting things done faster that you can tick them off your to-do list. It’s an elusive, joyous state of being that strikes every now and again, seemingly by chance. If only we could make it happen with a click of the fingers, right? Well, perhaps we can…
As freelancers, we have the delicious luxury of creating our own workday rules – or (even more delicious!) lack thereof. Ironically, when I first went out on my own, I quickly fell into old, corporate routines – simply because I felt that’s what I should be doing. You know: up at the crack of dawn, wolf down breakfast (if you’re lucky), chain yourself to the desk, skip lunch, work the same hours every day (even if you’re out of things to do), sneakily check emails in the evening when hubby isn’t looking, etc. Crazy, huh?! I’d become my own corporate taskmaster, and – as my own boss – I was a serious killjoy.
A few weeks in, I realised it didn’t have to be that way. When it comes to being a freelancer, there’s no right or wrong way. I work for myself and so I set the rules. After eight years of 9 – 5 (or, 7 – 4 in my case), it’s mind-bendingly fabulous. So, I asked myself, why not put some new rituals in place to create ease, productivity, freedom and joy? After all, these were the very reasons I decided to give freelancing a shot in the first place.
Here’s what I came up with:
1. Create a morning routine
In my old corporate role, I was up, showered, out the door and on my way to work in less than 30 minutes. By 5.45am every morning. That’s right – 5.45am! The fact that I commuted with my hubby made it bearable, but I sure don’t miss those freezing cold, dark mornings. These days, I have the luxury of getting up when I please. Turns out that that luxury can also be a recipe for a slow, unproductive start to the day. Luckily, my body clock usually sees me up by 7.30am. The fantastic thing about working from home is that there’s no commute – so, without doing anything, I’m already saving a couple of hours each day.
My new morning routine looks like this:
The discipline around this morning routine is integral to setting the momentum for a productive day ahead. If I lounge around in bed, delay making brekky or fall down the rabbit hole that is social media, I’m behind the eight-ball before the day’s even begun. I’m cross at myself for wasting time, feel like I have to rush through my to-dos and it’s a generally an icky way to start the day. So, all hail the morning routine.
2. Set the scene
As a freelancer, you have the rare ability to choose where you work. As an introvert who previously worked in an open-plan office, this is positively joyous. It’s surprisingly easy, though, to find yourself once again chained to your home-office desk. Of course, when I’ve got important, difficult work to do, there’s no place I’d rather be than my quiet, minimalist home office. Every morning, I like to do a quick tidy up and light a candle or incense to signal the start of the working day. Every now and again though, changing locations does wonders for your mindset and creativity. I move around at home – sometimes working outside, on the dining room table, or (if I’m really exhausted) I’ll spread out and get comfortable on my bed, which means I’m more likely to keep working than I would be were I to stay at my desk. If I’m feeling a bit isolated, I love working from the local library. Even though this doesn’t involve much actual conversation, just being surrounded by people (ie. lovely quiet people who don’t interrupt!) makes a world of difference. The point is that we have the ability to choose. So, take a look at your workload. What working environment is going to be most productive for you today? Then, set the scene accordingly.
3. Eat your frog
The first thing I do after turning my laptop on and starting my working day, is check my to-do list in Evernote. A key factor in my productivity is the fact that I plan my day out the night before. This means I have a to-do list ready to go and can dive right in rather than faffing around trying to figure out what needs doing. The hard part, of course, is deciding what to do first. Hence, ‘eat your frog.’ The temptation is to tackle the easy stuff first. Instead, I pick the task I’m dreading the most (perhaps it’s the most difficult, important, boring or time-consuming) and I get it done first. Nothing beats the feeling of completing something you’ve been dreading, and in comparison, the tasks that follow will seem easy and fun. By eating your frog, you conquer the mountain first, giving your a productivity a kick-start which allows you to sail through the rest of the day.
4. Nourish your body
I used to be pretty hopeless with food. Actually, really hopeless. Take me out for dinner or cook me a meal, and I’d savour every morsel. But leave it up to me to feed myself, and I’d probably forget to do so until my blood sugar plummeted and I was on the verge of passing out. To me, taking the time to make and then eat something just seemed like a huge inconvenient waste of time. Until I realised what a detrimental effect it was having on my health and productivity. Last year, after numerous blood tests, I discovered that my blood protein levels were way too low. I was feeling constantly fatigued, foggy and experiencing frightening dizzy spells. Freelancing for me was all about creating a better work-life balance and nurturing myself – body, mind and spirit. So, food has been a big part of my new self-care practise. These days, I get great pleasure from meal planning for the week ahead, and nourishing myself with beautiful, healthy food. It doesn’t have to be hard (I love Healthy Natty for easy, healthy recipes. In fact, her motto is ‘healthy not hard’!) and the rewards are so worth it. I make sure I start my day with a nourishing brekky, take an hour-long break for lunch (yes, no matter how busy I am!) and also two mini-breaks for morning and afternoon tea. The difference to my productivity and wellbeing has been incredible.
5. Prioritise rest and relaxation
Despite doing all of the above, sometimes your mojo will just be M.I.A. The great thing about being a freelancer? Rather than soldiering on and running yourself into the ground, you can simply stop working. Yes, you might have things to do. But, honouring your creative ebbs and flows will lead to far greater productivity in the long run. If you find yourself dragging your feet in the afternoon, stop working and do something restful and rejuvenating instead. Chances are you’ll be raring to go the next day, perhaps even waking up a couple of hours early to make up the time you lost the day before. Likewise, sometimes I want to take an afternoon off simply because there’s something else I’d rather be doing. If my Mum’s in town, why not go up to the Dandenongs for tea and scones? Life’s short, and the true gift of freelancing is sovereign control of your own time. As the brilliant Arianna Huffingon says, “Success isn’t defined by who goes the longest without vacation.” All your clients care about is that you get their work done well and on deadline. The best way to do that? Working when it suits you to ensure you’re operating at your optimum level.
We work for a massive portion of our lives. As well as pursuing something we love, why not approach it in a way that makes the actual process of work enjoyable? If you’re lucky enough to be a freelancer or enjoy autonomy in your corporate role, you have the ability to change things up. So, give it a go and see what works for you. Your productivity and output will be a lot better for it.
How about you? What workday rituals do you practise to up your efficiency and enjoyment?