Creating a daily schedule as a freelancer + new process video.
I did start this blog post off, intending for it to be one, single post, however after writing the first section and doing a word count I realised that it just wasn't going to happen, so I'm going to make this into a month long series covering organisation/planning of your time as a freelancer. There's also a new process video at the bottom of my recent Junkrat fan art for those who like to watch an illustration from start to finish!
I've recently had the awesome opportunity of jumping into freelancing full time for a while, I'm just testing the waters right now, but it's a great learning experience and every aspect of being self employed full time is trial and error and also differs greatly for each individual. Seeing as this journey is forcing me to change my ways to benefit myself and my business to the fullest, I thought I would share what I've learnt where I can for others in a similar position.
The biggest thing I've been struggling with so far is my daily schedule. I have a huge interest (borderline obsession) with reading other artists daily routines and schedules to figure out how they do what they do, when they do it and what sort of hours they work. It is always really informative, but also really damaging at the same time. A lot of creatives, no matter what industry they work in like to get up extremely early, like 4-5AM, 6AM at a push and start their day straight away, being so productive that they can finish up around 2PM and then sometimes carry on going for a few hours late in the evening. Either that or they are the other way round and work until 4-5AM in the morning.
So I'm going to cover, and break down what I've been doing lately to improve my schedule and productivity, I have only just started this so it'll be worth me revisiting and updating this blog post in a few months time. Planning and organising your days will be the topic of next week's post.
First of all, I refuse to work really late into the early morning, if it was a big project or I'd fallen behind on a deadline then fair enough, but it's not something I will intentionally introduce into my schedule, I know it does work for some people but I just feel like you have night and day for a reason, and I can safely say from working night shifts in retail, it does not do kind things to your well being!
So when I set out as a full time freelancer a few weeks ago, it was the first time in about 5 years that I've actually been able to have two days off a week instead of zero or one, and I decided to make those the weekend, because it's pretty standard, it's when everyone else is off so it's easier to see people and do things. So I knew I'd be working Monday to Friday and my first schedule was to start around 10am and finish around 7PM with an hour break in between, that wasn't quite working so I changed it to 8AM-5PM with an hour break around 12PM. I tried these for over a week each, both times usually starting out with some warm up sketches, because that's what a lot of artist's do, or working on personal projects first thing and then working on client projects throughout the day. I always have a few client projects on the go, so as long as I was keeping to my deadlines, I just worked on whatever I fancied, always making sure to do a to-do list the night before.
But it just wasn't working, every day, no matter what, mid-afternoon I just absolutely crashed, I didn't want to be sat at my desk, I got really distracted and just wanted to get up, even to the point where I really wanted to do housework/chores just to get up for a bit. I thought that I just wasn't concentrating enough, maybe losing focus or just making excuses, because I'd read so much about how other artists work I thought that that's how I should be too. Then I came to the realisation that in the middle of the afternoon, I just wasn't productive work wise, I always become fidgety and want to be doing something else. Being self employed, we can set our own schedules, and we are our own motivation and encouragement so it's important to know when you're most productive and use that to your advantage. It isn't wrong to work weird hours compared to everyone else, you just have to do what's best for you.
So that's what I did, and it's been working great. First of all, I don't sleep very well, I get really tired from around 10PM onwards, but if I try to sleep then, I can lay in bed for hours and still be wide awake. So I'm happy now going to sleep around 1AM, I get up around 8-8.30AM and get a shower, get dressed, make a coffee etc. and start my day out by answering any emails, the warm up sketching first thing doesn't work for me, because my brain takes a while to come out of sleep mode and I feel like if I have client projects that people are waiting on then I should work on those, and that nags at me when I sketch first thing, again it's not wrong if it works for you, but it just isn't for me. If I do feel like sketching I will though, but I don't force it and sometimes save sketching for when I need an eye break from the computer, and then I'll start working around 10AM (or earlier if I feel like it) and I'll focus this time purely on client projects, sometimes watching a Twitch stream whilst I do so for some background noise. I work for 3 hours and finish at 1PM, this is key for me, because it's the time when I become least productive creatively, and it used to make me feel really guilty taking a long break mid day, however, it's better to take a break and start fresh at a more productive time, than carry on working, get nothing done, but then have to work late into the evening to finish everything up (which is what I used to do). I then have a break for 2 hours, doing chores, having some lunch, playing some games and sometimes sketching and working on personal goals, whatever I fancy really.
Once I've had that break I feel really ready to get back to work, so I start working again at 3PM up until around 8-9PM with a short break in the middle for something to eat. I write my to do list for the next day, and then for another 2 hours I work on personal projects or stream on Twitch, I don't have to do this, and I could happily leave it out if needed, but I have my own goals and I enjoy working towards them. I used to do this every day first thing, before I even checked my phone but I found that I sometimes lost myself in the project, so now I do this at the end of the day because it's something I really look forward to. Around 10-11PM I finish up properly, get in bed and either watch a film or play a game for a couple of hours, this is when I can really chill out for a bit. It does leave my day pretty packed, however I'm finding that I'm getting so much more done, and the quality and speed of my work has improved a TON, which I'm extremely happy about. Now that I have the weekends off too, it means that I can really knuckle down on weekdays, be productive, feel good about it and then unwind on my days off.
A FEW TIPS FOR ADJUSTING YOUR OWN DAILY SCHEDULE
WORK OUT WHEN YOU'RE MOST PRODUCTIVE HOURS ARE
The best way to do this is to either pay attention to yourself or start a diary and note down how you feel and when. I shrugged off the fact that I slumped everyday in the afternoon as me just not concentrating, I should've listened to my body and made the changes needed. For some people their most productive period comes first thing, so they do all the difficult tasks first and then carry on working through a less productive period so that they working hours are all in one segment, personally I prefer to work at my two peak chunks of time and do other things in my less productive periods, there really is no right or wrong.
THINK ABOUT HOW YOU CAN WORK TO BENEFIT YOUR CLIENTS
The way I work now is much more beneficial to my clients because I can reply to any queries first thing and catch up on any feedback that might affect the projects I'm working on that day. I personally like to really involve my clients in the process, so solidly working on something for those first 3 hours and then having a 2 hour break means that I can make a substantial amount of progress, send it over to them and they then have a decent window of time to get back to me. I'm going to cover this a little more in next weeks blog post too though so check back for that.
WORK BLOODY HARD, ESPECIALLY ON YOUR PERSONAL IDEAS
If you add up the maximum hours I could potentially work on my current schedule, excluding time spent streaming or working on personal projects after finishing client work, it ends up being around 9-10 hours. So to then go and work another 2 hours on a personal project or do a Twitch stream seems pretty exhausting, and it is, but I already feel incredibly lucky to be able to do what I do, so I ensure I put a full days work into client projects first and foremost because they pay my bills, but to then be able to put in another couple of hours on projects that I'm really excited about is really motivating and in all honesty, sometimes I carry them on for 3-4 hours. I'm prepared to do this 1. Because it doesn't matter how much you earn or what your client list is, the best thing about being creative is being creatively fulfilled and the best way to do that is through personal projects, because you can do whatever you like and 2. Because the weekend is my time to chill, I do no creative work on Sundays and sometimes do some editing on a Saturday morning and that's it, so other than that I feel like I should and can put my full effort into my personal and career goals throughout the week. This is not at all to say anyone should over work because that's wrong, but you should be doing all that you can to become a better version of yourself and that also includes taking time out and taking days off to refresh.
DON'T FEEL GUILTY
It is extremely common and very easy to feel guilty about having a day off, especially when you run your own business, there are multiple reasons for this and although I think a lot of creatives will be able to relate to that feeling of guilt, they will also know how important it is to take some time out. I think this is more relevant when you're first starting out, I've been doing this professionally for 3 years now, and even though I now devote myself to it full time, I still find it really hard to take time off because I honestly don't know what to do with myself, and even when I do find something to do, I feel like I'm wasting my life and should be working, sometimes I even want to be working, especially on my own projects, which I think is a little different, but it's still important to take sometime to properly detach yourself from it all completely. Yeah you might lose out on a day or two of work that you could be doing but you'll gain that back throughout the week because you'll be more productive and motivated, in turn getting more done!
I hope this was valuable to at least one person out there, as usual for posts like this, I could write for days but I think this covers it all in a simple way, next week I'll be writing about organising and planning as a freelancer, which again, is something I've recently had to become more serious about!
And as promised, here's the process video for my Junkrat fan art!