One of the biggest appeals of being a freelancer or self employed individual is having the freedom to structure work days however you see fit. But with this newfound freedom comes the challenge of maintaining productivity and balance throughout the 24 hours a day you have to work with. Today, I’ll share some behind-the-scenes of my typical work day and show you how I structure my days to run my businesses while maintaining some much-needed “me” time.
Before I get started, I should emphasize that the schedule I’m about to explain is my ideal work day that usually happens when event photography season is not in full swing. When event season is here, my ideal work day schedule is completely obliterated, and anything goes.
My mornings typically don’t begin until 9:30am. The first thing I do before I even get out of bed is reach for my cell phone and check my email. I’ve read reports that say this is actually a counterproductive first move of the day, but I’ve had multiple times when this has paid off. Checking my email first helps me set my priorities for the day; I don’t usually make any replies. I just scan the subject lines to see if anything is urgent. As a freelance photographer, it’s not uncommon that I’ll wake up to an email requesting that I be at a photo shoot an hour later. That’s exactly what happened a few months ago when an email arrived at 8:00am asking me if I wanted to photograph actor Gary Sinise at 11:00am. Did I rearrange my entire day’s schedule to fit it in? You bet I did!
9:35am – 10:00am
After checking my email, I roll out of bed and immediately make a beeline to my stove to heat water for my French Press. No other work begins until I get my daily cup of caffeine brewing. While waiting for my cup of joe, I head to my computer and handle email responses and sort the rest of the emails. I usually wake up to between 20-50 new emails every morning and I obsess about properly categorizing them until I have zero unread messages. By the time 10am rolls around, the real work begins.
Confession: I totally work in my pajamas all day, unless of course I’m headed out on a shoot or meeting. What’s the point of dressing up otherwise?
The rest of my mornings are usually dedicated to my social media clients. At the moment, I perform social media services for 7 clients and I spend at least 90 minutes a day researching new content, scheduling it to go out, and handling any responses. Occasionally, I’ll also have status update meetings with these clients.
Given my late starts, my first meal of the day is brunch which typically consists of scrambled eggs (one egg white and one whole egg), steamed greens (kale or rainbow chard), and a carb such as two corn tortillas or a cup of black eyed peas. The meal is based on Tim Ferriss’ Slow-Carb Diet and is chosen not just for health reasons, but also because it’s quick and easy to make and very cost effective as it costs under $10 for a week’s worth of daily brunches. Also, I dislike most American breakfast foods, so a savory brunch is more my choice for starting off the day. Brunch only takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and I dine at my desk while watching an inspiring TED Talk.
The rest of the afternoon depends purely on whatever projects I have on my plate at the moment. It could involve a consulting session on the phone with a web design client, preparing a sales quote for a prospective client, conducting a product photography shoot, writing a blog for Digital Photography School, writing a blog for my site, archiving old photos, etc. It depends purely on the week’s deadlines and commitments.
If for some odd reason I don’t have any deadlines or commitments, I spend that time working on my website and social media sites. I do pretty much all of my lead generation and sales prospecting online, so every part of my online presence needs to be sharp and current in terms of both presentation and content. There’s always something to be worked on, whether it’s enhancing SEO, preparing content freebies and guides, or looking up networking events to attend.
Back in my corporate office days, I always worked out at the gym after work, every day without fail. I stick to that same workout schedule, just bumping it up an hour so I can get the bulk of my workout done before the rest of the 9-5ers arrive and crowd up the gym. I usually spend an hour strength training and an hour running on the treadmill. If for whatever reason I can’t squeeze in time at the gym, or I’m simply not feeling like it, I spend at least 30 minutes walking outside.
After working out, I head home to shower and then scavenge for food. While my brunches are pretty structured, dinners are almost always variable. Rarely do I ever cook anything ahead of time, so usually it’s either a trip to the grocery store to pick out semi-ready-to-go meals, or simply ordering out. Whatever the meal choice, it is usually consumed in the living room while watching Vice News to get caught up on headlines around the world.
Following a pretty leisurely late afternoon and evening, I usually return to my computer to continue working. I’m a night owl, and my creativity and desire to work is usually strongest from 9pm onwards. Typical projects are continuations of the afternoon things I was working on, or usually creative blogging or photo editing. If the task at hand is relatively brainless, such as repetitive photo editing, I’ll usually have a movie or TV show running on my other monitor.
If I don’t have any work to do, or simply need to give myself a mental break, I spend the night doing my favorite leisure activity of watching a movie or documentary, learning something new via a Lynda tutorial, or reading up on the latest marketing and design trends via the barrage of resources I have bookmarked in my Pocket.
Around 1:30am, I start to wrap it up and head for bed, sometimes reading a chapter or two of the latest book I’m tackling.
Why My Schedule Works
1. I know when I’m most productive and I embrace it.
I’ve been dubbed a night owl since I was a toddler and continue to embrace that title and lifestyle to this day. I plan to do the bulk of my creative work late at night, and thanks to my crazy concert photography schedule, this actually works in my favor since I’m often committed to staying up until 2am or sometimes as late as 5am the night after a show to submit my edited photos on time.
2. I aim to work out daily.
Daily workouts have always been a necessity not just to stay physically fit, but to clear my head, meditate on an idea, and get exposure to other people. Workouts are often the first and sometimes only time of the day I make an effort to leave my home office. Also, I’ve come to embrace walking as an enjoyable form of working out so it is always a viable alternative if crunching time at the gym doesn’t sound favorable.
3. I use my email and calendar as to-do lists.
I’m totally aware of the recent criticisms about doing this, but using my email inbox to structure my days and work sessions has become a way of life for me. Messages remain marked unread until the task is completed, and every single event and task I commit to goes into my Google Calendar. If there are two things I absolutely cannot live without it’s my Gmail and Google Calendar.
4. I treat personal use of social media and leisurely news site reading as a reward.
If you’ve gotten this far into the post, you’re probably wondering when I fit personal social media use or reading daily news headlines. The truth is, on typical work days when I’m on a lot of deadlines, I don’t do either one. I only spend time on social media and news sites when I’m between projects and don’t have a lot on my plate. While many times this seems even to me to be anti-social, this discipline does wonders in terms of maintaining focus while in these important building block phases of my business and career.
If you’re a freelancer or self employed individual, what does your typical work day look like? Let me know in the comments below!
*Featured image by Colorvale Actions