Since I found myself on my own back in 2008, I’ve struggled with staying motivated throughout the day. I felt that if I wasn’t sitting in front of my computer promptly at 8am either scouring job boards or working on freelance work, I wasn’t really “working”. In reality, most of my day was sent on instant messenger, Wikipedia rabbit holes, and Starbucks runs. I still managed to get what I needed to get done completed, but I never felt like I had a truly productive day.
When I moved back to Seattle in 2009, and started freelancing, it became even more of a problem, as I wasn’t making the most of my billable hours, and costing myself money by dealing with constant distractions, both online and off. I realized, though, that my most productive times were happening at the same time each day, like clockwork. Every afternoon, after a morning of Facebook, Twitter, and pretending like I was going to the gym when I really wasn’t, I’d sit down and start cranking out stuff. Unfortunately, this productive time came right about the time Melissa came home from work. Another distraction I was more than willing to entertain.
Last year, when I ended my job search, and dedicated myself to my business, I realized I needed to get myself on a schedule. This seems counterintuitive to the big upside of working from home, mainly not having to be on a schedule. But I realized that having TOO much time is nearly as bad as not having enough time. I decided to start controlling my time, and stop letting it control me.
Here’s what I knew: I have a lot of flexibility in my routine, so I don’t have to plant myself down at my desk exactly at 8am. With my laptop synced to my iMac at home, I can work from anywhere, and always have access to my files. I am at my most creative after lunch in the afternoon, and in the late evenings. Melissa gets home around five, and I want to make sure she gets my attention. Plus, with my smartphone always by my side, and most of my work in the cloud, even if I’m away from my desk, I can respond to 90% of client requests, even if I’m at the gym or the grocery store. With all of this in mind, I put together the following schedule:
8am: Good Morning! I usually wake up between 8 and 8:30, depending on how late I was up working the night before. I allow myself to wake up naturally, grab some breakfast, and catch up on the news on my iPad via Flipboard.
9am: ”Brand building”: I hate going to the gym, but I need to go to the gym, so I make it the first thing I do, whenever I can. That way, I can get it out of the way, and not feel guilty about not going. Why do I call it “brand building”? Well, as an independent creative, I am my brand. And I want to put my “brand” in the best possible light. Losing some of these excess pounds not only add years to my life, but going to the gym gets me around people where I can exercise the social muscles in my brain, and actually have conversations with people. Sadly, between the holidays and a nagging back injury, I’ve fallen off this part of my schedule. I’m looking forward to getting back to it very soon.
11am: Back from the gym, and freshly showered and dressed, I sit down at my computer and check in on my social networks. When I’ve posted a blog, it’s usually been up for a few hours at this point, so I check in to see if anyone’s had any feedback on it. I check in on Dribble, Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook to see what’s going on. And I take a quick look through my favorite blogs, Brand New, FPO, Indexed, Dr. Saturday, and Eleven Warriors to get my brain ready to work.
Noon: Here’s where my creative time begins. I start my creative day fleshing out ideas for this blog. I have two known creative times, after lunch, and right before I go to bed. I keep a notepad by the bed for the latter, which is when I usually get ideas for blog posts, and start putting them together in my head. I’ll get up, write them down, and save them for now. Sometimes they make it in, other times they don’t, but this is the time where I wordbarf onto the screen, and clean up what’s there into some kind of post. (Sorry for that visual.) Since I’m writing so late in the day, I set up Tumblr to post them first thing the next morning, so I get a full day of exposure on the blog.
1pm: Lunch. I try not to work through lunch. I really don’t like the feeling of being tethered to my desk, and taking an hour break away from it to eat lunch, even if I’m just downstairs watching TV or something, allows me to clear my head for the concentrated creative hours that are ahead of me.
2pm: CREATE! This is my peak creative time. Here’s where I’ll dive into the “design” part of my day, jumping on work projects, side projects, anything and everything creative. I have a whiteboard in my office where I keep and flesh out ideas, and this is the time that I go to town on them. If I don’t have any client work, I’ll jump into some of the side projects I’m working on, like the film project, the sports blog I’m starting with a couple of friends, or the iPad app that I’m starting to flesh out with Melissa.
6pm: Melissa Time - Melissa usually gets home around 5, but she and I have agreed on a rule that I work until six, then I’m all hers. Having this break is usually good, because my subconscious can tackle whatever creative problem I’m working on. Sometimes, I’ll even bounce things off Melissa-she’s a great sounding board. She goes to bed earlier than I do, so I put my work away, and don’t touch it again until I put her to bed around 10, when I…
10pm: CREATE SOME MORE! If I have a really good bit of inspiration in the afternoon, I’ll leave a note for myself, and it’s easy to jump back into it. If I don’t have any inspiration, I’ll usually do some sketching, or jot down ideas for future blog posts or whatever. Sometimes I’ll just get in bed, and read until I fall asleep. Some of my best ideas come to me at that state, so it’s a good way to get some good momentum for the next day.
1am: Bedtime (zzzz…)
Obviously, this isn’t set in stone-sometimes I’ll have lunch with friends, or go somewhere to collaborate with other creatives, or I’ll have client meetings, or whatever. But most days, this is a good template for how my day will go. Knowing I’m giving myself a dedicated time to be creative instead of trying to stretch it out through the day has been a major boon to my productivity. I’d advise any creatives to figure out when you’re most creative, then plan your day around that. If you know you’re creative in the morning, then get up early, get your creative stuff done, then save your boring paperwork for the afternoon. You’ll find you’re much more productive in that concentrated four-hour period than you are surfing the Internet all day in the name of “finding creative inspiration”.
Soundtrack for this post: