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Why business hours matter

October 25, 2009

At the typical company, everyone notices what time someone leaves the office and what time people get in. We’re still stuck in a workplace that was designed around producing widgets on an assembly line. As life moves more and more online, and new technologies are invented that allow traditional offices to be truly optional, the punch clock mentality will slowly disappear. By the time Gen Y is ready to retire, people won’t even know what a punch clock is, and maybe then we will finally be working in the environment that knowledge workers are meant to work in. ~ Ryan Healy of Employee Evolution

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One of the greatest rewards of being a freelancer is getting to determine your own work hours. You have no punch clock or sign-in sheet, no 9 to 5 grind you’re forced to adhere to. You can follow the natural rhythms of your body and work the most productive hours of your day, whether morning or night. You can accommodate your kids and be home for them when they’re sick (or pretending to be), spend more time with your husband, ensure the dog gets enough attention and doesn’t leave you a present on the carpet after being left home alone for over 8 hours. This sounds all fine and dandy on paper. In fact, most day-timers would be pretty jealous to hear we have such a privilege. But with freedom comes responsibility.

Until this month rolled around, I was an ugly mess. After being conditioned to accept and adapt to the 9 to 5 slavery schedule that existed in both my university days and employment days, when I hit the freelance road pavement, I didn’t exactly hit it hard and running. I felt like I just sort of got plopped there without a map or any guiding star to speak of. Talk about utter confusion. I was in completely unfamiliar terrain with no boss telling me what to do and when to do it. So what did I do? I floundered, I treaded muck, I put in too many hours on some days and hardly any on others.  I knew I had to figure out how to schedule my time more efficiently while maximizing my productivity or else I was never going to develop my business the way I wanted to.

Not only that, but to add to the equation I have a night-hawk boyfriend (in other words, he works nights). Trying to find quality time together while I was feeling out this transition stage promised me a one-way ticket to FREAK OUT CITY! Still…I’m not ashamed that it took me almost 3 months just to strategize with time management and get over the mental desire to quit. If you’re new to the game, I can guarantee you’ll experience this too.

As you can see, even if you do own the flexible schedule of a freelancer, keeping business hours is extremely important. In the beginning months, I was horrible at this. I wasn’t putting in enough productive hours, my sleeping schedule was chaotic, and my mental and physical health were suffering. Keeping a schedule is fundamental, but I love having the flexibility to innovate a schedule that works for me rather than have one dictated.

So I started experimenting with a schedule I could keep. This is how it turned out:

4am-Noonish: Sleepy time.

Noonish-5pm: I get up, but my brain isn’t working at its best and I’m easily distracted by MSN conversations with friends and daily going-ons. So I use this time to do non-thinky stuff like admin, invoicing, researching, marketing and interviewing. It also gives my clients a portion of ‘regular business hours’ to contact me. Usually I manage to get a workout in too.

6pm-10pm: Dinner and I usually can spend some quality time with the boyfriend before he has to go to work.

10pm-4am: This is when I do my writing. My concentration is best during this time – nothing good is on TV, the world goes extremely quiet, and everyone is asleep which means my friends aren’t distracting me with YouTube videos of dancing monkeys or juvenile fart machine pranks that I “just have to see”.

Rinse and repeat.

Everyone is different and there’s nothing wrong with keeping a 9 to 5 schedule even as a freelancer if that’s what works for you. Experiment and adapt your schedule to fit your unique circumstances and needs. What kind of schedule do you keep?

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One comment

  1. Hi Janine!
    I wanted to stop by and check out your blog. It’s great by the way! Thanks for finding me and adding me to your blogroll. I have added you to mine as well. It’s so hard starting out as a freelancer and it is so important to have a support system. I’m finding a lot of help and support in the other freelancers I am meeting on and off line. We should definitely keep in touch. I don’t have MSN, but I am on Twitter – RaeConover.



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