Freelance In 40 Days [Day 21]: Do Not Treat Freelancing Like a J-O-B

Posted: October 13th, 2009

Photo by Atconc (Flickr)

Photo by Atconc (Flickr)

This is Day 21 of the Freelance in 40 Days series where you’ll learn to freelance just by taking it one day and one task at a time. Today you’ll see how to break the old habits of  work and be more efficient as a freelancer.

Ok Freelancers, We’re Not At Our Old Jobs Now

Since many of us have worked in an office environment at some time, it is hard to realize that some of the habits we had as employees do not transfer over well to freelancing. I’m not talking about the clock-watching, surfing the internet and goofing off either (though, duh, these are bad habits too).

For example, if you did have some kind of an office job, think back to exactly how you worked during those hours. Was it half-ass at times and productive at other times? How many times can you say you were working so hard that 5 PM came around and you didn’t notice? Maybe a couple?

How many times can you remember “working” and just going through the motions hoping time gets killed in the process? More than you can count?

Well, as freelancers we have that awesome freedom to set our own hours whenever the hell we want. We have to make sure, however, that we are productive during those hours since there’s no guaranteed checks coming in every two weeks.

Going through the motions won’t get you by here.

You’re Also Not An Hourly Employee

One common but anti-productive habit of new freelancers is unknowingly making themselves a worker with an hourly wage. To explain, the average freelancer typically charges an hourly rate and, by logic, will calculate earnings by that rate times the number of hours worked.

So let’s say, for example, if you work an 8 hour day and and have a rate of $25/hour then at the end of the day you just scored $200. Where the mistake lies, however, is focusing on working those 8 hours instead of taking account the actual productivity for the day.

To further explain, when your mind is focused on working X number of hours in day, isn’t it a similar mindset to working at a job? Sure, work gets done, but there is a tendency to “drift off” and work lazily while at other times you are working hard. Those lazy moments go unnoticed since you are “working” those hours you set regardless of what gets done.

Let’s paint a different scenario. Using the above example, we’ll say you gave the client an estimate of $200 which takes you an average of 8 hours to complete. Now you could work those 8 hours and be satisfied with $200 you get at the end of of it.

Isn’t it possible, though, that you could finish this work in 5, 6 hours, or even less, if you worked at the times of the day that suited you best and were most focused and concentrated? You’ll still earn your $200 but are more productive in the process, shaving off some hours that can be used for other work or enjoyment.

The lesson here: time does not equal productivity. A freelancer does not earn his bread by what he works on the clock, but instead on what he gets done during the day.

The Easy Ways To Structuring The Workday

  1. Structure your workday by creating a list of tasks you want to get done, NOT setting the number of hours you want to work. Focusing on your tasks at hand keeps your attention on work. Focusing on number of hour worked keeps your attention on the clock.
  2. Work your most productive hours. Remember, you don’t have to do the whole 9 – 5 thing. If you work best just after breakfast and coffee, but also after 10 PM, then work during those hours.
  3. Read The 4 Hour Workday article from Think Simple Now. There’s great advice on increasing your productivity while shortening your workday and covers some topics of this tutorial.

Your Homework For Today

Evaluate your typical workday as a freelancer. Are you evaluating your results by what was earned (hourly rate X hours worked)? If so, try out the easy tips above. They do not require a serious change in your routine and you will notice some serious improvement in productivity.

More on the author, Johnny Spence
Johnny is the founder of The Freelance Rant and a freelance web programmer with 8 years in the business. Have a visit at his company Oscarrr!web or see what he's up to on Twitter.

2 Comments. Join In!

  • Dan Ronken

    October 14th, 2009 at 1:58 am

    I’ve never known someone who was self employed to base their goals of the day on the amount of hours that they work instead of tasks that needed to be done. That seems peculiar, indeed.
    I fall into the trap of not charging for all of the hours involved. Tasks like research that took a little longer than I expected, or simple software glitches that caused minor delays.
    Thanks Johnny!

  • Johnny

    October 14th, 2009 at 9:54 pm


    Thanks for your input. I don’t think I explained the “hourly wage effect” fully and went back and revised it a bit.

    I agree that sometimes we get caught not charging for all the hours worked. As the saying goes, poop happens so the next time you learn to figure those into the estimate.