Years ago, and I mean before everyone was on the internet, I had a friend who lost her job. Her solution was to start her own business. I think everyone was excited about that. Before my friend starting a business, the only other people I knew who chose their hours and clients was me when I was writing. But, even then, I was writing part-time, and writing seemed like a hobby that made some side cash rather than a career.
So, my friend made up flyers for her housecleaning service, walked around to coffee shops, talked to people, and began networking. It wasn’t long before she received a call.
All I heard was her response…
“No, thank you, but don’t forget to tell your friends.” I heard her say.
Curiously, I asked, “Did you just turn down a cleaning job?”
“It was two miles away. I’m only taking jobs within a mile.”
“But, you have a car.”
“I also have a successful business and decide who I work for and when.”
“Do you have a schedule then?”
“I will work noon to 4:00.”
“That’s limiting, don’t you think?”
“My business, my hours. If I want someone else’s schedule, I will get a job for another company.”
And guess what? Within two months, with only one client willing to accept her times, and located within a mile, she was again applying to work at another company.
Writing, of course, is a different beast than housecleaning – especially so, with writing in 2020. As a writer, you can work from home and make a decent living. You have some liberties in what projects you accept, but sometimes you will need to take on those clients and projects you wouldn’t otherwise. If you are good with your money, don’t live beyond your means, and start with a few well-paying clients you can be pickier.
Don’t think you are without challenges when you work from home. The first challenge is the most difficult. When everyone else (your family and friends) is home, they are not working, and they assume the same of you. Secondly, if you have children, to them there is no such thing as work. You are Daddy or Mommy, and when they need something, you need to get it. I have a few fun stories of interviewing a client for a book when my daughter sneaks into my office throwing a tantrum because she doesn’t want the banana she wasn’t offered. (Okay, so I stole that one from a hilarious toddler-shaming page, but still the tantrums happen during interviews).
The thing is, whether you have been writing for a couple of months or several years, at some point in your career you will need to decide if you should set aside specific hours of the day to write, or if you can just wing it.
Pros of a Schedule
I know you’ve likely spent a lot of time working for “the man” and aren’t interested in constricting your life to schedules. However, they do offer a few pointed benefits.
- People will leave you alone: Eventually, everyone will catch on that you are working between certain hours and stop bothering you. In the least, they will limit their disturbances. People won’t leave you alone immediately, but if you keep plugging away, everyone will realize you need this time to bring in the money, and you are serious about your time.
- Feels like a real business: All companies have a working schedule. Setting a schedule for yourself does make you feel as if you own your own business – You know, all legit like. When you feel you own a legitimate business you are more confident, begin researching how to run and organize your company, and are proud to tell people you own your own business. Telling people that you own a company is a big deal for writers who feel they are their only employee. However, after a couple of years you will find out that while you may be your only full-time employee, you will likely employ other independent contractors and freelancers to help you with skills you don’t have – cover design, editing, layout, publishing transcriptions, etc.
- You will get more done: What’s the saying? “A goal without a plan is just an idea.” or, any variation of the expression. When you have a schedule and stick to it, you are devoting time to your craft. We have all had visions of plopping down on the couch and writing in front of the television, or setting a laptop on the treadmill at the gym or using our audio recording to get thoughts out while on a jog. But, the reality here – we never do it. I know it feels that you can write anywhere you want, but if you have a family or distractions like a TV, iPad, iPhone, and even the internet you are just never going to get as much done as if you had a schedule.
- Easier to schedule work: When you begin adding multiple clients you will realize that organizing client needs is not as easy as you thought it would be. I currently have six clients but have had as many as twenty-three at one time. It was quick for me to realize that twenty-three clients were too much. Upon adding clients you will have to find a way to organize your workload. While intended or not, a schedule will begin to form. I will work on Client A Mondays from 4:00 AM to 6:00 AM. Client B will be 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM on Wednesdays. Also, having a schedule will help when determining interview times, phone conversations, extra work, and client emergencies.
- You are making your own schedule: The problem with working for a company is their schedule does not always present the work-life balance that works best for you. As your own boss, you have the ability to set a schedule that works for you. Do you prefer mornings, days, or nights? Do you split your hours throughout the day as I do? Or, do you schedule two-hour blocks? However, you schedule yourself, and there are 168 hours in a week to schedule forty to fifty hours of your time anyway you’d like, there should be a schedule that works for your business.
Cons of a Schedule
- You have a schedule: For me, I feel this is the most difficult part of having a schedule. Like most people, I worked on someone else’s hours for a long time. Why would I want to go back to those same work hours? Sticking to a schedule can be a difficult step, especially when you want to take your kids to a park, or hang out with friends for brunch. Having a schedule means sticking to it, regardless of what is going on around you.
- Motivation to follow a schedule: Yes, you need to be motivated to keep your schedule if you have one. Otherwise, you will soon be without a schedule. This is hard to do because you don’t have anyone breathing down your neck to do it. You have to be your own motivator. If you’re anything like me, being your own motivator can be a struggle at times. However, also like me, you can do it.
- Deciding how flexible you want to be: When people realize you work from home you are suddenly free-game any time of the day. I am not talking just friends and family, but clients as well. While most clients will respect your time, some will feel you should be available at a time that suits them. Considering you may have clients around the world, time zones can be problematic to your schedule, but so can arranging phone conversations with people who do work a set schedule. So, regardless of your schedule, you will need some flexibility.
How to Make a Schedule
I’d like to tell you that setting a schedule is easy. You pick two times a day – start on one and end on another. It can be easy like that until you realize life gets in the way. Distractions aren’t likely to go away as easy as you think. Here are some tips on developing your own schedule:
- Work a time that works for you: If you are not a morning person, then don’t schedule yourself in the morning. I tell my sons this all the time. If you are only going to hit your snooze button and be late for work because you stayed out late the night before, then get a job that starts in the afternoon. Why force yourself into a schedule that is doomed to fail. Your schedule should also fit those around you. Remember, “if you work for someone else, their schedule affects your home life. If you work for yourself, your home life affects your work life.” Work when your kids are in school or before they wake up in the morning. However, you do it, find a schedule that you can stick to.
- Find a place to work: This is much easier said than done. However, if you can find a place to work where you can close a door and tell people not to bother you, then you are doing well. I believe Stephen King said he worked in his laundry room in the early days. I worked in a closet for several years. It was just big enough to hold a small desk and small chair. I also wrote The Treasure at Devil’s Hole two hours before work every day at a health club, in a closet under the stairs. Finding a place to go to (office, laundry room, closet, Starbucks) at a specific time every day will help you stick to your schedule.
- Let EVERYONE know: For me, my family knows my schedule. My friends have a good idea of my schedule. Clients rarely know it because I have flexibility in my family life. However, the people who are most likely to affect my schedule know and for the most part are very good at allowing me to stick to it. The only exception is my highly independent five-year-old daughter and the cutest little three-year-old in the world who likes to sit on Da-wah’s lap and delete everything I just wrote. Joking aside, letting everyone know your schedule will eliminate the vast number of distractions you will come across in the day.
- Schedule breaks: For years I have had a break pattern I follow. This helps me not “bleed from the forehead” or let my eyes boggle out from their sockets while I stare at a screen. My pattern is to write for 45 minutes and take a 15-minute break. During my break, I will stretch, talk to family, eat a snack, do a couple of sit-ups (or not), and find anything else to break the routine and take my mind from work. In many ways, breaks are meditative and help to keep you focused when you return to work. I’ve found these breaks keep me more productive and excited about work than if I were to do a several hour cram session.
How I Made a Schedule
My schedule has changed over the years and with regular clients across every timezone in the U.S., as well as England, two Australian time zones, and Singapore I need to provide a degree of flexibility. However, I am very lucky that my clients seem more worried about my schedule than their own. First, my home life. My fiance also works from home, from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Considering I wake up early anyway our schedules blend pretty well. I start work at 3:30 AM and work until 6:30 AM. Then after the kids are in school, I work 8:30 AM to 3:30 AM. On the weekends I work that first block both Saturday and Sunday. So, on schedule, I work about 50 hours a week. In addition to my scheduled hours, I will have an occasional phone conversation, meet a client for lunch, or meet someone to discuss a potential project. These might add a few more hours a week. My schedule now was easy to set up, though when both kids were home it was much more difficult.
Just remember, find a schedule that fits your lifestyle, but also incorporates enough hours to keep your business running. Your schedule will change and evolve as your life-schedule changes too.