Stack OverflowGood ways of disciplining yourself when freelancing at home?
[+46] [23] Ancide
[2009-07-13 16:04:02]
[ self-improvement freelance discipline ]

I have noticed that my self-discipline is very bad when it comes to getting up in the morning, eating regularly and working on fixed hours. When you have a job to go to, it is very different since you have fixed hours. You have a everyday routine.

But when you start freelancing and you do it at home, you have so much more freedom. I find it extremely easy to stay up late in the night and then in the morning I'm too tired to get up when I'm supposed to. Same thing with working, it's easy to do everything but work.

I might have the worst self-discipline in the world, so what tips do you have for me and everyone else which finds it hard to keep a everyday routine?

(1) I go to a job but have the same self-discipline issues that you describe... I'll favorite your question for future reference. ;-) - Frank V
My problem is that I see that little CoD World at War icon on the desktop and I can't help but click on it :) My suggestion: remove all games from the computer (keep them on a separate one if you have one). - amischiefr
(1) Develop under GNU/Linux and you'll be on your way ;) That's what I do, you'll have at least more multitaskable games. - voyager
Not limited to programming, but of interest to lots of programmers who work freelance (and others, judging by the votes). Voting to reopen. - tvanfosson
[+47] [2009-07-13 16:09:21] Mario Ortegón [ACCEPTED]
  • Set yourself fixed hours to work. Then you can try and keep them, and fail... until you get used to them. In other words, create yourself a routine.
  • Get a room and set it up as an office, no interruptions allowed while working.
  • No TV, or anything of the sort in your office room
  • No long breaks while working, specially to do household stuff. Short ones are of course ok.
  • Maybe some fixed afternoon physical activity like going to the gym, doing martial arts or something of the sort would work. That would help break the habit of overrunning your work hours late into the night, and would help you sleep better.

(1) This is some great advice. Thank you! - Ancide
I would like having time for going to gym...where do you live, mate? - Scoregraphic
Germany... better work/life balance that the US ;) - Mario Ortegón
[+25] [2009-07-13 16:10:18] Weegee

My best advice is to act like you're going into an office. Wake up early in the morning, get dressed like you're going to work, then go into your home office and just work. Make yourself have a fixed routine. If you have a home computer that you "play" on, don't use that one, get a laptop or something and load it with only the software and tools you need for work. A lot of freelancers get into a routine that makes them end up working late into the night, but making yourself follow a routine helps a lot.

If you find yourself still having troubles, you need to go and get yourself an office outside of your home.

(6) +1 for getting dressed. I've tried to hop out of bed and start coding in my PJs, and it just doesn't work. - e.James
(1) Ditto; in my freelancing days I always had to act like I was going to work or my productivity was just crap. - Weegee
@eJames, I've the solution, don't hop out of bed, work on it ! - Nicolas Dorier
(3) +1 for "act like you're going into an office" .. you ARE working for an omniscient boss (you), so make sure you are punctual :-) - lexu
(1) Definitively dressing as if going to work helps getting into the right mindset. It doesn't mean, wear a business suit, but surely it doesn't feel right to work with shorts +1 - Mario Ortegón
Nice advice. You ARE going to the office (in your home) and you ARE in the office (when you work at home) so ... just do it! - Perica Zivkovic
[+10] [2009-07-13 18:17:16] Frank V

A bit of a joke but, stay off Stack Overflow? :-)

Yes! definately! I have tried, but I could only stay off stack overflow for about an hour :D - Ancide
[+5] [2009-07-13 16:09:57] lexu

Be aware and remind yourself, that certain hours of your day "belong" to your job.

Plan your day/week ahead of time, validate after the fact, learn what causes the delta, use that in planning.

(1) For precisely this reason, I've started using a bug tracker (FogBugz) and I try to be as honest as possible when using the time tracking. Looking back on delays, I "learn what causes the delta" and use it to make better plans of the upcoming days/weeks. - Pete
[+4] [2009-07-13 16:11:55] Robin Day

Instead of using the word freelance, use "self employed". Then you might realise that you're employing yourself and you should treat yourself just like any other employee! If you're slacking, punish yourself the way you'd expect to if you were working for someone else.

[+2] [2009-07-13 16:16:59] David

Replicating a real work environment is what works best for most people - figure out your "office hours" and designated break times, and then stick to them. If you have family around the house during the day, make sure they know that you are busy when you are in "the office".

Remove distractions where possible - hopefully you have an actual office in your house (with a door you can close), as doing it from the kitchen table is going to be a constant problem with regards to keeping on task.

It also helps to get dressed - not a shirt and tie, just make sure you wear some "Friday casual" clothes instead sitting around in your pajamas.

If you want to get work done, you ultimately need to treat your home office as an extension of your normal office, it just has a much shorter commute, and a maximum of one hot secretary to oogle.

I think the remove distractions is especially important. So I'm going to start with logging out from stackoverflow, hehe. - Ancide
[+2] [2009-07-13 16:06:49] KevinDTimm

You answered this yourself:

"When you have a job to go to, it is very different since you have fixed hours. You have a everyday routine."

Why is freelance any different that the above?

(1) Because when you freelance at home you don't HAVE to start working at 8 in the morning. You always know you could sleep 2 extra hours without getting fired. So my question is what's the best tip for encourage yourself to keeping a everyday routine? I find this really hard. - Ancide
(1) The discipline in an office and for a freelance it's so different. It's not the same to go jogging every day alone that if you go with friends at 7:00 every day. The probabilities are higher to go with other people. - FerranB
I disagree with both of you, I have a job either way. It starts at my 'start of day' and ends at my 'end of day'. I just have a shorter commute :) - KevinDTimm
[+2] [2009-07-13 16:09:42] Alan Haggai Alavi

I find it important to take heed to my body's requirements. We should not damage our biological calendar.

Try to develop a time-table. Initially, you will not be able to follow it. However, after some time, you will hopefully be able to follow it. The time-table should cover your daily activities.

Take time for getting refreshed. An outing, chatting with friends can all help in keeping up mental health level.

[+2] [2009-07-13 20:59:20] hewhocutsdown

I have a slightly different take on this; I worked full-time the last two years of high school (web design, and then as a sound technician) while home schooling. I compressed my senior year into 6 months, and had no 'classes' or enforced schedule.

Many of the challenges you describe above I sympathize with, and for me the recreation of a structured environment did not help. Rather, I found it unbearably oppressive and my productivity ground to a halt.

For myself, three things helps

  • The above comment regarding knowing yourself and your body rhythm helps a lot!
  • Make a note at the end of each day what you intend to accomplish tomorrow, or at least the start task. It helps cull the introductory unfocused time that oftens comes at the beginning of the work day.
  • While your work area should be conducive to work, don't put things off until 'everything's perfect'. This is the typical writer's dilemma, when the reality is the situation simply requires jumping into the problem at hand.

Finally, you may feel that a kind of accountability helps. This can take as extreme a form as you would like [is simply being on IM or having a little desktop reminder sufficient, or do you need your browser history to be auto-forwarded to your manager?]. If the latter actually sounds necessary, you may be better off finding an office job.

PS - I lied, I have one more thing to add. If you have kids, you either need an agreement with your spouse that office time is office time and permit no interruptions (within reason), or get out of the house. As a father of a toddler, I find that staking out a position at the local coffee shop is the only way I can currently get 'home' work time in; our house is open enough that there isn't a space for me to work without interruption.

All the best.

[+2] [2009-07-13 16:17:48] e.James

Many of the points I made in my answer to how do you manage your own small project? [1] apply to this question as well. Here are the two most relevant ones, directly quoted:

Getting Things Done: There is a great book [2] (of the same name) by David Allen which deals with how to manage all of your time, wether it be work, play, relaxation, or your small projects. I found his techniques extremely useful. They won't help you lay out your project schedule directly, but they will help you maximize whatever time you do have.

Keep your work area well-defined: Set aside an area (ideally, a home office or something similar) where you will work on the project. When you are in that place, work only on the project. Even if it is just a small corner within your office, that place should be reserved for the project. When you have time to work on it, sit in that place. When it is time to relax or do other things, sit somewhere else.


[+2] [2009-07-13 16:18:24] billb

Get an office. Even designating a room in your home as an 'office' is usually not good enough. I have the opportunity to work from home every day and I never do. If you're a one man shop, you can probably lease a single office (not the ones where they provide a receptionist and all of the other junk you don't need) for a less than a few hundred a month. And before you balk at the cost, think of the lost time and revenue. It probably far exceeds the office cost.

[+2] [2009-07-13 16:30:06] community_owned

I'm one of the lucky few who has very little trouble staying on task at home - in fact I have a much harder time stopping long enough to come into my office.

That said - here's what I would do:

Pretend like you have a real job. Tell yourself [and mean it] that if you can't make it into the office on time on a regular basis after a month or so, you'll fire yourself. That means you'll go find an office gig if you can't swing working from home. You need a real reason to change any behavior - and that's a stellar one.

You could always try the age-old method of guilt, if you'd prefer. Just remind yourself of the clients you'll be letting down and not getting business from again if you don't get off your ass and get the work done.

The bottom line: You're the boss AND the employee. Sometimes you need to put on the boss hat.

[+2] [2009-07-13 17:18:49] Jonathan Deamer

Weegee [1] pretty much said it all above, especially about getting dressed :-)

But I'd also add: make sure to get some social/human interaction. That's one thing you may miss about going in to the office; even if you've never necessarily been great friends with your colleagues, it's surprising how much of an affect a bit of small talk or shared coffee-making duties can have.

Try to meet a friend for lunch, or even invite a fellow freelancer to share your work space.


[+2] [2009-11-11 09:46:22] kruczkowski

Quite simple, you need to wake up on time and take your laptop to the local coffee shop. This is important as it gets you dressed, out of the house and on battery power. Most laptops have about 1.5~2 hour range. So with a G3 card or WiFi, check your email and get yourself a paper based diary (find one you like) This is important because when your battery is dead, then you can still use your notes :)

During this hour or two, enjoy your coffee or tee and then check your emails, review your SO, news sites and make a list of what you want to get done today.

After that, go back home, grab a stack and start crossing off the items off the list, one-by-one.

[+2] [2009-11-11 11:27:50] Cosmic Flame

The painter Rene Magritte had a solution to your problem:

The story goes that he'd wake up punctually at the same time every morning, pack his portfolio as if he were going off to work at an office, kiss his wife goodbye and leave the house. Then he'd walk around the block, come back to the house, go upstairs to his studio and paint. At 5 o'clock, he'd reverse the process and come back home. ( Source [1])


[+1] [2009-11-11 09:58:17] Kirschstein

You could give the Pomodoro Technique [1] a go.

Setup a VM Image for your work, make this a very clean install, no games, very clear desktop. Make it very obvious to yourself that when you're in this VM you're in 'work mode', no WoW or CoD icons winking at you when you minimise a window.


[+1] [2009-07-14 00:49:01] Synetech inc.

I had the same problem. In fact, once I finished school, I found that when I am not working (eg stressed and miserable), time seems to go really fast (the past few years are a blur that feels like a few months at the most), whereas when I am working or auditing classes, time feels slow again (eg one Monday to the next feels like more than just a single day).

Worse, a few years ago, I actually got to the point where I was sleeping for 16+ hours per day (I was constantly exhausted for no reason), and even slept for >21 hours one day. For me, it was the realization that I am wasting my life and time, and the embarrassment that motivated me to pull my act together and force myself to work through willpower.

I had another thing that helped force me to stop sleeping in: my cat got diabetes, so I have to get up and feed and give her insulin every morning. After an appropriate amount of grief, I found the bright side of it as being a positive thing to help me be more productive. Hopefully it doesn’t apply to anyone else, but if you need the extra push, you can probably come up with something that forces you enough to supplement your willpower.

I also find that while very helpful, the Internet is the worst thing for time. I particularly hate Wikipedia with it’s links (and worst is the auto-previews when you hover over a link). It is the same with email. I try to avoid checking my unimportant email in the morning if I have important work to do because they can often lead me down the Internet rabbit-hole that may eat up a whole day! I have had many times when I ended up getting “back to work” six+ hours later because I ended up going from one article to another (although after cursing, I justify it by saying that it wasn’t a waste of time since I learned a bunch of stuff). :) So sometimes when I absolutely need to get some stuff done, I will actually hit the standby button on my cable modem because I know that unless I absolutely need to access the Internet to look something important up, I’ll be too lazy to get up and push it again for something trivial. ;)

Also sunshine. I find that I am always more energetic and productive when the sun is shining. I have never been one of those dark-room nerds. I like to keep my curtains and windows fully open because I find the sunlight enhances my circadian rythyms, and the sounds of children playing outside sooths me so that I can feel comfortable and helps me work better, without distractions because I feel all is well.

Another thing that helps (me at least) is to “multi-task”. I watch plenty of television and movies, but having OCD, I have to watch things I don’t even like. Those sucky movies and shows are the ones that I put on while I work. That way I “see” (or more accurately hear) them, but not so much because my mind is actually on the work I’m doing. As a result, my OCD gets satisfied because I feel I have accomplished the movie/show I don’t care about, I get some work done, and I don’t waste time.

A final tip is that while I love listening to music while I work, if I am doing something that requires my brain (like coding, writing, or reading as opposed to cleaning my room, exercising, or building), then I try to avoid music that has lyrics because I will end up trying to sing, which is difficult to do concurrently with other tasks that require words.


[+1] [2009-07-16 04:40:25] community_owned

Don't need to rent an office, just go to your local library or even better university library. It's quiet( well not during exams time) and most important you will feel "intellectually uplifted" because you are working around books/academic environment. Works wonders for me.

[+1] [2009-07-13 20:08:41] qat

I don't work from home but I can imagine how difficult it is to stay on task since I have that problem anyway. I found some really cool advice on Steve Pavlina's blog here [1]. Also, treating it like a real job in that you have to get up at a certain time, get dressed, and fulfill obligations would probably help a lot.


[+1] [2009-07-13 16:12:47] Rob Wells


Actually I found my worse problem was in the opposite direction. When working from home I would sometimes get an idea at, say, 5.30 on Saturday arvo so I'd go and login and start working on that. Suddenly I'd look up and it would be 6am Sunday morning.

As to the other side, I always found having a regular routine always helped.

But sometimes the discipline is required in both directions!


(2) This is very true. I think it's really easy to "not leave work" when you're working from home. - Ancide
[0] [2009-07-13 16:17:32] FerranB

I think the best way (for the most of the people) are the shared-offices. A group of freelances share a common-office . In this way you are a freelance and have the office like an employee.

[0] [2009-12-09 04:28:12] Debbie

I've been freelancing from home for about 4.5 years and I've lately felt like I have no accountability to anyone - I don't really like that. I'm thinking about instituting office hours again and trying to stick to them until it becomes a habit, but whenever I try to do that (and work in the gym time I usually miss), it works fine for about 2 weeks and then other things come up - weather, a flood of meetings - and the schedule gets destroyed and I'm back where I started from.

I really, really wish I could rent a small office or a space in an office with others, but money is not steady enough to permit that.

Sometimes I think I should look for a job. I really didn't like my last one, but there's something to be said for the routine that I don't have at the moment. I miss some stability in my routine. :(

[0] [2009-11-11 09:54:00] PoweRoy

Use a seperate login for your pc with only access to things like Word/Excel/Visual Studio. Work bookmarks only in your browser