When I started working as a freelance content writer, I learned a lot about myself. Suddenly, the skills that I had worked hard to develop while working as part of a team weren’t as useful anymore. I had to re-learn a whole host of skills, the most important of which were how to work on my own. How to motivate myself to get work done even on days when I didn’t feel like it.
After all, there was no boss anymore. I didn’t have to deal with check in with my team, or get assignments from a superior. The boss is me. The superior is me. And the person cracking the whip, ironically, is me.
As amazing as it is to work in my pajamas- and believe me, I have a pair of Black Watch tartan jams from Pendleton that see a LOT of use- one of the best things I learned was to treat writing like a regular desk job. Get ready, shower, and clock in to work like there’s someone who actually cares if I get there at 9:00 instead of 9:14. It was not the easiest transition. I think a lot of freelancers do a huge disservice to other freelancing professionals when they talk about how easy it is to work from home. And don’t even get me started on people who extol the virtues of the ‘digital nomad lifestyle’.
Working as a freelancer can be difficult, especially if you’re used to working in a hierarchical environment. I came straight out of a system that still uses multi-year (unpaid) apprenticeships to train new hires and (real talk) it was really hard for me to get away from the mindset of waiting to be told what to do. For me, beginning to think of myself as a business was a key first step. A few key resources along the way helped me focus my attention and streamline my working day. Many of them I still use them today. Hopefully they’ll help you out as well!
This easy-to-use app is available from the App Store for free. It’s essentially just a timer, but it uses something called the Pomodoro Method, a time management technique developed by a man named Francisco Cirillo. This technique breaks down work into 25-minute intervals, followed by a 5-minute break. After 3 work-break sections, you get a longer 25-minute break. Pomodoro means ‘tomato’ in Italian, because when Cirillo developed this technique as a student, he used a cheap kitchen timer shaped like a tomato.
There are more underlying principles to the Pomodoro Technique, but the Focus Keeper app simplifies everything by just giving you a visible countdown timer. The app takes up your whole screen, and tinkles subtly when your time is up. There’s also a Pro version for $1.99 where you can set custom timer lengths and monitor your weekly and monthly productivity. I use the free version every single day. I find that the timer helps keep me on task, and gives me a break every time I’m starting to lose focus. Just be aware- since it keeps your phone awake, it will drain your battery pretty quickly if you don’t have amazing battery life.
Bullet Journaling + Leuchtturm 1917
If you really want to get granular about managing your time and tracking the progress of both work and life goals, check out the Bullet Journaling method. The company who pioneered the technique calls it the “analog method for the digital age”. Bullet journaling is essentially a hybrid of scheduling and journaling, which allows you to plan for the future in a way that reflects your personality and organizational style. Any blank journal can be a bullet journal, but the company I linked above has the trademark on the name , and their own trademarked ‘Bullet Journal’ journal.
However, like a lot of other Bullet Journal enthusiasts, I didn’t bother buying the branded product, and instead purchased a Leuchtturm1917 notebook. Pictured above is the pocket A6 size. Leuchtturm1917 is a German company that’s been around since (you guessed it!) 1917. Their name means ‘lighthouse’ in English- something which really tickled me when I found that out.
Also, just so you don’t embarrass yourself in paper stores like I did, it’s pronounced ‘loysch-strum’- or, if you're currently enrolled in a college linguistics course, ‘lɔʏç(t)ˌtʊʁm’. You can also buy their products off their American website.
USB Power Bank
If you regularly work in a café, or just don’t want to be tethered to your computer cable for a whole work day, a USB power bank is a really helpful tool. The one I have is the size of two decks of cards, and doesn’t weight more than a pound. It’s saved me on long trips, and even at home, I use it to charge my wireless headphones and phone (especially when I’m using Focus Keeper, which drains my battery). The power bank I have is this one, but there’s a $50 on Amazon from Anker that’s a bit more powerful.
If you regularly work from home, and want to make your daily life a bit healthier (according to some scientists), you should consider a standing desk. I use one occasionally, and I find that I’m able to get great work done there. If you have the ability to switch back and forth from a traditional desk setup to a standing desk, it helps break up your day and can encourage you to do less sitting down.
Muji .38 Pens
Once I found a pen that I loved, I bought dozens. I’m not even exaggerating. Muji, a Japanese home goods company, recently opened up one of their minimalist stores in Toronto. They stock a huge variety of unisex clothing, furnishings, linen, and plenty of kitchen and bathroom products. Their home goods are really lovely and well made, but my favorite products from Muji come from the stationery section. They stock a huge selection of paper products, pens, and pencils, including my beloved .38mm nib black gel ink pens. They’re $1.50 CAD each, and I find that they give an even impression while still being light enough to toss in a pocket or stick behind my ear.
If you’re like me and struggle to remember passwords more complex than Rabbit123, you need to get 1Password. It’s a password storage system that you can purchase for a small monthly fee that stores all of your passwords in a vault. You can access the vault using your master password. There are plugins for multiple internet browsers that allows 1Password to insert your password once you type in the website address, and it syncs seamlessly between all of your devices. If you’re a freelancer, chances are you’ll need to remember at least 15 passwords on a daily basis. 1Password makes it as simple as accepting their autofill for each website you use a password on. Unless you want to use the same password for everything- which is a terrible idea. Don't do it.
Sometimes you just need to focus and get stuff done, and when that’s the case, I use noise-cancelling headphones. They’re pretty much my answer to everything. Want to tune out the café noise and get stuff done? Noise-cancelling headphones. Crying baby on the plane? Noise-cancelling headphones. I actually use these, which technically aren’t advertised as noise-cancelling, but I have teeny-tiny ears, so they fit pretty snugly.
You're Not Alone
I’m planning on writing more about the software and services I use to run my business, so check back for that post later.
The most important thing to remember is that even though you may be working solo all day, you're not alone. If generating leads, building a website, or creating content is getting you down, reach out to me and I can help.
Some (but not all) of the links above are affiliate links. This means that if you use the link to purchase, I earn a small commission. Thank you so much for supporting my website and my work.