Do You Have Office Hours?

Working from Home Means Freedom

Often the idea of working for oneself means freedom! If you get a wild hare to go shopping in the middle of the day, you can do it and finish up your work later in the day. You don’t have a boss breathing down your neck to get a report done. You don’t have to get up at six in the morning to commute to your job.

When I first started as a freelancer, certainly that freedom appealed to me.

In truth, yes, there is a lot of freedom that comes with being your own boss. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. But being your own boss is often a matter of self-management. That means you’ll need to decide on company policy.

For the longest time, I did not have specific office hours. As long as I was making a target income, I would work to the job, or work to get the job and not worry too much about it otherwise.

That caused several problems. I found myself never taking a full weekend or never feeling as if my time were really my own. Goofing off on the Internet (which I genuinely enjoy) started to merge with work time so that it was difficult for me to assess whether or not I was being genuinely productive at any given time. I hit my deadlines, so my clients were happy. I was always prepared to teach my classes, so the classes went well.

And that was great.

You Still Need Office Hours

But, it was easy to lie to myself, to be externally motivated by deadline and visions of happy clients rather than by my own goals.

My own office hours actually started as a way to ensure that I would not get telephone calls from clients at ungodly hours unexpectedly. I set a specific time when I could be contacted (and included the time zone!) so that if a client needed to talk to me outside that time, we’d arrange for a phone meeting. I like being available to my clients, but for random, off-the-cuff stuff, the office hours worked out better.

Then, I started attempting to analyze my productivity. Other than my accounting software, I really couldn’t. I work to the job rather than to the clock. How much of surfing the net was genuine research and how much of it was procrastinating and screwing around? What about personal projects that were falling by the wayside? What about value-added things I could do for my clients that I was not thinking about because I was too busy laughing at something on Youtube? Sure, sure, I was paying the bills. But was I really being effective?

Since the fluid work habits made it too hard to do an honest analysis, I actually set genuine work hours. I was allowed to work outside those hours if I wanted to (and I usually do), but I was not allowed to goof off within them. I even downloaded blocking software to keep me off sites that were not productive. While I would have been deeply annoyed if my boss had done this to me in a “Real Job”, I confess that as the boss, it sure does help keep focused on work during worktime.

Plug-ins to block time wasting sites

When Should You Have Office Hours?

I chose to make my work hours and my office hours slightly different. Knowing that I am most productive early in the morning, my work hours start long before I’m taking telephone calls from clients. I’m allowed to start goofing off slightly before I stop taking client calls, as well.

Doing this, I’m working smarter rather than harder. I’ve given myself a limited amount of time within which to accomplish my work for my clients, so there’s no use in fooling around. It needs to be done! But when it is done, instead of going off to play, I’m working on other projects that will be useful down the road – creating attractive cheat sheets for the computer classes I teach, working on writing projects that might not have an immediate benefit to my bank account, but in the long term might prove useful, thinking about new and better ways to market my work, thinking about new and better ways to be valuable to my clients. All of these things really are part of my job, even if I’m not directly getting a cash amount for it.

If you’re finding your freelance career stagnating, I encourage you to try office hours for a while and see what it does for you. There’s nothing like the recharge of knowing that you’ve put in a full day, that it’s legitimately done and goofing off with a clear conscience in your off-time. You’ll come back to your work recharged, excited and clearer-headed, ready to meet all the challenges and rewards of being self-employed.

Author: Noël Figart

Noël Figart is a computer applications instructor, technical writer and editor.

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