The Freelancer’s Daily Routine: Does it Exist?

“What’s your workday like?” Whenever a cubicle-dwelling friend asks me this question, they seem to think that my answer will be representative of what a freelancer’s typical day is like. I often start my answer with “It depends.” Lately, I realized that I didn’t even know how my colleagues would answer this question since we never see each other. I had no idea if we were working on the same project in the same way, or if there were differences in our schedules, apart from the time zones.

This made me wonder: how do most freelancers schedule their day? Do they have a fixed routine? Is there a common element in the way we structure our work days? I decided to ask around and see what other freelancers have to say.

9-to-5 Web Workers

This subheading is a bit misleading: I rarely found any freelancers who stuck to a strictly 9-to-5 routine. Still, there are those who schedule their work as if it were a traditional 40-hour work week. According to this freelance business survey for the European Medical Writers Association, 52 percent of the respondents work at least 31 hours per week. Even last year’s Freelance Switch survey showed that the average work hours of freelancers across six continents varied from 37.3 hours to 41.2.

But are those work hours evenly distributed across the week like a traditional office job? For some, yes.

Molly Feuer, an illustrator, has this to say about her schedule: “I enjoy planning my week in advance, waking up early and getting dressed as if I had a job outside of the home.” She added that she leaves her evenings free for social and leisure activities, as well as household chores. But, if she’s working on an engaging project, she returns to work during the evenings as well.

Although she has some breaks within her work day, Molly says that she schedules them so that they won’t become a way to procrastinate. “It’s a reward system, more or less,” she adds.

“Typically, I do 30-60 minutes of work in the early morning before my kids get up,” said Polly Schneider Traylor, a freelance writer and editor. “After school drop-off, I work steadily for a few hours, and then typically head out around middle of the day for a workout or an errand.”

She added that she usually adds at most an extra hour of work in the evenings, after her kids are in bed.

Order in “Disorder”

There may be many freelancers who have a self-imposed fixed schedule, but those with more fluid work hours seem to outnumber them.

Freelance writer Bob McDonnell said to me that “a freelance writer’s routine is an oxymoron.” While I tend to agree, there will always be those repetitive tasks that require a routine of some sort, whether it’s household chores or billing your clients. Maybe most freelancers just shake up their routine so often that it seems like such a routine is nonexistent.

Mike Klassen, a graphic designer, doesn’t seem to like the idea of having an official work routine as having one would be too similar to having a 9-to-5 job. According to him, “…part of being a freelancer is the freedom to mix things up a bit, not only in terms of the projects I take on, but when I work on them during the day (or night).”

As for me, though I prefer to work early in the morning, my main focus is just to get a list of tasks done throughout the day. This list is typically four to six items, and it doesn’t matter what order I do them in, as long as I get them accomplished.

My schedule might seem like it doesn’t involve a routine, but when I think about it, I have the tendency to alternate knowledge work with manual labor. I get many articles done during my peak hours, but after that I prefer to cook or do some gardening. Later in the day I might do some administrative tasks. Also, like many web workers, I have some pre-work rituals that help me start my workday right.

Is it possible that we’re so in tune to our own individual work flow that we don’t see our work habits as a structured routine? There might be some order underneath all that chaos.

How about you, what are your work days like? Do you think you have a set routine when it comes to work?