Adopt the Positive Habits of Productive Workers

Written by Elizabeth Wellington on March 6, 2017

The majority of freelancers choose to work for themselves due to the freedom and flexibility freelancing offers. You can set your own schedule, choose your rates and select your own projects. But without structure, this flexibility can backfire. You may end up working in your pajamas at all hours of the night or miss deadlines because you’re super disorganized.

The habits of productive workers bring a framework to the workday. They create a sense of accomplishment and balance, as well as a clear start and end to your work. Particularly if you work from home, these boundaries prove essential. Here’s how to create your own healthy habits, so you can cultivate the ideal work-life balance.

Create Healthy Habits That Start and End Your Day

For many freelancers, work bleeds into personal life. There’s no separation between client projects and their own time to relax and enjoy their day. You end up checking email right before you go to sleep and first thing in the morning, which doesn’t necessarily make you more productive. It may even hurt the quality of your sleep, according to Michael Grandner, PhD, a psychiatry instructor and member of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Instead of devolving into a 24/7 working life, set habits that start and end your workday. Keep your computer and smartphone out of the bedroom, and wake up with an old-fashioned alarm clock. Before I start work, I write in my journal, eat breakfast and sip on a big mug of tea. Once I’ve met my basic needs, I launch into my workday. At the end of the afternoon, when I’m ready to transition away from my work, I write a short to-do list for the following day. I also go for a walk to clear my head. Since I work from home, this walk is the equivalent of a quick commute; it helps me process the day and transition into a different frame of mind.

Your ideal morning and evening habits might not match mine. The most important thing is figuring out a routine that works for you. By creating some structure, you make it easier to get work done and walk away from your desk feeling accomplished.

Always Take Breaks

Regular breaks are at the heart of a productive workday. Although some freelancers may think they’re useless, breaks are actually the key to balance. Taking breaks at work gives your mind time to solve difficult problems and reevaluate goals. It’s indispensable, particularly to creative work. The time-tracking app DeskTime reports that working for 52 minutes and resting for 17 minutes is an optimal combination for maximum productivity.

Instead of browsing articles on the internet, take breaks that give something extra back to you. Meditate, read a chapter of a book you love, go for a walk, take a short nap, call a friend or stretch out into a few yoga poses. If you work in the digital space, give your eyes a break from the computer. Just as with any habit, it’s less about the specific choice you make and more about whether it works for you. Experiment with a lot of different options and see what feels best!

Add a Personal Hobby to Your Daily Routine

Before I became a full-time writer, writing was my favorite hobby. If you’re a full-time creative freelancer, you need creative hobbies that nurture you. According to the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, these creative hobbies can make you better at your job. So, 10 years after I stopped pursuing photography, I started up again. Unlike writing, there’s no pressure, because I’m not being judged or paid for my performance.

If you turned your favorite hobby into your day job, make sure to pick a project or two to replace it with. It doesn’t have to be big, either. You can do something as simple as joining a book club or committing to go to the gym three times a week. The only requirement is that it brings joy to your day. Are there any hobbies you’ve always wanted to try?

The habits of productive workers are easier to incorporate into your routine than you might think. They’re inherently flexible, and what’s right for you will make you more — not less — productive. You can tell you picked the right habits when they nurture you personally and professionally. Over time, you’ll feel more balanced and at ease within your day-to-day routine.