be free, lance / discover when you work best

I’ve been making lots of changes lately for the better, both in my business + personal life. And one thing that I’ve realized is that the routines and patterns I set for myself now are likely to shape my future in a big way. So, I’ve made a promise to myself to live with intention in everything I do to help give clarity and allow myself to enjoy each and every day like we all should. It may sound cliché, but I’m not worried about that. This lifestyle is easier said than done and I applaud those of you who have a natural knack for going with the flow and living easy. Seriously!

Although there are several things I’ve started doing in order to shift perspective, I’m going to discuss a simple idea that deals with the work side of things. This is the Be Free, Lance column after all … I’ll dive more into the personal end of things later on! Promise.

So my question for you is when do you work best during the day?? I learned early on that I do not function as well late in the afternoon and tend to get unfocused + antsy. But despite discovering this, I never changed anything for two whole years. And honestly, I think the sole reason was because I got stuck into a routine. I would wake up sometime in the 9 o’clock hour and work between 10-6 every single day. I rarely got dressed and didn’t leave my desk for hours on end. Not very fun.

With all that said, my lazy-work-fest days are done and I’ve turned a new page. First things first : I set an alarm now. I wake up everyday at 7 in the morning, make our bed, get ready ( this is embarrassingly such a milestone ), eat breakfast, and am working by 8. What I’ve discovered is that I design best in the morning. They tend to be much quieter and allow me to focus. It’s crazy how much you can get done before lunch!! Hello. Plus, an earlier start time means I’ve successfully avoided the afternoon slump. Instead, I run errands, go for a run, sit outside, or do a little house work.

This brings us back to the question of when do YOU work best. Although I’ve outlined my own schedule, I know that every freelancer works differently and has their own quirks. Maybe you work best late at night or unlike me, late in the afternoon. The point is : find your sweet spot. And once you have it, run with it. I promise you will be more efficient and find ease within your personal life. Working during your BEST hours helps decrease stress, which is always a good thing.

  1. Nesha says:

    I’m similar to you, I work best in the morning and I wake at 7 too. When it hits about 3:30pm I start to feel tired and frustrated and I get waaaay less done, so I prefer to start early. What I’ve been realizing lately though is that even though I start early now, I still don’t feel like I’m getting much done, like I’m busy but not productive. So this past week I’ve been experimenting with setting deadlines for each big task on my hands and it has quickened my work pace soooo much!

  2. I’ve recently started working from home and I totally feel you on the slump. Though I LOVE my own space and making my own hours (to an extent), it is definitely a milestone on days when I do get dressed. Despite not being a morning person, I somehow am infinitely more productive earlier in the day. I seriously need to take some cues from you though. I think getting dressed and ready in the morning will definitely help my productivity and make me feel less sluggish!

    • breanna says:

      Right! And I feel like getting ready + dressed helps boost your confidence, too. It’s like “YEAH, I may not even leave the house today, but I’m going to look great working.” It just feels good. :)

  3. Ann says:

    Great and timely post. I am juggling a slowly growing freelance business, a full time agency job and being a mom to a 2.5 year old. In the beginning, I was coming home from work, doing my mom things and then working from 9pm on. Needless to say, exhausting – especially after being creative at work, I was just tapped out. And I started to resent it. So, I started waking up at 5am (!) and working until I have to get ready for work. I find that I am SO much more clear-headed and focused during this time. And less stressed during the day, knowing I have already made progress. I still work every weekend and sometimes in the evenings, but I am trying to keep 6pm on to myself and my family. One day I hope to be able to only be doing the freelance! Then I’ll have to rethink this again :)

    • breanna says:

      Oh man! I can’t even imagine working a full-time job, only to come home and have to freelance. You’re right, I think working early in the mornings is a GREAT time from the sounds of it. Personal + family time is a must, so I’m happy to hear you’ve set aside time for that, too. It’s equally as important. :)

    • Ann says:

      Well, it helps that I literally can’t wait to work on my clients’ projects! But..I could just feel myself getting burnt out quickly – as well as my family. To be fair, I am often worried about not working on projects at night, but I have also tried to only take on a little at a time so as to not get too overwhelmed. Sorta works.

      Thanks for all your awesome posts! It’s super inspirational daily reading!

  4. Amaris says:

    I have been struggling with finding a good time to blog lately. I always need it to be quiet, but I am always distracted by doing other things, such as listening to music at the same time. I guess I need to buckle down if I want to be doing this!

  5. Lo says:

    I have had a similar revelation this week! I’ve found that the first few hours of my day are the most productive so I have been trying to schedule my most important tasks for then. It has made a huge difference and I feel so great having crossed off so many things before lunch. I am embarrassed by how bad my afternoon slump can be. I just feel drained and uncreative from 3-5 (sometimes 2-6 haha). So I have started to leave and exercise or do errands to get away from my computer and kind of think on some of the projects I am working on. I usually then tack on a couple more hours later in the day once I get my second wind. It’s great to know what works best for you, especially when you are trying to do your best work!

  6. alicia says:

    I am so not a morning person. I am grumpy and anti-social if you talk to me. But work wise I am superman in the mornings!
    Whether I’m working full time in an office or at home doing freelance afternoons have never been my thing. I lose focus, am unmotivated, keep checking the clock and get distracted by everything. I get wrestles and just want to LEAVE.
    Mornings are quiet and productive. I’m back to freelancing full time now. I wake up sometime when my boyfriend does, usually around 8. Grab a big glass of water and head to my desk. I check e-mail, read up on a few blogs and get to work. I work intensely for about two-three hours at which point I take a break by actually showering and getting out of my pjs. Then I come back to my desk, work for a few more hours and grab lunch. I usually go back to work after lunch but don;t get much done.
    Because I am so productive in the mornings I schedule meetings in the morning too, however I think I may need to change that. I am out of the house early, on to my meeting but by the time I get home to actually sit down and work my productive hours are gone.

  7. Jaclyn says:

    I’m the same as you. All of my best/most productive design work is done in the morning, but one thing I know about myself is that I can not work from home. I just can’t. I don’t get anything done. Even if it’s just walking a block from my apartment to the coffee shop to work, I know my productivity will be about 99% better! ;)

    The one exception is working out & exercising. I have no motivation to exercise in the morning, so I make it a habit to go right after I’m finished for the day at work.

    Routine is really important to my daily life, and if it isn’t imposed on me in some way, I’ll still self-create it. Creative inspiration can strike at any time, but that’s what my sketchbook (more like a list-book though…ha) that I carry everywhere with me is for!

  8. Brittany says:

    I’m sitting here in sweats as I read this….ha!

    Such a great post! I’ve still got some things to change (like getting ready…), but I’ve found setting an alarm every couple hours and going for a walk with my dog helps to clear my mind and get me out of a slump (and the house!).

    Inspired Panda

  9. Bethany says:

    Lovely! I’ve been drafting a post of what my “sweet spot” looks like and it was interesting to see your thoughts/what you’ve learned while I’ve been considering what I do.
    I’ve actually found that I work best in the late afternoons- I find that in the morning I’m distracted. For some reason I think that so much happened in the online world while I was sleeping and I need to catch up OR while I’m getting ready for the day I get frustrated with my messy house and start cleaning OR I’m bombarded with emails and take forever to get through them. By the time afternoon comes along, social media and email and cleaning has bored me so much it’s not even a temptation and I can work hardcore until 6! While I may have wasted precious time in the morning, I found I work so quickly and efficiently in the afternoon that it makes up for it!
    And like Alicia, I’m not a morning person so it’s more likely I’ll get frustrated with my work and will be in a bad mood the rest of the day…
    Weird tidbit- I have to wear shoes otherwise I feel like it’s lazy time, not work time.

  10. Alexa says:

    I work from home and it is such an adjustment building your schedule. Now that I’m a mom I have to schedule even more so. I’ve found a pretty good routine as of late, but then again I’m due with my second baby in a month, so I’m sure something will change again! Ha.

  11. fathima says:

    Hi Breanna! First of all great blog! I appreciate your open approach.
    I’ve been freelancing for a year this month (yay!) and I also used to be in my PJs most of the day, most days. I enjoy gym a lot and go to morning classes, so on those days I’m showered and changed before I work, and I started to realise that I just felt so much better on those days as opposed to on pyjama days, when I actually would feel irritated with myself the later it got in the day without me getting dressed. So now I do get dressed properly most days, but not strictly. I’ve read that it also helps you to have a more professional and structured mindset if you maintain those normal work routines to an extent.
    I’m very unstructured and don’t have much of a routine and i want to change that because every article I’ve read says that that helps you work better – ad I know it makes sense. I’m just so resistant to routine though! :P
    I do have a loose sort of routine where I work in the mornings, til about 3pm, then have a nap, dinner, relax… and then work again at night because I’m a night person.

  12. Anni says:

    Yes yes yes to this whole post. I’m so similar to you – I don’t naturally wake up very early, I could sleep til 10 most days, but when I do I’m unfocused and I lack energy when I work.

    What’s really made me feel a lot better is starting my day with a walk to get a cup of coffee. I bring it home, sit at my desk, and work with it for awhile – then I make my breakfast smoothie and work with that. Around noon or one, I usually take a yoga or walk break, then work some more… it’s funny, I think technically I’m working less hours this way, but I get so much more done.

    Related note, does anyone ever judge you for how you talk about this? Because I told my husband all of this the other day and he just gave me this look like, “poor you, you had to force yourself to wake up at 7:30” ha.

    • breanna says:

      Oh man, I’m sure some people judge me for talking about this. In real, life too. I try to catch myself before venting about “waking up too early,” simply because I understand there are a lot of people out there that HAVE to work up much much earlier and work much much longer. Can’t complain!

  13. Vicki says:

    Oh dear, i am writing this in bed while my husband is typing away on an MBA assignment in the other room – we are saddo’s. I struggle to find routine since i have a fulltime job at a magazine as an editor (they allow me to work from home/own hours) and two blogs and what feels like way too many meetings in between. I definitely work better IF i get up and out of bed in the mornings and make it to my office but since it’s outside the house and it’s COLD here in South Africa at the moment, i’ve really been struggling to be disciplined about doing that. Funny because i was just saying to my husband how spun out i’m feeling and i think it’s because i haven’t been disciplined at actually sitting at a desk. So…THANK YOU for this post! Tomorrow morning i am getting up (and not pressing snooze 10 000 times) and making my way to my office with a hot water bottle in tow. V x

    • breanna says:

      No worries, lady. I have been in your shoes many a days and I’m sure I will have more days like them in the future. Cheers to getting dressed tomorrow!! Take care. :)

  14. Kerry says:

    The only thing that makes me get dressed in the morning is the fact that I have a dog who needs to be walked, otherwise it would be PJ´s and bed hair aaaallll day. Thank goodness for our dog! Also, I have discovered that I also feel a slump in the early afternoon, sometime between 3 and 4pm, so I go and have a 20 minute nap on the couch (not in bed, because I get too comfortable and sleep too deep, which then ruins me for the rest of the night) and I´m as good as new. This is something the Mediterranean people have known for centuries, so it´s tried and trusted!

  15. Ann-Marie says:

    I love this so much! I am such a night owl and tend to put things off until later in the day because I know I can crank through a ton of work until 2 or 3am. But the truth is, I would LOVE to be more of a morning person.

    A big part of the reason I was so inclined to freelance was because it meant that I wouldn’t have to be chained to a desk from 8-5, Monday through Friday, with only one hour for lunch, like I did in all my corporate America jobs. But now, one year into my freelancing career, I have learned that there really is something to be said about having set work hours and a consistent routine. Funny how that works ;)

    • breanna says:

      Yes! Totally funny how it works. Despite having a routine that is somewhat similar to a typical 8-5 job, we still get the perks of being able to do whatever we want. If you have errands to run, you totally can! If you want to work at night, it’s not a problem. Gotta love it. :)

      And man, I used to be a night owl a few years back. But now I’m such a veg. Always wanting to relax, be on the couch + eating some treats, ha!

  16. Building the routine takes trial, error and constant trying to find what works for you! What I hated most about working in an office was that the routine was so NOT me. I love the mornings for being in my head and being creative; I don’t like having conversations or meetings or digging into administrative tasks. When I started freelance / my business full time I wrote out what an ideal day would look like for me – how I wanted it to flow, what I wanted to accomplish and how many hours I wanted to work on client projects (5 hours a day is my sweet spot) per day. It’s taken 18 months to get close to that ideal. I keep referencing that original document to see how close I’m getting to ‘ideal’. I revise as I go and learn more about how I work, my energy levels and when I can give my best to others in the course of a day.

    And I never work in my PJs unless I’m under the weather… ha! Maybe it’s the years of parochial school education (daily uniform of navy, khaki & white polos from ages 5-18!) but I make getting up, getting dressed a priority before I get to work. No emails, no calls, no nothin’ before I’m ‘ready to go for the day’ – even if I am sitting at my desk for most of the day!

  17. Marina says:

    oh, I wish I could wake up at 7am… I’ve been trying to wake at 8 and it hasn’t worked out so far. It feels like 9 is the earlier my body allows me to roll out of bed. The problem is, I am totally a morning person, i love to get things done before lunch, but i just can’t wake up before 9 ! this has been an inside battle for months, haha…
    So i’m wondering, what time do you go to sleep? Did you start going to bed earlier in order to wake up at 7?
    oh btw, thanks for your amazing blog and helpfull posts, before i took the leap towards freelancing i read this column a thousand times ;)
    x from Brazil !

    • breanna says:

      Yeah, it’s been tough for me since I would naturally wake up 8:30/9:00am. I’ve gone to bed a little earlier, but not by much. I will typically go to bed around 10:30/11pm, which has worked out really well. Some nights I fall asleep later, but still force myself to wake up at 7:00am to continue on this routine!

  18. Kate says:

    I’ve discovered I work best in the mornings and in the late evenings. So I’m at my desk ready to work by 7.30, things are still quiet in the world, allowing me to work uninterrupted for a couple of hours. I deal with people in the idle of the day. I’ve lost focus after lunch, so I do the school run, run errand and do chores, feed and settle the family, and back to it when the kids go to bed. Again I get a couple more hours uninterrupted.

    The routine also helps the family understand when I work and when I don’t. :)

  19. Megan says:

    The afternoons are completely useless for me. Early mornings and late nights are my most productive hours! Too bad the old 9-5 gigs don’t quite understand how creatives work all the time ;) I have also noticed that putting on some cute outfits totally boosts my productivity + creativity, though!

  20. Sylvia says:

    I love the mornings, I’m my most productive then, but when I work from home I have a major aversion to do anything work related unless I know the house is tidy and chores are done. I just can’t seem to focus if there are dishes piled up or whatever lol! Becoming a mother was the best thing for my work-life balance, I’m so much more efficient and present now

  21. hey, i’ve read somewhere in one of your comments that you use illustrator. i own that as well as photoshop. i was wondering what are the major differences and why do you use one over the other? also, i’ve hardly used it because i was overwhelmed with my ignorance. maybe you could do a tutorial on the basics of it or perhaps direct me to a good place to look?

    i love your blog and especially this series as i started up my own small design shop.

    xx

  22. Amy says:

    I’m hoping to start my own business soon but will be juggling it with a full time job, so I do wonder how I’ll manage to squeeze it all in! I’ve just finished my degree in fashion design and towards the end I was constantly working, literally from 8am until midnight everyday because I had to get it all done. I seem to work well under pressure though, so setting myself deadlines is probably the best way to go.
    Thanks for all the inspiring posts. I’m so excited to start my own business and hopefully, if things go well, I won’t have to work full time and can focus solely on my own projects instead :)

  23. I love working in the morning – I find I am fresher, clearer – my mind is less muddled by thoughts. I am by no means a morning person, but I found that making morning a little more ‘special’ – for example, by buying beautiful tea or a lovely body wash to jump straight into the shower with – made getting up at an early hour a little more bearable!

  24. […] about the “sweet spots” in your day (when you feel most creative, most energetic) and creating routine around those times. And the honesty with which she spoke about how it’s taken time to get there. Two years. The […]

  25. JP says:

    I’m actually pretty similar to you in terms of my best hours! In the early morning I feel the most fresh, energized, and inspired. I know exactly what you mean by that afternoon slump — likewise, when I DO get up early, I go for a run and do other things, or sit back and watch something as a reward for being productive. Taking advantage of when you are the brightest is definitely important.

  26. Jen Kiaba says:

    Yes! I find the same things (and sadly the working the pjs sounds so much more romantic than it is). Glad to know I am not alone on this either.

  27. Shayla says:

    “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” – Gustave Flaubert

    I read this in a book tonight and made me that no of you and this blog post. :)

  28. I’m also a 7am kind of girl. I wake up around the same time as my husband, and enjoy some coffee and social media before I start my workday. I’ve recently been thinking more and more about renting an office space. My house is so full of distractions, I think I’d be much more productive if I was out of the home!

  29. Adriana says:

    I work best late at night, which I believe is a both a curse and a blessing. It’s great sometimes because I have such huge amounts of creativity and I can pour that into my blog but it’s really bad at other times when I’m trying to go to sleep! So I’m trying to find a way to harness that creativity without sacrificing my health but I am seriously NOT a morning person — it’s midnight as I’m typing this. *shame*

  30. Kris says:

    I am definitely more of a morning person too. This post appeared at the right time for me as I’ve been feeling as though there’s no structure to my work day, and I completely agree with you on the lazying-around-in-pyjamas front – I feel so much better when I have ‘got ready for work’!

  31. Lee says:

    I am a morning person too; whether I like it or not, my one year old son is up at 6am every day! I am definitely trying to learn how to have a routine while balancing being home with my son. I find myself doing as much work as possible during his two naps per day, and then in the evenings when my husband is home and the babe is in bed. It is so hard for me to stay motivated at night though — when my husband is home, it is SO refreshing to have adult conversations! (and/or veg on the couch!). My husband has suggested that I wake up at 5am before our son is awake, but yikes, I don’t know about that.

    It’s definitely tough to create a daily design routine when you work from home with a child, but I am hoping that it slowly but surely will fall in to place!

  32. […] What are your ideal hours to get work […]

  33. Ana says:

    To my eternal surprise, I found out that I work best in the morning, like you…

    For years I had been telling everybody around me (and more importantly, myself, thus perpetuating a self-myth) that I’m a night owl.

    Not true.

    Mornings are the way to go, for me.

  34. […] Here are this week’s fun finds! 1. Having a hard time getting things done? You might not be working during your best hours. […]

  35. dee says:

    hey bre! this is too funny. i literally just started freelancing like two wks ago and i’ve already realized i work way better early in the morning. i know exactly what you mean about getting more work done and the afternoon slump. hurray for new discoveries! it’s crazy how the little things can make such a difference. =) love your blog by the way. xo

  36. Sam Allen says:

    Wow is this written for me. It’s amazing when you recognize how much more productive you can be too when you do focus on your best hours. So much more can be done in that short time than in the whole rest of the day.

  37. Joana says:

    I love your posts! and the more I read them the more I feel I should be a freelancer. I am definately a morning person and my ideal morning routine would be to excercice for 30 mins, read some blogs and then go to work. Unfortunately the London commute (1h30 each way) and having to stay back at work late takes up so much of my time and energy that i never end up doing anything. But I’m willing to make more of an effort now and maybe free lancing is the way forward for me! if only I wasnt so scared of it. x

  38. cassie says:

    Waking up early, making my bed, working out and eating breakfast are new additions to my schedule before 9 am and I love it. By waking up at 7am every morning I have time to plan my day and I’ve been having much more productive days. I love this post !

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