Effective planning as an artist (freelancer) working from home

Anyone that ever had a job knows that effective planning is key, especially when you are responsible for your own work. That's the case, even more, when you're an artistic freelancer, or a freelancer to begin with. Freelancing, or working from home for a business, an approach that has been growing exponentially lately, requires a lot of planning. Unlike jobs where you have to travel to every day, working from home comes with its own perks and obstacles. There are many ways to overcome the latter, in this article we will discuss a few.

Hi! My name is Tessa, I’m a Dutch artist, specializing in wildlife and creature designs. I love to share my passion for nature, art and fantasy, and do that by creating this archive and community, alongside my company Tez Art & Design.

Table of Contents (Click to collapse)

Pro’s and con’s to working from home as an artist

Kids, pets, the dirty dishes, the garden, a neighbor frantically waving at you through the window, signaling you to come outside, because maybe your garbage bin has been put on fire ~or no, she just wanted to complain about how leaves are piling up in one corner and the township still didn’t clean it up after 36 hours! Maybe you still have a regular job, started working there less, but they keep nagging you to do overtime. There are millions of factors that influence work at home.

When you’re at work, you have a working mindset. That mindset shifts as soon as you start traveling to your work. You don’t go through that process when you work at home. Instead, your head is full of whatever you have to do at home, or whatever or whoever is at home with you. It’s really hard to get into that mindset, especially at the start of the day.

The pro’s however are obvious: You don’t need to travel. Your rig and hardware are probably more comfortable, or better tuned to you than it is, or would be at a job site. You can spend more time with your pets or family, and you can do the laundry while working. And all these packages you ordered… Do you have any idea how much of an advantage it is that you don’t need to have it delivered elsewhere? Or bug the neighbors about it?

Con’s of working from home specifically for artists

Have you ever paid attention to where your inspiration comes from? Sometimes it comes from the internet, sometimes from an online chat. But most of the time you are influenced by things you see happening around you. When you step outside of your home, you go into a mild survival mode. You need to keep track of your surroundings, and while you do so, you immerse yourself in the world around you, you become part of it.
You start noticing and remembering things better, and the chance you come across something unique within its own right (unstaged) or a remarkable situation is significantly larger than when you sit behind a computer screen in your house all the time.

Locking yourself up is really counterproductive. To overcome that, make sure you go out at least once a day if only to shop for some groceries. If you want to do a little better than that: Go to different places you like to be and allow yourself to become inspired. It will help you to free up your mind and thoughts and will provide you with inspiration as well. On top of that: Being a (freelance) artist working from home, it’s easy to drive yourself crazy and become really stressed out. You can prevent that by going out every day and allowing yourself some time to soak up your surroundings.

How to become more effective when working from home

There are many factors that can help you work effectively at home. And for everybody, this can be a bit different. What follows is a collection of simple things you can do to make your living environment be more useful as a working environment as well. But without it being intrusive.

Social media, e-mail, and phones are the biggest distractions for people working from home.
Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash
  • Have a room specifically for working.
  • If you don’t have an extra room, create a space specifically for working.
  • Have a sepparate rig or laptop for your work at this designated place.
  • Close the curtains if you have intrusive neigbors.
  • Don’t have your favorite websites opened on your computer. At some point it will become a habit to randomly click through them when you loose your focus for a second.
  • Assign time for social media and e-mails. This will stop you from checking it regularly and unnecessarily. Close the tabs down as soon as you’re done with them.
  • Assign time for cleaning up your working space or things that distract you from your work. For most people this will be before work starts, but just assigning some time for such things when you’re done working can give you enough peace of mind already.
  • Edit your phone settings so you can only be reached by specific people, or during specific times. Make sure that games, social media, and e-mails won’t pop up on your screen all the time. Do the same with groupchats that aren’t importat for your work.
  • Make an effective planning so you can get everything done you want to have done, while still having some time left for yourself.
  • Time your actual pen to paper time with a timer.

Working with a planning

Working with planning is essential to most people to some degree. However, some people can do really well even without one. If you’re not one of the latter, the following tips may be helpful. Depending on your personality you may only need monthly plannings, weekly planning, or even daily planning. There’s nothing wrong with any of them, whatever works best for you. Planning is a tool that you can use to your advantage. Not a weakness.

Monthly planning

If you’re good at managing your time, you can make do with only this kind of planning. You have your projects you need to have finished and ready to go, and you will likely finish well on time. When you need more solid planning, this kind may not be enough for you, or maybe even completely irrelevant.

Personally, I use this kind of planning to set my overall goals for a month. I always have a lot going on, it helps me keep track of the bigger scope of things, jobs that have deadlines, and helps me to see where I can fit in personal projects or not.

Weekly planning

Unless you’re an uber master planning, very flexible, or hyper-fast at whatever you do: Weekly planning is essential for nearly everybody. Humans are creatures of habit, and having weekly planning is extremely useful. Not only to keep a good overview and have everything done in time. But also (and mostly) to stay sane. Weekly plannings are the kind that will help you find your own free time as well. You may not always be able to go out on a daily basis, but you may have the time to go for 3 or 4 longer walks a week. (Or meet up with a friend at a coffee shop or a sports school).

These days I have set times in which I work, and specific times where I don’t. Especially in the autumn and winter I also go outside whenever the sun is shining. This means I won’t really plan my free time, but instead allow myself to go out 3 or 4 times a week whenever the sun is shining. However, when it’s not, I do still force myself to go out. I use the weather forecast to decide about that.
I’m not specifically a sun lover, but it does help me stay sane throughout the wintertime as I’m a bit prone to winter depression. Something I’m sure many of you will experience as well, especially when you mostly (start) work(ing) from home. These are all things to keep track of.

Daily planning and tracking

Ideal for everybody that’s not good at planning their days and are prone to be hard on themselves or feel guilty for not doing enough or being effective enough. Let me tell you one thing: You are most likely doing way more than you think you are doing! You just need to get a bit more grip on what you’re actually doing in a day. Subsequently, you will also become better at planning because you start to understand better how much time some things take to finish. Registering everything you do and how long it takes will be extra useful for those that are just starting out.

I’m one of these people that can be really hard on herself for not doing enough, despite working 65-80 hours a week. Simply because I don’t remember all the things I did in a day. I don’t really have exact planning for every day, although I do have days assigned for specific things. Tuesdays for example are for writing and posting articles. Wednesday evenings are for Spudknof illustrations, and on Sundays, I spend a few hours playing games with my best friend.

I do however register everything I do on a day, just so I can look back on my days when I feel down and think I didn’t do enough. It also helped me get more insights into the time I need for specific projects. So, if you need this kind of planning, are really hard on yourself, need to understand better how much time specific things take, or you’re just starting out: Daily planning and/or tracking is extremely useful!

Programs I use to plan and keep track

There are hundreds of programs you can use to keep track of everything. Some of these programs are Monday.com or Asana.com. These however are programs that are more useful when you work in teams. You can still use it when you work alone of course, but personally, I think it’s a bit too heavy duty. Instead, I use the following programs:

  • Microsoft Excel (tracking and weekly/daily planning)
  • Evernote (montly planning)

Obviously, there’s also something called an agenda. I guess that’s something that’s not made for me :p but many people work just fine through agendas. I just prefer to have everything on one page in one big overview. If you’re like me, this might be the solution for you too.

Microsoft Excel

I mostly use Microsoft Excel to track what I did on a specific day. I also tend to write down when I had a walk or did other specific time-consuming things that don’t fall in the art category. This is because we tend to think in just that: Categories. We wonder why we didn’t do as much as planned, get annoyed with ourselves, and wake up in the middle of the night remembering why we didn’t do that much art-related.

As you can see below, I also added recurring weekly or daily events to the list. This is just to help me not forget them and actually get to them. As they’re recurring they have their own designated spot in the list. I just have to sign them as done and don’t have to type it out time and time again. The planning is just there to keep track of stuff that’s out of my hands (like my regular day job) and hard deadlines.

Just a random week in my life. It’s hard to keep track sometimes of everything you did in a day, a week, or even a month. Tracking what you do like this can be really helpful.

Evernote

Evernote is the luxury version of a simple notebook. You can connect the free version with 2 devices at a time. Whenever you add something on your phone, it’s also available on your computer. This includes notes, lists, images, videos, and voice notes. Most of the time I just use it to make monthly checklists. I can access the files wherever I am and at any time, which helps me keep a good overview. This is especially useful when your clients call you, or hit you up on the street and ask you to do something for them. You can quickly pop up your list and see in what month and roughly what week you have enough time to do what you’re asked.

Planning time for yourself

Planning time for yourself is one of the most important things you can do. I for one used to work non-stop. I would start with my own company in the morning, then move to my regular job, only to come back home, not taking the time to cook, and just continue working until it was bedtime. This was caused by feeling very guilty when I didn’t because money was a big issue at the time. This approach however was a very counterproductive one. I could keep this up for a couple of months and then my attention would start to waver. I would still make as many hours as before but wasn’t near as productive as I used to be.

This toxic behavior ended up in a slight breakdown after roughly 8 months. I spoke about this before in another article. So I had to revisit my approach, cut down on the sheer amount of projects and side jobs I had going on, and allow some time for myself. Actually planning my free time was the biggest game-changer for me. From this point, I could finally live a bit more stress-free, and because of that, I could also be a lot more productive, because I wasn’t as stressed. It’s a continuous loop. When you take good care of yourself, every minute you spend on your work can be twice, or even three times as productive as when you don’t.

I love nature. When I have free time and the weather is good, a place like this is where you will find me when I’m not working on my art.
Photo by: Tessa Geniets

Conclusion

When you think of it: If you only spend 10% of the time you otherwise work, outside, you can make that other 90% twice or even three times as productive. All because you have a bit more headspace and stay physically fit.
Obviously, there are more factors for staying productive. Like eating healthy, doing sports, having the right friends, etc. But these are topics for another moment.
Just make sure that you have good planning that works for YOU. You are unique, and so is everyone else in their own way. What works for you may not work for me and vice versa. Most of the time it takes a bit of testing around to see what works best for you, and you may also need to change this planning from time to time.

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