Last week my son and I spent part of a day at a theme park and half of another at a water park. As a full-time, work-from-home freelancer, I have the flexibility to do that -- but it's an advantage that comes with a price.
Like many freelancers, I only get paid for the work I do. If I choose to spend a day (or a few days) goofing off, then I either make less money or I have to find time to get my work done outside of traditional working hours.
I have tremendous flexibility, but it's easy to fall into a trap where you take time off and never make it up. To avoid that, I follow a series of rules that most freelance, work-at-home workers can adopt or adapt to their own situations.
1. Bank time
Whether to take time off or plan for the unexpected, I always try to be ahead of the game. That means I always do some work on the weekend, and I try to front-load my week.
Ideally I will get everything I planned on finishing for an entire week finished sometime during the day on Thursday. If I can do that, I move into banking time for the next week, or for whenever I actually want to use it,
2. Set goals
I have daily, weekly, and monthly goals. I know how much I need to write and an exact dollar figure that I consider a complete day. If I reach my daily goal, I can start working on tomorrow's; and if I fall behind I know clearly how much I have to do to catch up.
3. Learn to say no
Since I work from home, some people in my life assume I have endless flexibility. I do, but that flexibility comes with a price. Yes, I can take time off to pick people up at the airport or take someone to a doctor's appointment, but any time I take I have to make up.
Because of that, I am protective of my time. I'm happy to pitch in where needed -- and with a spouse who works a traditional 9-5 job and a 14-year-old child, things come up -- but I'm also willing to say no. Just because I can do something does not mean I have to.
4. Start early
It sounds silly, but the sooner you get your work done, the sooner your time becomes yours. Because I don't have to commute, I get out of bed at 7 a.m. and am working roughly 10 minutes later. By 8:45 a.m. when my wife leaves for the office, I've put in over an hour and a half of work.
In general, I try to make my 9-5 into more like a 7-3. That gives me the ability to actually work until 5 or later in order to get ahead of things. It also puts me in good shape in the early afternoon if I want to take a break.
My hours work for me. You may be a late-night worker or someone who likes to split up their work and off time. Whatever your personal needs are, make a plan and follow it. Be consistent and be dedicated to whatever schedule you set for yourself.
Working freelance from home can be a wonderful lifestyle. It allows me to do things I otherwise would not be free to do, but I can only do that if I have the discipline to get the work I need to do done.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.