If your workload is only limited by the number of hours you are willing to put in, how do you decide when you’ve worked 'enough'?
Whether you’re a full-time freelancer, a gig economy worker, or a traditional employee pursuing a side hustle, at some point you’re going to have to ask yourself how to structure a workday that doesn’t fit into the standard 9-to-5 (or 8-to-5, or 9-to-6) template.
There are three basic ways to address this issue, each with their own benefits and drawbacks.
The hours-based workday
If you give yourself an hours-based structure, you tell yourself, “Today, I’m going to work from 9am to 5pm” or “from 6pm to midnight” or whatever works for your schedule.
You begin work at your scheduled time, end at your scheduled time, and tell yourself that everything you’ve completed during those set hours counts as enough.
Currently, my freelance career runs on an hours-based workday; I begin at 7:30am, work until 4pm, and take a 30-minute lunch break. Anything left unfinished at 4pm. has to wait until the next workday, which means I’ve gotten very good at knowing how much work I can produce in a given hour, since I need to know how many projects I can schedule into a 40-hour week and still hit all of my deadlines.
The project-based workday
At the beginning of my freelance career, I used a project-based structure. I’d work on any assignments I’d received, and when I ran out of assignments, my work day (or in some cases, my work week) was over.
This was also the part of my career where I was trying to send out at least one new pitch per day, since I didn’t always have enough assignments to fill an eight-hour workday. Plus, the assignments I did get didn’t always pay as much as I wanted to earn, so I knew I needed to find new clients and level up my income.
Since I completed assignments as I received them, this meant that some days I’d have three hours of work to complete, and other days I’d have 12 hours. Some freelancers like this kind of schedule because the free time balances out the late nights, but it was my least favourite method of structuring my workload.
The income-based workday
When I started getting enough freelance assignments that I knew I’d have work to complete every day, I switched over to an income-based structure. I started asking myself “How much money do I need to earn this month, and how many assignments do I need to pitch, secure, and complete to hit that goal?”
At first, it took me close to 50 hours a week to hit the $US5,000-month income goal ($7,298) I’d set for myself. Then, as I began building relationships with higher-paying clients, it took fewer hours to earn the same amount of money. This meant I had time left over to pick up new assignments, so I increased my income goal.
Different types of freelance/gig economy/side hustle careers will naturally lend themselves to different types of workdays. If you’re a dog walker for a service like Rover, for example, your workday ends when you’ve walked all of the dogs under your care (and done the administrative work required to manage your career, like checking your Rover inbox and giving owners updates on their dogs’ days).
If you’re trying to get a photography business off the ground, you might want to start with a project-based workday: Every day, you’ll reach out to three prospective clients, share five photos on social media, etc. As your business grows, you’ll probably switch to an income-based workday—in other words, you’ll start asking yourself, “How much work do I need to do today to hit my income goals for the month?”
If you’ve built your career to the point where you have more than enough work coming your way, you can start asking yourself how many hours you’d like to work every week (vs. how many hours you have to work to earn the money you need).
So if you’re ending every day wondering whether you’ve worked 'enough', ask yourself what type of workday you’d like to have. Then set your goals accordingly—and once you’ve hit them, tell yourself that it’s time to close the laptop, put the equipment away, and get out of the home office/coffee shop/co-working space. Your workday is done, and now you can enjoy the rest of your life.