All Things oDesk
April 13, 2010 by Tamara Rice

When you ditched your 9 to 5 job, did you also ditch "office hours"? Join the club. One of the benefits of freelancing is the ability to plan work hours around your day -- rather than the other way around.

However, finding time for work each day can get sticky, especially when a slew of other demands crop up: the lawn needs to be mowed, you're out of milk, the cat needs his shots, etc. Add a family to the mix and, let's face it, work can float to the bottom of your to-do list.

I know because it happened to me. I've always known that keeping freelance office hours was the best way to eliminate distractions. Trouble is, I couldn't remember the last time I actually had office hours. Three weeks ago I realized after years of working from home, I was no longer managing the demands on my time, the demands were managing me. The result was constant guilt about work, ongoing procrastination, low productivity and smaller paychecks.

So, I decided to confess my time management sins to the freelance gods and start over. Armed with strict office hours, I set out to change my freelance lifestyle and the results were instantly noticeable, and instantly rewarding. My work productivity went up and my time off work became guilt-free.

office hours challenge odesk freelancers clocksWhich is why I'm thrilled to announce the oDesk Office Hours Challenge.

Starting tomorrow, we want you take our Office Hours Challenge by keeping your own office hours for seven days. Then, on Thursday, April 22, we'll choose 3 lucky Office Hours Challenge participants to win autographed copies of The Wealthy Freelancer.  What have you got to lose?

Here's what you need to do to take the challenge:

  1. Set office hours for the week of April 14 to April 21. We recommend selecting your most productive part of the day or the time when you will have the least interruptions. The office hours you set for Monday may be different from the office hours you set for Thursday, but the point is to set hours for each day at the beginning of the week and stick to them. (And don't forget to schedule two of those days off! Whether you choose the traditional weekend or utilize weekdays is up to you - but scheduling time off is almost as important as scheduling the work time!)
  2. Don't let anything interfere with your working hours. Don't take personal calls during these hours, reschedule doctor appointments that fall during these times, and so on.
  3. Don't let work interfere with your time off. Don't take work calls in your down time, don't even look at work emails outside your planned hours. (Hint: If your clients are used to you being at their beck and call, you may need to post your work hours for this week on your voicemail and email signature.)
  4. Share the results. At the end of the week, on Wednesday, April 21, post the personal results of your Work Hours Challenge in the comments section of this blog entry. Were you able to stick with it? Was it harder than you thought or easier? Were you more productive? Share your thoughts on keeping office hours by 11:59pm PDT on April 21 for a chance to win!
  5. Watch for the winner. On Thursday, April 22, we'll select 3 lucky Office Hours Challenge participants to receive The Wealthy Freelancer, autographed by co-author Ed Gandia. We'll announce the winners on the oDesk Blog, Twitter and Facebook.

So, tell us. Are you up for the oDesk Office Hours Challenge?

Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.

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  • Erica

    Thanks for your comments on how setting office hours worked for you! Looks like we could have been a bit more clear - we weren't asking you to work "9-to-5" or "full-time" hours. The goal was to schedule for yourself what parts of the day were going to be work time and what parts would be personal time - and then try to stick to the plan.

    There will be a post up shortly with our winners! Thanks for sharing your office hours experience!

  • Dianne Mae O. Pribhdas

    One of the biggest problems of the freelancing industry is the same as one of it's biggest advantage - FREEDOM.

    Most of us choose to be freelance professionals because we want to have control of our own time when it comes to work - and who wouldn't? It is a really good set up, indeed - especially for work at home moms such as myself.

    Nonetheless, this unlimited amount of time on our hands can indeed cause a decrease in productivity - well, at least, that's what I noticed in my own personal experience as a freelance professional.

    Haven't you noticed that when you're at the office, there are times when you can finish a monumental load of work and even render unfathomable over time hours and yet when you work at home, there are times when we tire too easily?

    I think it's because we know that we can take a break any time we want and there is also that thought at the back of our head telling us "I can do it later" to make room for less important things.

    This is something that I had noticed in myself when I was first starting out, it is also something that some of my friends who have just started working on oDesk are suffering from.

    So, when I saw this challenge, I grabbed the opportunity to start maintaining regular "office hours". For me, this means being able to work at a continuous pace or for a consistent number of hours each day.

    I am a mom of 2 toddlers and it can be difficult to work with no interruptions, because I have no household help to do the chores and stuff. I do have my mom who helps me with the kids when I am working.

    I started on Friday - April 16. My routine was as follows:

    12:00PM - 7:00PM: work

    7:00PM - 9:30PM: dinner/power nap

    9:30PM - 6:00AM: work

    6:00AM - 8:00AM: writing assignments

    8:00AM - 12:00PM: sleep

    I have tried working straight for more than 8 hours or even tried working 24 hours non stop, but that is just not healthy. It also lessens the quality of work that we provide to our buyers because we literally burn ourselves out.

    There are times wherein I am not able to wake up on the desired schedule or routine, so what I do is to compensate by adjusting the time. I just make sure that I render or maintain the number of work hours I had alloted to the different projects that I have.

    It's not really about having a regular 9-5 job. It's more about making sure that you are able to work steady and continuous hours for each project that you are working on each day.

    So far, I was happy with the results because I am expecting to receive the maximum amount of money from my assignments due to this change of routine.

  • Virtual Team

    It's not so much I'm not up for the challenge but you need to take into account not all freelancers are full-time. I subcontract to virtual business part-time after my outside job. Yes I can set hours but I find it's not necessarily my most productive time. That's the morning.

    It is true though you must keep a schedule.

  • Pablo Estrada

    Well, I believe it`s hard to make an schedule to work while being a freelancer, there are some weeks where you can barely sleep and others that you have almost nothing to do...Also, a major difference of being a freelancer from an office job is that you get paid for what you the more you work the more you earn.

    This is my experience:

    I tried to start with this on 04/14 and the first thing I got was a call from a client from the UK at 3am! went back to bed and remembered I wanted to do this... Got a big project and a call interpretation on late night so I went to bed at around 2am on the 15th.

    Day 2, almost impossible...woke up late and worked till 11pm---failed

    Day 3, I got was a Friday so my clients where not thinking on doing business...

    Day 4---yeap---it was a Saturday when I got an emergency project...spent day 4 and 5 working non-stop

    Day 5---you already know the story.

    Day 6---busy monday, phone ringing, almost 200 emails on my inbox....nevermind lets go to day 7

    Day 7---hmmm....this is not for me!

    I believe it`s not a bad thing that a freelancer can`t maintain the business of the good things about freelancing or having your own web based company is that you are not tied to a schedule!

    When you need to do something you go out and do it, in your case Stephanie you have the chance to work while taking care of your baby...

    I really enjoy doing this, I can work whenever I want and if you work more you earn more (another great advantage). I travel a lot, and it`s amazing to go to an island in the Caribbean and still having the chance to work and make money. You only need an internet connection, your laptop and oDesk!

    Thanks oDesk!

  • Stephanie

    It's April 22, 2010, 08:00 UTC+8 here at my place so I guess I can post my experience already. :)

    I started on April 15 because the day before was my birthday. Obviously I wouldn't be able to maintain my office hours so I started my challenge on the 15th. I assigned myself to work from 9:30 AM to 11:30 AM then 1:30 PM to 5:30 PM. The morning schedule is especially important because it's when my 1-month old daughter would sleep soundly till she's hungry or needs a nappy change.

    Sadly, I couldn't maintain my office hours because of her unpredictable sleeping and eating schedules. I'm busy writing and all of the sudden she'd wake up and start crying. We don't have a nursery and my room is the biggest of all the rooms here at home so I had to place her crib right beside my home office space.

    I love my daughter to the point of putting my work aside anytime in order to tend to her needs. I guess you can say that I lost to the challenge of trying to maintain office hours for increased productivity because of my present circumstances. I still managed to finish all of my work for the day though but it could've been completed in lesser time if there were people around to assist me in caring for my daughter. My husband is working as a web developer in the city while I'm here with my baby in the province.

    Well, that's my experience. At the moment I'm using this desktop app that's designed to help me keep focus and boost my productivity. Hopefully it'll work for me ^_^

    Good luck to everyone!

  • Adam McNutt

    I tried this, and came out about the same. Granted most of my clientelle up here isn't here for a while, and this valley is drying up with work all around.

  • Pablo Estrada

    Work 24/7 if possible! not necessarily office hours...after all you are your own boss and can take a nap after lunch!Just a matter to manage your time wisely...working@home can drive you to be a workaholic---I still on rehab with constant falls on the process! lol
    To answer your question: Well it depends on the business you are... I vary my hours to work and normally result more productive at night, but my workers find more productive woking on business it depends (I am a buyer and provider)I believe all freelancers prefer working on the night "shift" my case, I work all day :D $$$ is calling!

  • Den Pribhdas

    I'm going to take part of this as well! :) Can you guys provide more information about how we're going to publish the results or what information we will be required to submit?

  • clea walford

    yes, same with me!

  • Candace Werry

    This sounds like a great idea. I fall under the same problem where my hours are so sporadic I lose sleep and whack myself out sometimes. The other evening I had to stay awake until 3AM . I'm definitely going to take part in this!