How to stay productive when working for yourself

Olivia Thornton tells her story of how to stay motivated and productive.

If a couple of years ago you had asked me ‘could you work for yourself?’, my answer would have been ‘no’. I’m easily distracted, I procrastinate and I’ve been told I can be quite the chatterbox. So when I made the decision to leap into the freelance world and become a virtual assistant, I knew that I was going to need some serious self-discipline and motivation.

Making the move from working in an office to working from home can take some adjusting to. You’re now accountable for yourself; the looming monthly meetings and performance reviews have gone. Your working day is flexible; there isn’t anyone making sure you’re at your desk from 9am until 5pm.

You don’t get the social interaction you’ve been used to from your coworkers; I will admit, there are days when you’re going to miss this.

In a generation where communication and connectivity is constant, working ‘anywhere with Internet access’ is becoming more prevalent. It’s giving people the opportunity and freedom, not just to work for themselves but also to provide the flexibility to decide where, when and how. That being said it’s still an extremely big transition to make – for some it can be a risky one – but it’s oh so worthwhile.

If there’s any advice I can give, it would be to create and follow a daily schedule.

I’d be lying if I said there isn’t the odd time here and there where I still get distracted or procrastination gets the better of me but over time I have picked up a few habits to keep me motivated, productive and accountable to my clients, as well as myself. 

Make a schedule

The last job I had before going freelance came with a regimented schedule; I had an early start, my breaks were predetermined and weekly trainings were always fixed in the diary.

So when all of a sudden there isn’t anyone telling you where to be and when, it is extremely tempting to stay in bed for an extra hour and maybe even watch an episode on Netflix during your lunch break. But believe me when I say, that extra hour can easily turn into two hours and one episode on Netflix somehow rolls into a series.

I have a love for all things organisation, it’s part and parcel of being a virtual assistant. So I take great joy in making a to-do list and a schedule to go alongside it. I know it sounds self-explanatory but this is determined by what deadlines are approaching, projects I’m working on etc.

It ensures I start my working day at 9am and even includes meal times and when I’m going to the gym. Without a schedule my working day doesn’t function properly; my head feels scrambled, I don’t get as much work done and my motivation decreases as I’m left feeling disappointed with myself.

A schedule gives me structure. It allows me to exceed customer expectations, completing work before the provided deadline. It gives me time to work on developing my business. It allows me to work more efficiently. If there’s any advice I can give, it would be to create and follow a daily schedule.

Find a hobby

The majority of people that work for themselves usually work from the comfort of their own home. Although working from home comes with a very long list of benefits, it does take away the social interaction we often take for granted in an office environment.

The day can quickly run away with you and before you know it, you’ve gone a full day without leaving the house.

Some time away lets your mind breathe for a minute, coming back refreshed and raring to go again.

For me, my hobby is simply going to the gym. Whether I go to a class or do my own thing, it gives me some social interaction to my day with the added benefit of keeping active. Working in an office is sedentary but working from home is dangerously more so! Working out leaves me with a burst of energy that heavily contributes to my productivity and motivation.

When your workplace and home merge into one it can be hard to differentiate the two. Some time away lets your mind breathe for a minute, coming back refreshed and raring to go again.

Set goals

Questions I always dreaded during interviews were ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’ and ‘what are your long term goals?’. At the time I never knew how to answer, all I knew is that I wanted to be happy in my place of work. Since working for myself, these questions have become more important and relevant, especially when it comes to motivating myself.

I’m not saying that you need to have a five-year plan but setting goals small or large can really help to push you along. Some of my goals can be as small as ticking off three items on my to do list. Others are bigger goals of where I want my business to be by the end of the year.

Reaching those goals gives me a sense of achievement that motivates me to set more, pushing myself and my business further.


Putting the above habits into practice (along with a few others) has increased my productivity massively and most importantly, kept me motivated to work for myself. It isn’t easy and it takes hard work but the end result is so rewarding you don’t ever feel like going back to being another seat at somebody else’s desk.

If you ask me now ‘could you work for yourself?’. The answer will always be a confident yes.


About the author

Olivia Thornton is a freelance virtual assistant.


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