By Laura Garwood, Collaborative Editor

One of the hardest things about working on your own—whether you’re running a business or writing outside of your day job—is maintaining productivity. And with the new year upon us, many of us are making resolutions to increase our workload and income. At a recent Editorial Freelancers Association meeting, I spoke about the only real way to achieve this: boundaries!

People often ask for free time or advice, you may receive requests for help during your work time, and work calls or messages can take up your productive time. And you may also distract yourself with social media, personal calls, and personal-life tasks like chores. Any of this sound familiar? You’re not alone!

You might find some or all of these solutions helpful for managing external interruptions:

  • Tell family and friends, “Sorry, I have to work.” Make it clear yours is real work, as opposed to a hobby as many people seem to view freelance work.
  • Ask for money for your time.
  • Choose a specific time to set aside for interruptive things you already know you want to do, like volunteer jobs. Say no to the others.
  • Act like you’re not home. Don’t answer personal calls. Check work emails and messages on a schedule.
  • Set appointments to catch up with friends and family outside of your work hours.
  • When you remember a personal task you need to do, write a note to yourself to deal with it later.

And to keep yourself under control, you may need even more discipline. These hacks might help:

  • Use the Pomodoro Method (twenty-five-minute work intervals with five-minute breaks). This helps you stay on task, makes you realize how much time your interruptive tasks take (hint: laundry takes longer than five minutes), and even helps you survive boring tasks.
  • Be fully set up when you begin—with clothes on, fully fed, and having already retrieved work items.
  • Maintain strict working hours—schedule personal tasks for planned breaks or after work.
  • Schedule personal emails, calls, and visitors.
  • Set billable time goals and track your progress on them.

Good communication, whether with colleagues, clients, or friends, can also greatly help. Try these:

  • Explain specific boundaries: business hours, fees, efficiency issues, and personal boundaries.
  • Schedule appointments for calls, discussions, interruptive work requests, and questions.
  • Charge people incrementally for work, and consider a minimum charge.
  • Put everything in writing, even if you have discussed it verbally.
  • Discuss what will happen after you have finished a task or commitment.
  • Only send work emails or return work phone calls during working hours. Only send personal emails or make personal calls outside of working hours.
  • When you can’t do something, tell people you are not available. Don’t sabotage yourself just to please others.
  • Write specific policies for yourself about how you will use your time and what you expect from working or personal relationships. Include them in introductory discussions with clients or work agreements with colleagues.

Good luck! And stop reading this—get back to work!