Freelance writing is a great career. You have a lot of freedom you wouldn't have in other lines of work. But with that freedom often comes mental overdrive. Sometimes we work too hard. I think it has to do with the "feast or famine" mentality of freelancing. When work is coming in, we might feel like we should say "yes" to everything offered, because we never know when the work load will dry up again for a while.
I made that mistake earlier this year. To be honest, I still occasionally do (I'm just more conscious of it, and I compensate for it). It seemed like clients were swarming around with project after project. That's a good feeling. It's when you get to pick and choose. My choice at the time was to focus more on regular monthly contracts. But to keep myself from relying too heavily on those few larger contracts, I would still work in projects from repeat clients when they came along, even if it meant working late.
I still do that. I just go about it differently. I have my monthlies and I have a few repeats who come back on and off, but not regularly. What I did to start cutting down dealt with new clients. Basically, I won't take any. Well, I'll take a new client on referral sometimes. Sure new clients would be great, but I can't do everything for everyone.
I've tweaked my policies and work schedule a lot this year in an effort to find the best work / life balance. I found what works for me, and I'd like to see other freelancers do the same. A full work schedule, but without burning yourself out -- that's the life folks. To help you do that if you haven't already, I want to share three tips that got me there:
- You absolutely cannot be afraid to turn down work. I understand that some people worry if they turn someone down, they'll lose money. But what's money without your sanity?
- You should be earning what you need or want to earn as a freelance writer during your normal business hours. If you feel like you have to overwork yourself by cramming in extra projects all the time, then you screwed up somewhere in setting your rates. Start over.Fill your schedule, and then say "thanks, but no thanks" when more work comes around if it's going to put you into workaholic mode.
- Don't get me wrong. You can work late occasionally. Every now and then a good client might need a rush job and you know you can take care of it for them. Just don't make a habit of it.
- When you work late, what you're really doing is stealing time away from your personal life and personal responsibilities (yes, R&R is a responsibility -- you have to take care of yourself!). Don't steal. Borrow.
- I love the concept of borrowing my own time, and I do it frequently. For example, I don't get a lot of big time blocks to work on my book. But I get more done when I have them. So tonight I'm going to work late, taking care of any client work I had scheduled for Friday. That way I can take Friday "off" (I'll still check emails and such, but that's about it) to work on my personal project -- my book.
- I love to do this on Sundays and Thursdays. I hate Monday mornings. So now I ease myself into just about every week by clearing up at least some of Monday's workload early (usually Sunday night when if I didn't do the work, all I'd be doing is thinking about how much I'm dreading the following morning anyway). I also like an easy Friday.
- Here's what I might do:
- Sunday night, I'll clear up 2 hours worth of work from Monday's schedule. Then I have a choice on Monday. I can either sleep in and start work 2 hours later, or I can start at my usual time but quit two hours earlier than usual (I tend to prefer the latter). The trick is sticking to that. It can be tempting to still work those two hours on Monday. But no. No, no, no! That becomes your personal time on Monday. You traded fair and square. No givesies backsies.
Set Your Own Schedule
- This has been the best thing I've ever done for my writing career. I started getting up at 4am. Yuck, right? I'm not your typical morning person. I hate getting up early. But boy do I love knowing that I'm officially done work at noon if I want to be! I've slipped a bit lately to be honest, and my work has suffered for it (not the work itself, but how long it takes me to get from one project to the next).
- I work best in the early morning hours when it's dead quiet, the air is cool, and my brain's just starting to fire up. On a typical day I start work at 5 and finish at noon. Only 7 hours? Yep. I still take lunch at 12, so just consider the eighth hour my lunch break. When I used to work a more typical schedule, I often found myself working through lunch. Not anymore. Now when noon comes, it's "my time."
- I made that change because I'm completely unproductive in the afternoons 99% of the time. I don't want to be there. I get easily distracted. I just can't focus. So fine. I decided I wouldn't force myself to be there in the afternoon anymore! Since making the change, I get about twice as much done during a work day. You got it - twice as much done (which equals more pay) but without having to work into my personal hours.
- Your schedule may or may not be the same as mine, but try to find that ideal for yourself. The more focused you are, the better your work will be. You'll also procrastinate less (let's face it, if we don't want to be there, we probably aren't putting our all into getting the work done at that moment). After noon, I get to spend more time on my blogs, my book, my other sites, workouts, shopping, errands, watching TV or a movie, or just doing whatever I feel like doing. I literally have 8 hours of "me time" on weekdays. I never had that before. Don't ask me where the hell it went, but I feel like I found free time!
That's where the post stemmed from actually. I lost that free time over the last couple of weeks. I had a few large projects coming together all at once, and I let it overwhelm me. I worked late a few days early on. That meant I didn't get to bed on time, which in turn meant I didn't get up at 4 the following mornings. That screwed up my work schedule, and put me back into working through the afternoons.
Blah. That's how I felt. This week I've been getting back on track, and I feel better than ever. Yep, I'm working through the afternoon today. But I'm doing it on trade -- tomorrow's my time for my book. I almost lost sight of how good it feels -- that flexibility and freedom and why I choose to do this type of work in the first place. Never lose sight of that, and never let your work overrun your life. Remember, if you're going to burn yourself out, you may as well go back to working in a box.