Back in the days when I had just one job to think about every day, I often thought, "How would I love to be a freelancer just picking up a job here and there and doing what I want." Little did I realize, when I became a fulltime freelance writer, how wrong my preconceived notions of the freelance lifestyle would be. Not to say I don't love it (because I do), but it is very easy to let freelancing stress you out beyond belief.
Yes, you get to set your own schedule and choose your clients, but rather than show up at an office every day and have someone tell you just how to manage your time, you're running the show all yourself. If you aren't careful, you'll be stressed out, maxed out, and ready to pull your hair out. So before you go a little crazy burning the midnight oil at the coffee shop every night, here's a few tips (tried and tested) on how to be a low-stress freelancer.
Figure Out Your Stress Points
What makes you the most stressed? Missing a deadline? Mismanaging your time? Forgetting an invoice? Doing your taxes quarterly? (Yes, this is a thing freelancers need to do.) These are all things that can really plague freelancers no matter what their job title. Prioritizing your list of stressors and addressing them can make the difference between losing your mind and saving the day.
Some ideas that might work for you include:
- Utilize a paper system for organizing your To Do's (try a bullet journal technique or a series of sticky notes you move from day to day).
- Dedicate a chalkboard wall or whiteboard wall in your home (or home office) to a giant, visual list or deadline calendar (or just a place to organize your thoughts where you can't lose them).
- Need more lead time to get things done like taxes or invoicing? Set those calendar reminders appropriately so you get that ding at four days out, not 10 minutes before you need to figure out your financial standing for the quarter.
Figure Out Your Stress Releases
Congratulations! You're a freelancer! Yoga, Tea breaks, mindful meditation, coloring breaks, playing with the dog, going for a run…these are all at your disposal as someone who sets their own schedule. You're so lucky! If you like working out in the afternoon…you can! If you want to take 45 minutes to meditate at 2:30pm, you can! But you have to take action to get rid of that stress ball filling your stomach. Nothing is going to go away if you just avoid dealing with it.
If ten minutes with the Calm app isn't taking the edge off your mind grapes, then you need to find out what will. It's entirely possible that your release will be as varied as your projects. One week, you might need to hit that heavy bag at the gym, the other, you might need a dip in the sauna or a quick walk around the block with the pooch.
And yes, you can de-stress for free! Mediation apps often don't require purchase, and there's likely a cheap or free community yoga class somewhere nearby. Try the great outdoors for some free exercise, or if the weather is lousy, try a trip to your local library, an animal shelter (kitten rooms can be addictive, fair warning), or a local indoor pool or rec center operated by your town.
Avoid the Bad Stuff
Junk food, alcohol, procrastination….these are all options….bad ones… to fill your day. If you need to find a neutral territory where snacks aren't so prevalent so you won't stress eat, then do that. If you need to move far far away from Netflix to get something done, then get thee out of your living room! Taking control of your destiny is one way to get stuff done.
I'm typing this from one of my neighborhood local coffee shops. I come here when I'm on deadline and need a dedicated few hours of heads down work time. The music is good, the coffee is fantastic, and I get a "treat" of a latte and a bit of change of scenery. Patronizing a local, independent store is great when you need wifi and some inspiration, but don't forget that they're running a business, too. Don't sit there all day with just a cup of water and a smug look on your face. (And don't forget to protect your valuables if you step into the bathroom for a break.)
The other "bad stuff" is flat out sitting for too long at a time. There's lots of debates about standing desks vs. traditional sitting down, but there's no doubt that sitting on your butt all day isn't great for you. Get up and move every half an hour, just like you tried to do when you were a nine to fiver at a regular office. Get those steps in.
Schedule, Schedule, Schedule.
Do you know how many prospective clients have asked me about keeping deadlines? Almost all of them. It seems it's really common for freelancers to blow through deadlines. Don't be like that.
Avoiding deadlines isn't going to win you clients (or keep them around for long). You need to figure out how your day is going to work for your own level of productivity. If you only have 30 minutes of work to do, that's great, but as a freelancer you're never really "done" with work (SURPRISE!) because you're always hustling. Do you need to schedule time into your day for pitching new clients or following up with old clients to see if they remember you and have a new gig to send your way? (Guess what, there are no guarantees but death and taxes, so you better get back to work.)
A friend and great writer once blogged about her daily freelance work breakdown from wakeup to bedtime. She used it as a demonstration of where all that time goes during the day when you're balancing life and work on your own terms. Let's face it, we're all going to be doing a little laundry and checking in on Facebook during the day, especially if we're working from home. We also might be making something interesting for lunch, buying a birthday present online, or any number of "things" that people do when they're adults. On top of that, it's nice to get some work done.
When in Doubt, Go Back and Change Things Up
Some weeks, it feels like you can get a lot done while binging Law & Order reruns. Sometimes, you need to get your butt to the coffee shop in the afternoon to carve out some focused work time. Some days you need to make a lot of phone calls, and others you may need to be somewhere there is zero service so you don't get tempted to check social media every five seconds. It may depend on what you're working on, or what's going on (oh hi, upcoming holiday craziness), but you need to be willing to change things up when circumstances require.
I often have to reconcile the fact that I'm a freelancer who sometimes works from home with friends and family who think I'm 100% available for any daytime errand or task. I'm happy to help out where I can so that my weekends are more about being offline and less about spending hours alone while friends get to frolic somewhere. Some days I can help out with afternoon trips to the grocery store or picking up the dry cleaning, sure, but some days I need to put on my virtual "do not disturb" light on and say "no thanks, I'm busy working." That's how I get stuff done with a minimal amount of stress…at least this week.
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