Most of my working life I have operated as a freelance consultant and coach. I have experienced the pit-falls and advantages of the freelancer lifestyle, first hand.
Working as a freelancer means that you can work whenever you feel like it and in any way that suits you, it's one of the main advantages of being a freelancer. It is also a major pit-fall. Some people are simply defeated by the freedom. Without a regular schedule (or a boss), making sure work gets done can be challenging. Here's what I wished I had know when I started out.
Have a plan.
It's vital that you create a plan of work and stick to it. This helps you maintain a work life balance and makes sure you know what needs to be done each day. It also prevents you from working too much. This may be surprising, but some freelancers never 'switch-off' and this inevitably leads to burnout. When creating your plan remember to allow time for mundane things like paper work, filing, accounts and professional development.
Work with your natural rhythms.
We all have our own 'body-clock' and associated 'Circadian Rhythms'. It's the age old early birds vs night owls. The good news is that you can create a schedule that works for you. If you are most productive in the early morning, start work early, otherwise think about starting your workday after lunch. The combinations are endless. I'm an early riser so for most of my freelance life I have divided my workday into three sessions. 05.00 to 08.30, 09.30 to 12.00 and 19.00 to 22.00. This gives me lot's of free time and 9 hours of productive work every day of the week. Naturally when projects and deadlines require more hours I adjust, but I try hard not to let this happen especially as I march deeper into my 60's.
Tell everyone who needs to know.
Once you have your schedule set, inform the key people in your life. This is a big issue especially if (like me) you work from home. Letting colleagues and clients know your schedule and availability is important especially if international time zones are an issue. That said, I have found the biggest issue as a freelancer working from home is the people with whom you live. It's amazing how easily working hours can be eroded by well-meaning interruptions from family and friends. As silly as it may sound I would constantly tell those around me (especially the children) that when my door is closed they should imagine that I'm on a desert island with no means of communication.
Use your plan to monitor your working hours.
I always try to keep in mind that I work to live not the other way round. Any work plan you make should work for you not against you. This means that it's up to you to make sure your plan delivers results. Part of your plan should be to take some time to reflect on what you are doing. Within this there are three important questions. Are you getting things done? How are your energy levels generally? Do you have enough time and energy to support a healthy personal life? If the answer is no to any of these questions it's time for a reboot and a new plan.
Rest when you need to.
Flexibility is the biggest advantage of being a freelancer. Health, fitness, and personal relationships can come first but only if you allow for them. The perfect working day is an illusion. There are always unforeseen interruptions. Design your plan and timetable to accommodate them. The simplest example from my working practices is to always allow for time before and after a task. This has two advantages. Firstly it stops me from rushing from one thing to another. Secondly this 'buffer-time' builds up over the day and makes moving things around easier.
Make your rest time count.
Think and Grow Rich author Napoleon Hill reputedly talked about the importance of planning your work and then actually working the plan. The problem in our world of communication overload is that people don't prioritise down-time. If you plan to take a break do just that. Resist the urge to check emails and consider turning off your phone. If you need a business reason for this, recent research suggests that people who only check their emails at set times during the day work more efficiently and are less likely to lose focus compared to those that, insist on dealing with things in real-time.
To sign-off. Well planned freelancing should give you control over your work which in turn should help you be efficient, productive and maintain a sustainable work-life balance.
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