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5 tips on how to stop overworking 24/7 as a freelancerStijn Schutyser
Freelancing gives you the freedom to do your life and work your way, which as we know is awesome. But that freedom also means that work isn’t always in our control. A project explodes or implodes, an important client lays waste to your schedule or gigs start flooding in after a dry spell. Often, that means that you’re working more than you’d like. Luckily, there are some ways to curb the work overload. In this blog post, we’ll discuss 5 tips on how to stop overworking 24/7 as a freelancer!
1. Make the most out of your productive time
Everybody has their most productive day in the week or their most productive time during the day. You should try and make the most out of this time as much as possible. Companies have behavioral control over their staff. If your best time for focused work is smack in the middle of the morning staff meeting, then you’ve got tough luck. What if constant interruptions keep you from getting stuff done during your prime time? Guess you’ll have to work a little later!
Not so much as a freelancer, though. You can perfectly decide that during your most productive time, you shut off your phone and work from your bed if that works best for you. Additionally, during times where you know you’ll be less productive, you can already prepare things to make sure you get the most out of your productive time. Make sure your desk is tidy and set up the way you want it to be, that you’ve already answered emails or done your taxes. That way, those things are already out of your way and you can fully focus on work. And hey, if you know you need a 2 hour lunch break in order to be more productive during the rest of the day: go for it!
2. Have an availability policy and stick to it
Write down for yourself and for your clients when you’re available, possibly even in your contracts. And then respect that timing. Sticking to your availability policy will let clients know that you’re serious about it. Some things to consider when drafting up your availability policy:
- Your communication practices: some freelancers check email and phone messages at specific times. If you do, say so. Try not to make exceptions, especially not at the start.
- Your availability during the workday: if all hell breaks loose when the kids get home from school, you might be unavailable from 4 p.m. You don’t have to explain this to your client (but you can). Extra tip: word your unavailability a bit more positive and say that you are available until 4 p.m.
- Your weekend availability: some freelancers work on weekends just like weekdays. Others work but don’t answer emails or calls. Others still take weekends completely off, while for some, weekends are the busiest time of the week and they take time off during the week.
Two more tips to help you being (un)available at the right time:
- Unless you’re butt-deep in a crisis, don’t take calls during calls or meetings with clients. It’s like dating: your clients know you see other people, but they rather not think about it.
- You don’t have to be available all the time when you’re working. It’s perfectly reasonable to tell a client you’d love to talk about it this afternoon or tomorrow morning when you’re busy working on a project. Just don’t make them feel you can’t make time for them.
3. Time off means time off
A short time away – actually really away from it all – can refresh you more than time when you’re supposedly ‘off work’ but keep checking messages or doing chores. I know: it’s hard and I’m very much at fault here too. Just recently I went on summer holiday, but not without my trusty MacBook “to check things once in a while”. Even though I didn’t really work all that much during the holiday, once I was back in the office it hit me that I shouldn’t have done it (I should have read our own article about taking a stress-free vacation!). It was my time away and I still snuck some of my work in my free time. Try to keep your work away when you’re holiday, I know I will next time!
When you’re not on holiday, it might help to schedule free time blocks. Lots of people do the same as me and sneak work and chores into their free time. “I’ll check some things on my phone during my rests at the gym”, “I’ll take my laptop with me when I go get a coffee!” or “I’ll get my exercise for the day by running errands”. In order to prevent this type of behaviour, try scheduling your free time and respect that time. If your free time starts at 3 p.m. on a Saturday, then that’s it: no more work or chores, full stop. Just thinking about that time during the week can give you a mini mental vacation or provide you with the some motivation when things aren’t going as well as they should.
4. Ease off the gas
Like extra pounds, overwork creeps on gradually. We sneak in message checks here, a half-hour of work there. Stopping short can be hard on yourself and instead of making you more relaxed, have the opposite effect. Try stepping back in the same gradual way you sped up. Ask yourself whether you really need to do this now, or if it can wait until later. Wean yourself off checking your messages. Ratchet back the end of your workday half an hour at a time if you regularly work ‘overtime’.
5. Build a sufficient financial cushion
Working from a place of greater financial security is a powerful drudge-buster: you aren’t forced to overbook yourself and pursue every gig, no matter how bad or poorly paid. Freelancers typically can’t count on steady paychecks in the same way regular employees can. And while freelancing is flexible and full of opportunities, most freelancers will agree a variable income in a world of regular expenses is a large stressor.
If you have a steady and balanced freelance portfolio that has enough clients of the right kind, you can slowly start building a financial cushion that allows you to work at your own pace. That, in turn, should help in decreasing working too much too often.
Especially as a freelancer, it’s easy to work too much. There’s always something: a huge new client, tons of changes to current projects, an opportunity to try something new, and so on. That’s the stuff that you don’t really have control over, but there are ways to make it easier on yourself and decrease your workload (without having to kick clients to the curb!):
- Make the most out of your productive time and get stuff done when you’re in the zone.
- Don’t make yourself available 24/7.
- Time off = time off, free time = free time. Breaks are sacred!
- Try to reduce your hours worked per week or per day slightly, and see if you can still get the same amount of work done.
- Build up some financial security so you don’t feel like you have to chase every gig or opportunity that comes your way.
If you’re looking for a partner in freelancing that takes your work-life balance into account, there’s only one thing to do… Contact IT Match here and find a project that perfectly fits you!