Being a freelancer certainly has many upsides, from setting your own hours, being able to work from home in your pajamas, to ultimately answering only to yourself. However, it’s not all roses and sunshine. The dark side of freelancing include frequent isolation, financial pressure, irregular working hours, and a possible toll on your health, according to professor Cary Cooper.
As a freelancer myself, I know firsthand some of the negative effects that this kind of work entails. Over the years, I’ve gradually learned to avoid most of them by using some simple self care strategies that I think every freelancer could benefit from. Here they are.
1 Know Where your Hours are Going
I used to find myself not having enough time to finish the tasks that have been assigned to me. This means that, instead of having some free time for myself, I’m spending my weekends rushing to complete a project.
But, this doesn’t make sense. There are 168 hours in a week, which is to say there are a lot. So, where are my hours going?
I decided to keep a time log to find out. For this, you can use time-tracking apps like Everhour and Timely, or even Google Sheets. Since I’m trying to spend less time on my computer, I just used a pen and paper. This also makes it feel more personal to me.
After a couple of weeks of logging, it was easy for me to get a clear picture of what’s going on. I’m spending too much time doing things that can be done quickly. These are unconscious bad habits that keeping a log helped me unearth, such as:
- Watching Youtube while I eat (which takes twice as long)
- Catching up on the news while working (makes me 50% less productive)
- Going to bed late and messing up my circadian rhythm (even after 10 hours of sleep, I’m still tired)
Once you’ve figured out where your hours are going, it’s just a matter of changing your habits so you can be more time-efficient. You don’t have to make big changes at once, since baby steps are actually more effective in changing a habit.
2. Put your Health Goals First
A fit body leads to a fit mind.
In a study done by Brixton University, they found that people who worked out are better able to concentrate on their tasks compared to people who didn’t. Working out also helped employees finish their tasks faster, and feel more motivated to work.
This means that by spending some time taking care of yourself first, you will naturally reap the rewards in terms of improved work performance. If I told you investing 3 hours a week on fitness makes you twice as productive when you’re working, would you do it? Of course!
These days, I dedicate 30 minutes first thing in the morning for a quick jog (or if it’s raining, use the treadmill). To mix it up and add an element of fun, I play badminton instead during the weekends.
At first, it was really hard to commit to these health goals. But, as time went on, I actually found myself looking forward to these workouts. The result? I have a clearer mind, and I feel more energized, so I am able to do more work in a shorter period of time.
On a related note, we all know sitting is really bad for you. To keep my body moving even while I sit, I use an active sitting chair (Core Chair to be exact) that adds crucial micro movements to my body as I work. I’ve found it has the added benefit of keeping my mind more alert as well.
3. Prioritize Prioritize
As a freelancer, it just seems that there are constantly 101 things that need to be done. I get confused and I find myself jumping from one task to another in an effort to do them all at once. In the end, I barely get any work done.
The solution is so simple. Prioritize.
Not all tasks need to be done right away. Figure out which tasks need to be done in what order, and tick them off one by one.
To keep it organized, I create weekly and daily goals which tell me with just a quick glance what should be done next. In my daily goals, I also highlight three important tasks which I commit to finishing that day.
Again, there are apps like Evernote, Todoist, and Google Keep that you can use for this. But, for me, I prefer just resorting to the old notebook and pen, because it’s just so satisfying manually striking out the tasks that I have completed.
4. Create Mini Deadlines
I like to divide big projects into small tasks, each with its own deadline. This helps me make sure that I’ll be able to finish the project in time, eliminating the stress of having to rush to meet the deadline. Even when my clients don’t set a deadline, the pressure of giving myself self-imposed deadlines helps me focus.
For example, when giving my client an update, I’ll tell him, “Almost done with the post. Will turn it in tonight.” By declaring your deadline to the client, you are committed to finishing it so you can move on to the next project quicker.
5. Say No to Multitasking
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking doesn’t make you more time-efficient. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, the mental switching that multitasking requires can consume up to 40% of your productive time. Plus, there’s a higher chance of errors since you’re not able to focus.
Prioritizing applies here as well. You have to choose the more important task first. Then, when you’re a little tired, that’s when you tackle repetitive tasks that do not require much mind power to do.
Work with your ultradian rhythm by being productive for 90 minutes, and then taking a break for 20 to 30 minutes. Spend these breaks by hydrating, stretching, or giving your eyes some rest. I also sometimes take short walks outside just for a change of scenery.
6. Plan your Meals One Week in Advance
A lot of my freelancer friends do not eat a healthy diet- far from it. They mostly eat out or resort to packaged meals because it’s just so much “easier”. The fact is, it’s totally possible to eat healthy meals without having to spend so much time preparing them. You just need to plan ahead!
During your day off, plan your meals for the entire week. Think of meals that are easy to prepare or can be prepared ahead of time.
For example, my breakfast this week is oatmeal. What I do is get several microwave-safe jars, and put the right amount of oatmeal, cinnamon, dried fruits, and nuts. Now, after my morning jog, I just have to add some milk and microwave it on high.
For lunch, I prepare healthy lunch boxes that can be put together like an assembly line and stored in the freezer.
It does take some creativity and dedication to come up and prepare for your weekly meals. But, thanks to the Internet, I never really run out of ideas. There are also meal planning apps like Mealime, FoodPlanner, and Yummly that you can use to plan healthy meals.
7. Eliminate those Distractions
Distractions are as bad as procrastination, if not worse, when it comes to inhibiting your productivity. For me, I used to have 20 tabs open all at once when I worked- Facebook, Youtube, the News, you name it. Those distractions were sucking the energy out of me, and I wondered why writing a 500 word article took 5 hours.
These days, here’s what I do to minimize distractions:
- I have a 5 tabs rule- No more than 5 tabs open in my browser at anytime, and all must be work related.
- Put my phone in another room- I can still hear incoming calls, but it’s not within easy reach.
- Use the Google Chrome plugin StayFocusd– It lets me set the amount of time I can spend checking my social media such as Facebook or Youtube. Once the allotted time is up, those sites become inaccessible.
8. Create a good Work-Life Balance
One of the best things about freelancing is the flexibility. But, for many freelancers, myself included, it means the line between work and your life becomes blurred.
I’d sometimes be proofreading an article when dining out with my friends. Other times, I’d be checking my mail when I’m watching a movie. Overtime, I noticed mixing work and play really takes away from the whole experience of just enjoying life. Additionally, according to a Dutch study, this inability to separate work and home can lead to more exhaustion and body aches.
To really unplug, I’ve learned to set boundaries.
- Dedicate a period of time when you’ll only do work-related tasks. Let your family and friends know about this as well so that you won’t get disturbed.
- Have a dedicated workspace that will help you get into the zone. Remove anything that isn’t work-related on your desk.
- As much as possible, do not work on the weekends. Giving yourself some personal time will help you recuperate from the stress of working, making you more motivated to work come Monday.
- After your work hours, resist the temptation to check your work emails.
- One of my freelancing friends has a separate laptop for work and personal use. But, you can also just make a separate user or account where the only installed apps are work-related.
9. Don’t Ever Neglect your Social Life
Social isolation is one of the most common challenges that freelancers face. Working at home alone makes it hard to nurture strong relationships. This puts freelancers at a higher risk of developing major depression and certain types of addiction.
How can you beat the loneliness that comes with freelancing?
Honestly, it’s all about recognizing the importance of living and enjoying life, and making it a priority to socialize more. Only when you truly realize that work is just a means to an end, and never the end goal of life, will you start to create the right priorities in life. We humans are social creatures, and having a social life is critical for living a healthy and happy life.
Here are some other things that you can do to improve your social life as a freelancer:
- Join meetup groups. I’ve met so many friends through the platform.
- Make it a point to meet up with your friends at least once a week.
- Learn a new hobby. This can mean taking cooking classes (for your weekly meals!), joining a book club, or learning a new sport.
- Get a change of scenery. Try working at your local library or signing up for a coworking space.
- Volunteer. Not only will you meet new people, the feeling of giving back will make you feel much more fulfilled.
Self Care is All About Discipline
In the end, if you work for yourself, whether as a freelancer, entrepreneur, or digital nomad, the key to staying healthy and productive is by exercising self discipline. The discipline to go to bed at regular hours, separate work from life, not getting distracted, and creating realistic deadlines. I know it’s easier said than done, but at the end, just remember that it all starts with discipline.
If you have any other self care tips that have helped you, please share them in the comments section.