Navigating and balancing the act of keeping sane, parenting and making it as a freelancer
and what to do when things turn into custard
There are days where things just don’t work out. The house has exploded into a minefield of stuff. Endless notifications come through on your phone. You woke up late because the alarm didn’t go off. On top of everything, clients refuse to pay and the toddler is having a meltdown because you closed the fridge door.
For me, yesterday was one of those days — which at one point I just wanted to lock myself inside a room and pretend I didn’t exist.
Life can be hard when you’re freelancing, especially when you’re still trying to figure it all out. When it comes to working for yourself, it’s a whole new ball game. Your productivity determines your paycheck. Good client guarantees it in your bank account in a timely manner. When you’re working a typical 9–5, that stuff just happens regardless of how much output you produced.
There are perks too when it comes to freelancing like setting your own hours, freedom of choice, the flexibility of location, the opportunity to earn more and break through the invisible glass ceiling.
But every now and then, the perks of freelancing doesn’t seem all that worth it. Here are ten bits of advice and reminders I wished someone told me when I was starting out to help me on the bad days and get me back on track towards enjoying the happy parts of freelancing again.
#1: Always Dress Up
Even on the bad days.
When you’re working from home, sweat pants (or whatever you woke up wearing) seems like a good idea. They’re comfy. There’s no need to look acceptable or decent. You don’t have to worry about your hair or how your face looks for the general public.
But like making your bed every day, it’s the little but major things like looking acceptable, even at home, can change the way you conduct the rest of your day. It sets you up mentally for the day ahead, priming your brain with the fact that it’s a work day — even when there is no external boss to tell you what to do because you are now the boss — so look the part at the very least.
#2: Protect your time and make it work for you
The thing with working for yourself is that the people around you think that you’ve got all the time in the world now.
When you’re working a 9–5, everyone seems to understand that your time is not your own and that you’re working against the clock. When you’re working for yourself, your time may suddenly become free for all with no limitations.
But that’s often not the case. You’re still, in theory, working a 9–5, just not in the same format as everyone else. Your ability to manage your time will determine how productive you are. Protect your time and make it work for you rather than have your time work you.
#3: Go analog
This one is more a piece of advice than a reminder.
The thing with digital is that it’s constant and infinite whereas analog is finite and physical. As freelancers, our work and connection to our clients are often through digital means. When we switch to analog, our time becomes much slower because we treat the process of working differently.
Don’t get me wrong, time still trickles at the same rate but our perception of it changes when we remove ourselves from the digital and onto a medium that is considered slower. When we dump our thoughts onto paper and glance up at an analog clock instead of the digital ones on our screens, we are interacting with the physical world rather than the digital one.
Our efficiency may increase as we are more receptive and aware of what we’re doing and not sidetracked by the million possible things that we can do in the digital world. Our gauge of time and interaction with it also changes.
#4: Work towards creating products that are not time bound
As freelancers, we are dependent on clients and sourced work to make a paycheck. However, sometimes things are seasonal. There is no one there to pay you every week like how it used to be. Money stresses are often one of the things that propel many back into full-time traditional employment again.
When you balance your time towards creating products that are not time-bound, you are reducing your financial risks. You don’t become entirely dependent on your clients to survive and if you happen to get sick, take a holiday or just can’t work for whatever reason, it’s like a little insurance payout to keep you afloat.
#5: Lazy Parenting is alright
If you’re a parent and trying to make things work, lazy parenting can be one of the most beneficial things for your miniature humans. Disconnect them from devices and let them play. The better they get at being creative, the better you’ll have it in the long run because they’re capable of entertaining themselves — which means more time for you to do you.
Lazy parenting isn’t the same as neglect. You still give them food, water and make sure they don’t run around with dangerous pointy things — but you also give them the space to figure out the world without you there to navigate their every move. You’re a working stay at home parent — not a helicopter.
#6: Learn to properly disconnect
When you call it a day — call it a day. Learn to disconnect from work and don’t let it bleed into your every waking moment. Ignore that 9pm message and look at it tomorrow. Don’t let your clients dictate your work hours — unless that was part of the thing you signed up for.
The point of freelancing is to have the mobility of time. You wouldn’t be expected to respond to a message outside your 9–5 hours, so it seems unreasonable to do the same thing for your freelance hours.
Sure, clients might be in a different time zone but once you are clear on your time boundaries, stick to them and learn to disconnect from your work. Shut down that computer. Put your phone notifications on mute. Go make yourself a nice dinner and enjoy that glass of wine.
#7: Take a mental health day
When everything seems to fall apart around you, take a mental health day. Signs and symptoms include and is not limited to irritability, anxiousness, inability to focus and let you’re set off by everything and anything.
Your brain probably just needs a rest.
Taking a mental health day is more than just taking a day off. It’s an act of total disconnect from your work and reconnect with yourself. You’re feeling depleted because you are — mentally and physically.
Get some sleep. Go for a walk or just do something other than work for a day. You might find yourself suddenly more productive and creative than before.
#8: Embrace daycare
If you’re a parent and daycare is an option for you, embrace it. Don’t feel guilty because sometimes you just need that solid block of time to do your thing. Your child is fine.
At some point, they’re going to have to go to school once they reach a certain age. It’s a similar concept except with daycare it’s just younger and an option you’ve chosen. If you think about it, daycare is good for their social skills. There are a lot more people for them to learn and interact with. Little children don’t need much in the world — just enough entertainment to keep them occupied and knowledge that you’ll always be there at the end of the day.
#9: Plan your meals
If you’re always feeling like your short for time, eating lazy can result in weight gain, which can make you feel bad about yourself when your clothes no longer fit you. Maybe it’s just a female thing but it can affect guys the same way too.
When you don’t plan out your meals, you can quickly fall wayside and end up things that are not good for you. This means that you’re not nourishing your brain — one of the most vital tools of your freelancing trade. When you have a game plan for your food, it’s easier to shop for the ingredients and cook up something decent without sacrificing your wallet or your health.
Not only that, you will feel less stressed because you’re chemically balanced and are able to handle whatever stresses your freelancing gig may bring.
#10: Go for a walk
The thing with working from home is that there is often no commute — which means there’s very little idle time or going outside. Some days, we often find that we haven’t gone outside at all for almost a week because there is no necessity for it.
The thing with without from home is that there’s no commute — which means there’s very little idle time or going outside. Being constantly inside can be more mentally detrimental than good for your productivity and well being. Urbanization has taken us further away from our true natural habitats and placed us in concrete jungles, often associated with stress-related diseases and mental disorders.
Go outside for a walk, have some fresh air, tear yourself away from your work just for 15 minutes and take the child with you if you must. Let your brain wander a little. Look at some trees.
Just because you’re freelancing now doesn’t mean you should neglect to take care of yourself. You still need to adult your way through life regardless, except this time, you’re free to create your own structures and boundaries.
Protect the things that matter to you most and don’t let your clients dictate how you should run your life. Bad days happen when your structures and boundaries collapse under the weight of too much. Reduce your workload and if you think you can’t because of financial reasons, then figure out a different way to work. Don’t let the habits and frustrations you felt during your 9–5 bleed into your life. You’re a freelancer now, which means you need to work smart to gain the freedoms you’re chasing after.