You’re a freelancer. You chop deadlines in half like the Karate Kid. You breeze through tax season with the grace and ease of a butterfly gliding through a cloud made of rainbows. Your freelance life is as stress-free as a cruise ship that is fully stocked with margaritas, booked at only half-capacity, and never goes far enough from shore to make you start thinking Titanic thoughts.
If that paragraph describes you, I’m going to have to buy you a cup of coffee and attempt to mind-meld with you in order to learn your secrets and absorb your clearly alien willpower. If that paragraph doesn’t describe you, then pull up your favorite old, partially-deflated bean bag and give me a high five, because we’re going to work through this whole stress thing together.
Stress in the freelance life is normal. Stress that makes you cry all the time is not.
There are roughly five billion tips out there to help reduce stress levels, but we don’t want to cause you more stress by tossing them all out at the same time and expecting you to expertly catch them. When it comes to living life as a freelancer, and dealing with some of the unique stressors that come with the freedom and control of running your own business, it’s often more effective to identify the habits that are actually causing you to feel so stressed out. So, without further ado, let’s check out 7 of these habits that might be causing you grief, and talk about how to fix them.
1. Blurry Boundaries
Clients, right? They’re your lifeblood, your inflatable raft in an unpredictable ocean of competition… so the last thing you want to do is push them away by saying “no” or “I can get this to you next week, but I can’t make it happen by Friday.”
Here’s the secret to this conundrum: You’re going to have to say those things.
Remember: your goal is to have enough clients to make a living. If you let each of those clients believe that they can get ahold of you 24/7, and that you can always complete projects ASAP, you’re going to experience burnout. In addition to burning out, you can add still-remaining deadlines and a whole bunch of client resentment to your stress list. The only way to combat this is to set clear boundaries from the get-go.
Similarly, a quick way to waste a bunch of work time is to let your meetings go on for too long. Whether it’s via Skype, phone, or face-to-face, start your meetings off with an overview or agenda. This will help keep the meeting on task, and will provide a sense of completion when it’s time to wrap up.
Include communication availability and realistic project completion times in your contracts, and be as honest as possible. After all, you want to keep these clients for the future, and you don’t want that future to be full of tears, headaches, and grumbles under your breath.
You may not have a boss breathing down your neck about too-long lunch breaks anymore, but you do need to maintain some kind of schedule in order to keep yourself on-task and organized.
If you work at home with kids around, or live with a changing schedule, that’s totally fine, but it’s important to sit down at a certain point (it can seriously only be for 8 minutes if that’s all you can spare) and plot out the course of your day. Google Calendar and even project management software like Trello can help you keep your day in order and keep you from forgetting important tasks or appointments. If you prefer to put your plans on paper, I highly recommend the Passion Planner to manage your work and personal life, all in one spot.
Wading through clutter hijacks precious work time, whether you’re digging through stacks of paper or drowning in an overfilled inbox. If you’re trudging through an hour of mundane tasks before you get down to business each day, there’s a good chance you’re due for some work/life/environment de-cluttering. Check out our Freelance Spring Cleaning article for an in-depth look at decluttering your freelance life.
4. Sleeping through the slow times.
Let’s face it: freelancing isn’t always a feverishly bustling hamster wheel of work. Sometimes it feels more like an old sloth in a zoo exhibit: going nowhere fast. There’s almost no way to make these times in your life stress free, but there are ways to make them productive. Rather than putting all of your focus into the fact that you’re not working, try moving your effort into bettering yourself and your business.
This is the perfect time to ask a few important questions, like, “Are the rates I’m charging working for me?” Or “Should I even offer that service anymore?” Use this time to reevaluate your process and services, so that when business does pick up again, your freelance machine will be working smoother than ever before.
5. Wearing too many hats.
Because of financial concerns and the excitement most freelancers have to grow their businesses, it can be easy to say “YES! YES TO ALL OF THOSE THINGS” when it comes to new clients and projects. If you’ve got the time and schedule for it, sometimes it’s okay to do that in the beginning… but not forever. Eventually, you’ll find that the projects you don’t like or care about will cause you to feel excessive stress and even resentment to certain clients or projects.
As your business grows, it’s a good idea to specialize. Start trimming down your “yesses” to the projects that you actually want to take on. This will obviously make your life more enjoyable, but it will also improve the quality of your work and portfolio by letting you focus on the work you care about.
Sometimes the extra hats can take the form of administrative and non-billable tasks. If you find that you could make more money by paying someone else to take care of those things, you might try outsourcing the items you’re not passionate about.
Finally, especially if you’re working from home, those extra hats might mean dishes, laundry, or feeding your Aunt Matilda’s cats three times a day. In this case, you might need to let the dishes sit for a few days, or ask Aunt Matilda if someone else can take over feeding duty for Nibbles and Chewbacca. You’ve got to stand up for your personal and work needs so that you can find a healthy balance.
6. All work and no play.
It might sound a little cliche, but you’ve got to make room for that sweet, sweet me time.
I talked about a schedule earlier; make sure you schedule some recreational time in your daily plans. That could mean 45 minutes of reading, going for a bike ride, or watching old episodes of The Simpsons while you enjoy a few Girl Scout cookies.
You need to find time for whatever floats your boat… because you’re the captain of this freelance ship, and the last thing you need is to fall asleep at the helm because you’re bored or depressed.
7. You’re not moving enough.
If you do most of your work sitting at a desk or a computer, you’ve got to get yourself moving. According to a New York Times article, you “burn more energy by chewing gum or fidgeting than you do sitting still in a chair.”
Inactivity can lead to health problems like heart disease and obesity… both of which add stress to your life, and can hinder you from doing the work that you love.
Even the most sedentary freelancer can benefit from a quick 15 minute walk in the sunshine, both physically and mentally.
Don’t let stress sink your spirits.
Okay, so you might not be an elegantly graceful, freelance Karate Kid… but you can at least start karate-chopping some of the things in your life that are causing you undue stress.
Remember to look out for your well-being, be aware of your preferences, and make the time to step back and look at your business to make sure it’s running as effectively as possible… and maybe be careful with all those Girl Scout cookies.
Everything in moderation, right?