There are many reasons to leave secure employment and embrace freelancing, from enjoying professional freedom to enjoying actual physical freedom. When you work for someone else, you spend eight (or more) hours in their office, and usually not just any hours, but those from 9:00 to 5:00, when everyone is awake and doing business. Don’t you resent that? Of course you do! Who wants to wake up every morning to go spend their most productive hours doing something marginally engaging, listening to criticism from people they do not particularly respect and whose judgment they often doubt, just to make someone else’s business grow?
Sure, your end of the deal doesn’t look so bad: steady income, benefits, a job in your field of choice and being able to leave all your troubles behind when you go home. But if you’re a creative type, this arrangement will soon start to feel either too stifling or too comfortable, or both. That’s when you have to take a big risk and plunge into your own career.
(Image by xerones.)
Employee Work: The Scenario
Working in cubicles, anyone?
(Image by Tim Patterson.)
One of the good things about steady employment is the constant pressure on you to produce results and come up with ideas. You can’t allow yourself so much as an hour to browse social networks, read blogs or, worse, “waste time” watching videos, even informative ones. Your boss could show up at any moment, demanding that you have something to show for the time that has passed since you were briefed earlier that morning. Some bosses (I’ve known a few) are sneaky enough to appear behind your chair out of the blue with some condescending remark like, “What are you doing on YouTube?”
Surely we should get rid of these people, because they limit our freedom and creativity. But something is to be said for getting cold feet from time to time. It keeps you focused. It’s healthy.
What Happens When You Start Freelancing
Once you start freelancing, you rejoice at the notion that you control your own time and space. You don’t have to show up on time (say hello to the wee hours). You don’t have to be presentable (say hello to sweatpants and chenille robes). And you won’t have to prepare three logo proposals in three hours (say hello to quality… finally!).
You don’t feel uptight anymore—even if your boss was relaxed, sooner of later some kind of reckoning awaited you. But now that you work for yourself, that pressure is gone, and you are finally master of your domain. Now that drive you felt to produce results without wasting time might get lost.
It’s way too easy to tell yourself that reading design blogs is never a waste of time because it gives you knowledge and inspiration. Of course, Photoshop tutorials are always beneficial! And Twitter is not a time-waster: it’s a way to create business connections! Yeah, right. But everything has a limit. For those of you who find yourself stuck in this rut, here are 10 tips to get out of it and keep you from ever getting stuck again.
1. Turn The Alarm Clock Back On
Alarm clocks actually believe we want to wake up every morning!
When you worked as an employee, you woke up to the dreaded alarm clock every morning. If you turned it off when you started freelancing and are now experiencing productivity challenges, maybe it’s time to turn it back on.
I’ll share my experience with you. I use the alarm clock in my cell phone, which repeats Monday to Friday. On the last Friday of my job as an employee, I didn’t turn it off. The following Monday, the first day of my freelancing career, the alarm went off at 7:30 as usual. I woke up and started what was, after all, just a normal workday. The only differences with previous workdays were that:
- I didn’t feel hurried because I had no train to catch.
- The commute took about 10 seconds, the time required to clear the breakfast table.
- As I sat down to the computer, I started working right away, instead of taking the first 20 minutes to gaze into eternity.
- I loved that Monday, and each one after that!
2. Observe Regular Working Hours
Plan your working hours in advance.
Maintaining regular work hours is crucial to organizing your time. Even if you freelance, you still have to wake up every day and get things done; otherwise, where will your career go? Keeping regular hours doesn’t necessarily mean working 9:00 to 5:00, Monday to Friday. The beauty of freelancing is that you can set your own schedule. Ultimately, how much is more important than when. Make sure you put in the hours, regardless of when they are, or you’ll suffer the bitter consequences.
Don’t fool yourself, though. You’ll still be burning the midnight oil at times. You’ll still have to skip a night out with your buddies occasionally to meet a deadline. But effective time management will help keep those occurrences as a rarity.
Many freelancers admit they work longer hours than when they were employees. I believe this is more a consequence of loving what they do and devoting more time to it than anything else. Your mileage will vary.
3. Dress And Behave Like You Still Work In An Office
Don’t wear slippers! Especially these ones.
(Image by mrbill.)
You’ve set up your workspace to be all spiffy and trendy. You’ve brewed a fresh pot of strong coffee. Now, be professional. Wear something other than pajamas or sweatpants. Because regular clothing is less comfortable, it enhances the office experience even when you work from home. Wearing shoes instead of slippers helps, too.
Sit properly at a desk instead of slouching on the couch (or worse, lying on the bed). Not only does correct posture benefit your health, it separates the business “you” from the private “you.” Just because you’re your own boss, doesn’t mean you can just leave the office in the middle of the day to walk in the park! Take five-minute breaks every hour, and then get back to work.
Keep yourself on your toes.
4. Devise a Reward System
Treat yourself when you’re good!
Reward systems work. People go to extreme lengths just for that big final payoff. Just look at the ridiculous things men do to win women’s favor.
If the thought of finishing or even starting a project doesn’t seem to shake you out of procrastination, then set another goal, one that’s not work-related. Is there a certain movie you’re dying to see? Don’t see it unless you cross a certain item off your list.
Three years ago, when I moved to Poland, I could have easily installed an Internet connection in my apartment. I could afford it. Instead, I chose to wait until I found a job. Only then did I connect myself, and I felt proud. I deserved it.
5. Devise a Penalty System
Sentence yourself to house chores when you’re not productive.
(Image by walkn.)
Penalties work, too. Write a fun list of little chores that you’ll sentence yourself to if you don’t do your work. People you live with can help you with this (and they’ll love it). “Didn’t work on that website? Here’s the mop!” “Forgot to go through last week’s mail? Clean that chandelier!” Instant productivity.
6. Prioritize Your To-Do List
“I would prefer not to” is a good answer.
The concept of structured procrastination has been explained brilliantly before. Apply it to your to-do list. Prioritize your assignments according to deadline and importance. Never postpone deadlines, but address the most interesting and important items first.
Once your priority is set, just do as follows: don’t feel like tackling the first item? Move on to the second. Don’t feel like doing that, too? Move on to the third. And so on. If you reach the bottom of the list and still don’t feel like doing anything, maybe you’re in the wrong profession. Or you might simply need a boss. See the next tip.
7. Have Someone Pose As Your Boss
Your fianceè could double as your boss.
You read that right. You still need a boss. If you can’t make yourself work productively, then you’d better give your significant other the job. Just have him or her demand a report from you about your daily accomplishments.
- “Did you complete today’s to-do list?”
- “Did you make that phone call?”
- “Did you submit that quote?”
- “Did you start that new project?”
- “No? No soup for you!” (See tip #5.)
This “boss” should be someone who knows you well and whom you trust. Someone who’s close enough to you to be able to call you on your little schemes to get out of work.
8. Optimize Your Lunches
If you work from home and cook your own lunches, like me, cook larger portions to last you a few meals. Yes, eating the same dish two or three times in a row is boring, but it’s time– and cost–effective and helps you better manage your eating breaks.
When lunch hour comes, opening the fridge and finding yesterday’s left-overs ready to be warmed up is great. Quick and delicious, the meal won’t take longer than the usual half hour to eat, and you’ll be back to work. Mind you, rotating a few dishes during the week doesn’t have to dull. Do your research; ask knowledgeable friends; find new easy recipes to increase your gastronomic arsenal. Food can be inspirational, too!
On a personal note, I really enjoy being able to warm up my lunch after having spent three years in Polish office spaces, where microwave ovens are hard to come by. Being Italian (and hence, obsessed with food), this deprivation contributed big time to my distaste for employee life.
Keep the complicated dishes for the weekend, and make sure to show them off by hosting dinner parties and Sunday brunches!
9. Keep Yourself Busy And Inspired
There’s a beautiful world outside. Go out and it will inspire you!
When I was working for someone else, the thing that depressed me most was waking up every morning full of ideas but not having a way to pursue them until much later in the day. Sadly, after at least eight hours of work, commuting back home, taking a shower, cooking and eating dinner and doing some house chores, I was so tired (more psychologically than physically) that I just couldn’t bring myself to revisit those ideas. Never again! That’s why I quit my job and began freelancing.
Before, I was on perfectly straight paved roads, but I only trudged. Now I’m on shaky ground and winding roads, but I’m strolling along nimbly at an ever faster pace.
There’s nothing better than being able to reach for the computer to try out a great idea that just came to you. And now that you’re freelancing, you can afford to do that because your schedule is suddenly free. Alas, freelancers get lonely and fall into ruts easily. To keep the creative juices flowing, you need a steady intake of inspiration. Read books and magazines, play music, exercise. Leave the house, meet people, go places. When you come back to your work space, you’ll feel refreshed and full of ideas.
You’ll also need a lot to fill your days. In fact, we seem to accomplish more when we’re busiest. Without taking on more jobs than you can handle, try to discriminate between your tasks. If you spend too much time on a job, you will get bored and sloppy, and the quality of work will suffer. Break down complex tasks into simple bits, approaching them on different days. This will keep you objective and enthusiastic.
10. Look Back On The Old Times And Chuckle
Yes, remember back when you were a mere employee, trudging your way through endless weeks of dull assignments, baffling meetings and forced laughs at your boss’ jokes? You can look back on those times and sigh with relief. It’s all over now. Muahahaha!
You had the strength to quit steady employment and concentrate on your career. Now you owe it to yourself to make it take off. Get to work!
Here are some further articles and related resources:
- Freelance Switch
These resources for freelancers are a must-visit. The contents are grouped into clear sections: getting started, dealing with clients, day-to-day productivity, etc.
- Freelance Folder
Another great resource for new and seasoned freelancers alike. Both this and the previous website have interesting communities to which you can contribute by using the forum and submitting articles.
- Productivity articles on Zenhabits.net
Blogging superstar Leo Babauta shares his insights on productivity.
- Structured Procrastination
The original essay that inspired this effective productivity method.
- Quick and easy recipes on Allrecipes.com
A good collection of recipes, grouped by preparation time: 15-minute meals, 30-minute meals, dinner in an instant, etc.
One of the best image bookmarking websites around. Great for inspiration. So great, in fact, that it could eat up precious hours. Use with caution!
Everyone knows about this amazing service. Inspiration is just a click away. StumbleUpon is also a fantastic source of traffic for your blog and portfolio.
About the Author
Andrea Austoni is an Italian freelance designer currently living in Krakow, Poland. He specializes in icon design and illustration. He runs Cute Little Factory, his personal portfolio and blog.