22 Feb Freelance Anxiety and the Art of Balance
I’m a high intensity kinda gal. Two-thirds perfectionist and one-third superwoman, I think I can do it all. Some might read me as a workaholic because apart from the commercial work that I do for others I constantly have a myriad of projects of my own. I work from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep, allowing little time for breaks or social activities (unless I’m hired to be there). Luckily for me, my partner in life is also my partner in business and so, he understands my groove and doesn’t hate on the hustle.
I like to work hard because I’m passionate about what I do. I truly love investing my energy into my projects – I get really excited about my commercial work for others and, of course, my adventure travel bliss, but giving 110% all of the time can take its toll. Making time for friends (or for yourself for that matter), eating well and taking care of your health can fall by the wayside. It seems like you can get around to those things later, but somehow later doesn’t seem to come.
Anxiety is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at times. Lots of people experience nervousness when dealing with problems or making difficult decisions, but, for a freelancer, juggling projects, clients and personal goals can feel endlessly frenetic. Being your own boss, it’s hard to draw the line. How many projects are too many? How late at night is too late to keep plugging away on an exciting project? These questions are important to consider if you feel like your life is out of balance.
I had a breaking point about a year ago. Back from a month in Guatemala, I realized that while on the road I had fallen behind on several projects. While I was in one place I could focus on accomplishing my work, but it wasn’t so simple when I was on the move. Literally juggling 10 different things – from client deadlines to creative projects – and maintaining my blog schedule was too much; I cracked. I was exhausted and sick from trying to catch up. I knew I had to find a graceful way to work while traveling, but I also had to learn how to use my time better and simply take care of myself.
There were several gems that I took away from this experience.
1. You have to be a considerate boss
Be the kind of boss you’d like to work for …because, well, you do. It’s not fair to run yourself into the ground. It’s not a sustainable business model. For some it may be choosing an off day, finding time for friends, or creating more attainable deadlines. I realized that I was such a yes girl that I’d offer unrealistic deadlines to my clients and then kill myself to meet them. But wait, I’m the one setting the deadlines! By setting more realistic goals, and being kinder to myslef, my projects required much less stress.
2. 5-to-1 s aren’t worth the grief
When you start the freelance game, you take whatever comes your way. You don’t have a choice. But as you establish yourself in your field, you can be more discerning. It’s an important transition to make because 5-to-1 s will suck you dry. What’s a 5-to-1? A client who requires 5 times the energy of a normal client.
This can manifest in a myriad of ways:
- the time-suck, someone who wants an exorbitant number of meetings or phone calls, disproportionate to the work you are providing;
- the indecisive client, someone who makes endless changes to a project and can’t make up their mind, forcing you to re-do elements of the work over and over;
- the freebie hunter, someone who tries to manipulate you into doing extra work for free;
- the hand-holder, someone who wants to be involved in every step of the process, unable to delegate they inhibit you from doing the work that they hired you to do by slowing the pace down to a crawl;
- and the jerk, kinda self explanatory, anyone who’s rude or condescending to you.
Kick these clients to the curb! They cause more stress than they are worth. They hinder you from maximizing productivity and can even make your doubt your work. They aren’t worth your valuable time!
3. Tomorrow never comes
Today is the only day we have. We have to make choices that enhance our well-being as well as our productivity. It isn’t good enough to think that we’ll do it differently tomorrow; because habits are habits and the longer we allow them to maintain the harder it is to break them and do things differently. Make changes today that help you to live in a way that’s healthy for you.
Not everything is top priority and treating it like it is can be toxic. Ordering tasks based on importance, size and timeframe can be helpful in reducing stress. Figure out what daily activities are important to you and then build your work schedule based on your top priorities. By better managing your time and personal goals, you’ll experience less anxiety.
For example, I recognized that my peak writing time is between 9-1. Since writing is what I consider my top priority, I don’t schedule client meetings during those hours; I don’t work on non-writing projects, I often don’t even check my email. By protecting my top priority, I don’t drop the ball.
5. Take care of yourself
You have to leave space to take care of yourself and do things that relax you, otherwise you will burn out. For me, that’s become breaking for dinner (something I never really did before). Taking time to close down the computer, prepare and cook dinner, and then enjoy it with my partner. Another clutch activity for me to take care of myself is exercise – it helps me sleep well and burn off stress that’s accumulated during the day. What feels good to you? Figure out what serves your mental and physical health and make that a priority.
What do you think about anxiety and finding balance in a freelance life? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.