• Advice

What to do about freelance fail days where everything you do sucks

Some days, I’m on top of everything; I’m Captain Freelance Success. I bound out of bed in the morning, get all of those emails answered, bang out 3 different projects, take a long lunch with a friend (why not? I make my own schedule! I’m a freaking Titan of Industry!), and get a sweet paycheck in the mail. Normal work schedules are for suckers, I smugly think, why doesn’t everybody freelance?

… those are the Freelance Win Days.

But some days, I hit the alarm clock one too many times and eventually roll out of bed at an hour best-suited for teenagers and ladies of leisure. I take a look at my calendar – Jesus, how is that deadline tomorrow? – and battle a nagging suspicion that I have actually completely forgotten to add something important to my schedule. Chugging my cooling coffee, I check my mailbox; that client still hasn’t sent the check, despite multiple-polite-but-increasingly-tense reminder emails. Finally, unshowered and still in my pajamas, I sit down to work….

… and nothing happens. My brain refuses to function.

A message pops in my inbox asking about project status; I blithely respond: I’m just in final revisions now, you’ll see it soon! The email is peppered with smiley faces; I take out all of them, as not to seem like the desperate, sweaty liar I… am. Now, the email looks too stern. I add in one smiley face. Nothing looks professional. I hit SEND anyway and instantly regret it.

Where is my aspirin?

I close Facebook. I put on music. Minutes tick by, and I’m still staring at a blank computer screen. Just start working, I say to myself, beginning is half the battle!

Twenty minutes later, I have only written the following sentence: HELP.

When I first started freelancing full-time, days like these sent me into a total funk for a week. I hate failing, and I hate it the most when it seems internally driven, when my own brain is betraying me.

So how did I overcome my Freelance Fail Days?

I didn’t, really.

I’ve found that the more I try to punch through the wall with sheer frustration, the more my creativity refuses to kick in. This is sometimes frightening! Since I’m a freelancer, every hour has professional (and income-earning) potential – and when I don’t follow through, I feel like I’m failing myself.

I wish I had some magic formula to overcome Fail Days, but I’ve found that the only way beyond these “failures” is through them. I’ve come to accept that these pitfalls as inevitable – and even serve as valuable tools to improve my progress. I just have to accept that some days won’t be as productive as others.

Most importantly, Fail Days often indicate to me that I need a change – whether it’s in work routine, schedule, or content. If I consistently cannot produce work for hours and hours, it probably means that I need to take a break for a little while, and give my subconscious time to process. If I’m in a rut, I might need to change up my environment or think about if I’m actually enjoying the work anymore; if I’m no longer enjoying it, I might need to re-examine my approach or find another client.

When I saw the occurrence of occasional Fail Days as fundamental weaknesses in my willpower, I had them more often – and I didn’t learn anything from them. Now that I’ve come to accept them as part of the process, they’ve become my teachers. They force me to make a change; whether it’s as simple as working from a new coffee shop, or taking a day or two away from work altogether.

Like any other work, freelancing is full of good moments and bad moments, and there are plenty of diversions from the “ideal” path. But since I’ve embraced Freelance Fail Days as a necessary part of the journey, I’ve found myself more creative and productive overall. I can’t overcome entirely, it seems – but I can live through the imperfect times to get to the best days.

How do you fail – and what do you do to pull out of Fail Days?