Why it feels like you're always working (and how to fix it)

Aug 5, 2015

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

When I started freelancing, I thought I would have more time on my hands. After all, I wasn't going to be working 40 hours each week at my day job AND 10-15 hours on nights and weekend anymore.

Today, when I look at my weekly billable hours, I was right. I'm working approximately 40 hours each week as I intended.

But somehow I still feel like I'm stressed from working every single day of the week. The reason why? I am.

The Flexibility Crux

As freelancers, we often take so much pride in our flexible schedules that we forget to set healthy boundaries for ourselves and our clients.

After transitioning to full-time freelancing, I found myself working only 4-6 hours each day and whimsically spreading the work out over a full 7 day period.

I constantly felt like I was overwhelmed and overworked, when in reality, I was actually working less hours than I was before.

The 9-5 for Freelancers

The truth is, working 9-5 is actually very healthy (not to mention it's the schedule almost all of your clients will be adhering to during the project).

The trouble with most 9-5 jobs isn't the hours you work. It's all the other rules you have to obey as someone else's employee.

Everyone is different, but I find that when I work from 9-5, 10-6, or 11-7, I am far more productive than if I don't have a routine or plan for that day.

It's also far more convenient for my clients. They know they can contact me during relatively normal business hours and they don't pester me with emails on nights and weekends because they know I usually won't respond until the following morning.

Working consistent hours each day and week will naturally help your clients respect your time.

Be Realistic About Your Habits

Once I began to fine-tune my schedule and dedicate blocks of time each day to client work, internal business development, and personal interests, my productivity skyrocketed and I immediately felt less stressed, pressured, and anxious.

To make the most of your day, you must be realistic and honest about your schedule and work habits.

I no longer get caught up doing household chores or running errands in the afternoon only to find myself pressed for time in the evening.

Every freelancer has good and bad habits. As long as you are able to be honest with yourself about them, you can formulate a schedule and plan that works best for you.

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Set a Daily Schedule

A reasonable Monday - Friday schedule might look something like this:

8am - 9am: Wake Up, Shower, Eat Breakfast, etc
9am - 9:30am: Manage Emails
9:30am - 12pm: Client Work
**12pm - 12:30pm: **Lunch Break, Personal Time
12:30pm - 4pm: Client Work
4pm - 5pm: Internal Business Development
5pm - 12pm: Dinner, Personal Time

As you can see, this works out to:

8 hours of personal time
6 hours of billable client work
1.5 hours of internal business development
30 minutes of email management
8 hours of sleep

each and every day.


40 hours of personal time
30 hours of billable client work
7.5 hours of internal business development
2.5 hours of email management
40 hours of sleep

each and every week.

On Saturday, I sometimes spend a little extra time working on growing my own business and on Sunday, I always take the whole day off.

In Conclusion

Freelancing awards us the freedom to choose the hours we work, but it is important to have a plan for your days and weeks, even if that plan changes from time to time.

How do you effectively manage your time? What system works for you? I'd love to hear about it or answer any questions you might have via mattolpinski@gmail.com

Matt Olpinski designs websites and apps that help startups and small businesses succeed. In addition to designing web and mobile interfaces, he blogs about his experiences in the creative industry, runs a monthly newsletter and captures moments on Instagram.