Growth is key to a happy, fulfilling life – both personally and professionally. Even if you’re in a particularly cushy freelance rut, after a while the monotony begins to wear. The nicest routine, after too long, feels pretty darned bad.
The good news is that creating (and marking) progress is fairly simple! It only takes a few adjustments to create change… and track the growth you are making.
If you were a conventional employee at a conventional business, odds are you’d occasionally be subject to a review. You’d be called into the boss’ office for an awkward sit-down, and sweat through an analysis of your progress and missteps throughout the year. It’s an often uncomfortable (and occasionally unfair) process, but it’s a way to mark regular growth.
The nice thing about being your own boss is that your review process needn’t be onerous! Open up your online calendar (or flip through your physical planner). Make unshakeable plans with yourself about when, how, and where you’ll conduct reviews: I like doing it quarterly, but pick whatever schedule works for you.
When it comes time to do the self-review, pour yourself a nice cup of tea or coffee. Sit down in a relaxing, quiet environment – and give yourself an honest evaluation. “Honest” needn’t mean “uncompassionate.” What did you do especially well? What benchmarks did you hit? What can you continue working on?
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It’s easy to feel frustrated with progress, especially day-to-day. Often, we focus on our challenges instead of our accomplishments, and growth can feel glacial.
If you’re feeling especially stuck, try comparing yourself now to yourself three months ago, six – a year, two years. If you really feel like you’ve been in a rut, go back farther. How is your freelance business now, compared to where you began? Returning to your origins can help you refine your existing goals and identify your strengths. Odds are, you’ll notice some significant growth… EVEN IF you’ve been growing through a rough patch.
Even when we go through hard times (heartbreaks, shakeups, disappointments), we often gain wisdom or learn the depths of our own resilience (or the strength of our limits). What have you learned – about yourself or your freelance business? What lessons can you take away from your experiences?
It’s not impossible to make progress without a specific map to success. God laughs at plans, they say, and many a freelancer has stumbled upon an unforeseen opportunity or a lucky break.
But the best way to FEEL like you’re making significant progress – to feel in control of your freelance destiny, even if control is an illusion – is to set short-term and long-term goals for yourself. Goals give you structure while you’re waiting for the Universe to shower lucky accidents on your head. They keep you sane and occupied when you’re waiting for the phone to ring… and yes, they do help propel you towards accomplishment.
Personally, I find it helpful to combine my quarterly review session with my goal-setting session; then I have a specific deadline for progress on my objectives (the next check-in). I intentionally create a combination plan, including easy-, medium-difficulty, and extremely ambitious goals.
The easy benchmarks make me feel accomplished even on my lowest days (look, Ma, I flossed!), while making mid-level goals seem approachable – if I flossed, then I can schedule that wisdom tooth removal. I may not accomplish all of my more ambitious goals every quarter, but including them in my itinerary lets me shoot towards long-term growth… while keeping an eye on my overall objectives. And when I occasionally check off one of those big, monstrous, sky-high goals… well, that feels pretty darned good.
Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.