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.
Oftentimes we talk about our careers as freelancers as destinations. We assume that when we get that client, that gig, or make that much money, that then our lives will start. Then we'll finally be able to be the people we're truly meant to be.
As seductive as this outlook is, it's a just ticket to ride the unhappiness treadmill. Freelancing isn’t a destination; it’s a journey in which you arrive at your destination every day you show up for work.
Rather than living for the future, I try focus on mindfully engaging with the present moment. Here are 5 ways I incorporate a mindful perspective to my freelance life:
1. Make the day sacred
I open my workdays with a meditation and grounding exercise, which sets the kind of sacred tone with which I want to infuse my life – and my work. We miss out on so many opportunities for growth and depth when we show up to our work frazzled or totally depleted from a lack of sleep the night before.
Many of us go through the email grind, get constantly distracted, and end the day without any reflection. Instead of going through each day as though it's just this thing that you have to get through, try to make it sacred somehow.
You could make it sacred by expressing gratitude as you make your morning coffee, breathing deeply before you start working on a project, or holding quick opening and closing ceremonies to start and end your days.
Your work - no matter what it is - can simply be sacred because you say it is and you treat it as such.
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*2. Slow down *
It’s true that racing to a deadline can yield an intoxicating rush, but that high comes at a cost. When we inflate a to-do into a necessity, we cause a stress response that can be addictive and detrimental to our business and to our objectivity.
If everything is urgent, then nothing is urgent. Focus on the building blocks of any given project and save the endorphin rush for a moment that actually calls for urgency.
*3. Stay present *
So many of us approach a workday with the mindset that we have to “get through everything.” For anyone who uses email, this sets up quite the Sisyphean task.
Rather than making “getting through it” your goal, focus instead on giving each moment, each email, each call or meeting your full attention. Over time, you’ll find that the “everything” you had to get through comes into focus and you’re able to prioritize more effectively and produce better work.
If you've ever been truly present in your work, then you know how amazing it feels - it's like time stops, and you can see things as they actually are.
4. Create beauty
Surrounding myself with beauty during my workday is really important to me. My desk is set up near a window and I’m constantly pinning (then trying!) different design ideas for a happy home office.
But this applies to the little things as well: I add nice color-coding to excel spreadsheets, choose pens that write fluidly, and take notes that are easy to re-read later.
The sense of calm I achieve by surrounding myself with just a little vibrancy and beauty means that creating the right freelancing environment is more than just a superficial exercise – oftentimes, as we define our environments, we also define ourselves!
*5. Protect the work that's most important *
There are constantly opportunities to set aside the work that really matters to us. Just the other day, I had blocked out some quiet time to prepare for a training I was giving and received an urgent request from a client right before I was about to start. Old me probably would have sacrificed my quiet prep time to attend to this issue, even though it wasn't actually urgent, but present-day me has been through this before.
I decided that I wasn't willing to compromise the quiet time I needed to prepare for a training that was really important to me. I let the client know that our call would have to wait, and it turned out to be totally fine - I was well-prepared for my training, and my client got my full, undivided attention a day later.
We have to learn to protect the work that matters to us, because no one else will do it for us.
Megan Leatherman lives in Portland, Oregon and works as a freelance Human Resources Consultant and Career Coach. She cares about making workplaces more people-friendly and writes about work-life integration on her blog. You can learn more about her on her website, www.integrated-consulting.org.