There are some periods when running a freelance business becomes remarkably full of… busy-ness.
You’re running from project to project, barely pausing long enough to breathe. You’re fielding a client call while you type up an invoice for another client. Your schedule is blocked out so completely that any minor slip-up causes daylong chaos.
Almost all freelancers occasionally reach this frenetic state. But what can you do to emerge relatively sane and whole from this period? What do you need to get through?
Unless you are a teenager pulling an all-nighter to get that essay done (good luck, kids!), sleep is a necessity – not a luxury. Only teenagers can bounce back quickly from sleepless nights, and even they fall asleep in third period. The rest of us old-timers need sleep.
Most of us play fast-and-loose with this mandate, and pay the price. I myself used to regularly sacrifice sleep, believing that I could always make up for waking nights later – but funnily enough, that “later” rarely came. Extensive anecdotal experience has demonstrated that this pattern will quickly cause one to become a hollow-eyed, humorless automaton.
Without sleep, you risk making mistakes and perform sloppily in the short-term. Your mood will suffer, and you may find yourself snapping at loved ones or unduly panicking over projects. Long-term, you’ll burn out or get sick.
Even if you’re unbelievably busy, make time for sleep. Without it, your overall productivity (and health) will suffer.
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When you’re overworked and overwhelmed, it’s tempting to let work time bleed endlessly into your “leisure” time – and I say “leisure” because you probably aren’t allowing yourself anything more “leisurely” than a shower.
Are you constantly eating meals at the desk or on the run? Do you consistently skip breaks, working for hours with no reprieve? Do hours run into each other? Do you find yourself consistently mired in either procrastination or perfectionism (or both)?
Structure is key to combating stress and keeping your brain active and cooperative – all of which is ultimately the most productive path.
DO NOT FOREGO reasonable mealtimes and breaks! This allows your body to relax a bit, your mind to focus, and your energy to renew.
As much as you can, build structure into even your busiest days and weeks. I like to take a 10 minute break every working hour at minimum; I find the loose schedule keeps me focused and comparatively energized, even when I’m overworked.
Try not to multi-task – or if you must multi-task, keep it relevant.
I’m not the world’s most Spartan worker; no utilitarian, spare office for me! I personally believe that minor distractions can help you jump-start your creativity – and without a few toys on my desk, I go slightly insane.
But there’s a difference between small attention-grabbers and big ones: walking around your workspace is a good distraction. Spending hours perusing Instagram when you have a big project to finish is not.
If your nose is really to the grindstone, try to focus on one thing at a time. Most of us are worse at multi-tasking than we think we are – that’s why it’s illegal to text when driving. Give your overloaded brain a break and focus on one step at a time.
Extreme busy-ness is not an excuse for routinely sacrificing your health (physical and mental), ignoring all of your emotional needs, or ignoring your loved ones.
Unless your freelance gig is stopping a nuclear war, it’s key to keep perspective – and nothing does that more effectively than enforcing boundaries. That deadline may be VERY IMPORTANT, but I bet it is not worth completely hijacking your life over.
If you find that your loved ones have expecting your presence at any social occasion, if you’re having terrible physical reactions to stress (panic attacks, digestive issues, even hair loss – yes, I know freelancers who started shedding), you need to enforce some rules for your sanity.
When is it okay for clients to contact you, and when is it not? When are you focused on work, and when are you attempting to relax? How much work can you take on before you’re hurting both your productivity and your quality of output? When can you say no?
Busy-ness may occasionally be inevitable, but it needn’t be continuous! Incorporate these 4 elements into your work, and be careful not to get too overwhelmed – soon enough, you’ll have time to breathe!
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.