• Health

11 self-care strategies for freelancers

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.

As freelancers and entrepreneurs, we've all heard the standard self-care strategies like take a break, eat well, exercise... yadda yadda. But there are a lot of things that many people don't talk much about that you can do in your personal life as well as your business to help prioritize your health and well-being. I'd like to run you through a few little-known self-care strategies that you might not have considered thus far to help keep you focused on what's really important in your business: You.

Know how you spend your time

Do you know how you spend your time? Where do you use your energy throughout the day? To start, do you know how many hours are in a week without Googling it?

FYI, there are 168 hours in a week.

So, let's break it down, how do you spend a normal week?

  • 8 hours sleeping/day (56/week)
  • 8 hours working/day (40/week)
  • 6 hours cooking/week
  • 11 hours eating/week
  • Everything else

All together that's 113 hours of things you "must" do. So, what're you doing with the other 55 hours? TV, Netflix, social media? If you don't really know, then it's time to find out.

If you go to a nutritionist, what's the first thing they'll tell you? Keep a food log. If you go to a personal trainer what will they pull out? A workout log. Financial planner? A payment log. For these people to do their jobs, they have to know where you are right now to identify the areas of improvement.

It’s easy to keep a time log. Grab a piece of paper, or you can do it in a Word Doc. Create a table with 7 columns, one for each day, and 16 rows, one for each hour that you’re awake. Every hour, write down what you’ve done. At the end of the week you’ll have a very good idea as to where all your time goes.

Turn off non-essential notifications

Notifications were invented for one thing and one thing only: to distract you. I know it feels great that someone commented on your LinkedIn post or shared your newest Pinterest recipe. But, do you really have to know the second it happens? Waiting a few hours until you take a break or a little time to yourself will not change the fact that someone has interacted with your post.

Now, I understand that for social marketing the faster you respond to comments the better the algorithm places your post, so using them for your business in that way is understandable. For your personal accounts though, no way!

Do you need notifications that your Aunt Jannete has sent you an email on Gmail? Probably not. If you have a professional email for clients, then you can set up notifications for time-sensitive emails only if you must, but everything else is just a distraction.

Personally, when I used to get notifications, I would look at every single one, no matter what I was doing. It breaks your rhythm and concentration and it's been shown to lower productivity and effectiveness. Not being productive and looming deadlines are a huge stress factor in most freelancer's lives. Just try to avoid as many distractions as you can.

According to a study by Deloitte, if you're like most people you're checking your phone on average 47 times per day. But let's be honest, we freelancers like our technology more than that!

Now, obviously, the numbers are different for different generations but even you're reaching half those numbers, that's still 15 hours of social media a week. How can you have any focused work time if you check your phone, on average, about 10 times an hour?

Vision/mission statement

Do you know why people are indecisive, make poor decisions, and waste time? It's because they lack a vision or a goal. If you don't know where you're headed, then every small decision has to be weighed and considered. That takes a lot of willpower and concentration that most freelancers can't afford to part with.

Creating a mission/vision statement for your company puts up filters that easily allow you to decide if something will help you fulfil those statements or not. If it will help you and you can fit it into your schedule, do it. If it doesn't, don't. Easy as that.

You need to have a direction and an endgame, or you'll end up saying yes to every little project, poorly paying offer, and nightmare client out there. Set your boundaries and stick to them.

Pay yourself first

This is a very part of a financial plan, because if you don't automatically transfer money out of your account right after getting paid it's very unlikely that there will be any left at the end of the month. When you pay yourself first, it doesn't "hurt" as much, and you're setting yourself up for future success.

Now as self-care strategies go, it's fairly similar but paying yourself first in this regard means doing non-urgent priorities before you do anything else. What are non-urgent priorities?

Those would be things like exercising, preparing a weekly food menu, meditating, journaling and doing the things that make you happy before you do the time-sensitive things. (Hint: you may have to overhaul your mornings, but most freelancers don't have a specific time they need to be at the office, so it's not that important).

If you plan self-care first thing in the morning, you're much more likely to follow through. If you wait until 6 pm when you finish work, that glass of wine and the couch will beat out any health goals you had established. Pay yourself first, and you won't have to worry about saving extra energy at the end of the day or money in your bank account. Both are good strategies.

Play a game you can win

When it comes to to-do lists, many freelancers and entrepreneurs are playing a game they can't win. Our lists have 150 items that seem to just get longer throughout the day. We go to bed defeated because we think "we didn't do much" and wake up overwhelmed because "we have so much to do". There isn't enough time in the day to get everything done on that list. So how do we make this freelance game winnable?

Change it.

I've borrowed a few self-care strategies from Michael Hyatt, but I must say, his Big 3 have actually changed my life. In essence, the Big 3 are the three tasks that you need to get done today to make your day a success.

Ask yourself, "What are the 3 most important tasks that will most help me reach my goals today?" Everyone can do three things today. The rest of the to-do list is just bonus points.

I like this strategy for many different reasons, but unlike a few of the common self-care strategies of "make a to-do-list" and "write things down", the Big 3 prioritizes exactly what will help you the most today. This builds on the idea that "success is a series of small wins" and it's oh so true!

Set time blocks

If you've been freelancing for a while you probably have a normal daily routine already, but you may not have let everyone else in your life know. Setting boundaries on your time is one of the most effective things you can do as someone who works from home. Say for example you work from 10AM-12PM on your biggest task of the day. Phone off, door closed, social media blocked (check out the anti-social app) and get to work.

Can you imagine how much you could get done with zero distractions? You need to be very firm with these time blocks. Although you're working from home, you're still at work. No being bothered by the kids, your spouse, the dog, the mailman, nothing. 98% of things can wait an hour or two without the world catching on fire.

Block out your timeslots and make sure everyone in your life knows that during those times you can't be contacted (besides emergencies of course).

Make your bed

I can hear you now, "really? A list of self-care strategies including make my bed? Great advice buddy..." Now just give me a second. There are certain habits out there like exercising, daily goal setting, family dinners, keeping a food log, and yes, making your bed, which have been linked to improvements in completely unrelated areas. It follows the idea that "success begets success" and there's hard data to prove it.

One small win like making your bed every morning makes going to the gym, waking up without hitting the snooze button, eating better, and being more productive not seem so hard.

Unsubscribe from everything that isn't helpful

Let me tell you a little story. I've been living in Spain for almost 6 years now, and as of about a year ago, I was subscribed to over 20 newsletters from US-based retailers that I hadn't used or read in over 5 years. I got daily emails from Target, Best Buy, Walmart, and a lot more. Every day I would go into my email, and I would have to delete them manually. Every. Single. Day.

Why was I doing that to myself? Laziness probably. It may not seem like much to delete a few emails each day, but there's a theory called Decision Fatigue. It's based on the idea that the more decisions you make throughout the day, the more difficult each decision becomes, and so you start making worse choices as the day goes on.

So now back to my long list of subscriptions. I was wasting my precious decision-making muscle on whether I should read or delete emails from things I hadn't used in over 5 years. That's insane.

So, head into your Gmail and unsubscribe from every newsletter that is not helping you achieve your goals or improving your life (except mine, of course :-D).

Quit multitasking

Multitasking is “merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time”, as Steve Uzzel says in his book, The ONE Thing. Basex, an information-tech research firm, found that interruptions consume an average of 2.1 hours per day or 28% of the workday.

The numbers are probably a bit different than for freelancers–but maybe not all that different if you think about it. Office workers have to deal with their bosses, co-workers, emails, phone calls and everything else that comes with working a 9-5. As freelancers, we have to deal with a lot more distractions that they haven't thought of.

At home, you have your couch 50 feet away, Netflix is just a few clicks away, your kitchen on the other side of the wall, the dog needs to go out. Maybe I should fold some laundry, I haven't dusted for a while, how about I just take out the garbage... and on and on and on.

If we don't firmly separate our personal and professional lives, they start to blend together, and multitasking becomes a part of our reality.

(I'm ashamed to say that I have a load of laundry in the washing machine right now. Hey, I never said I was perfect, but I'm working on it.)

Prepare weekly food menus

A lot of these self-care strategies involve planning, and this one is no different. Setting goals allows you to prioritize decisions. Paying yourself first is planning your morning around different self-care strategies. Setting aside 10 minutes every Sunday night to plan out your weekly meals will not only save you from reaching for the snack drawer but also the decision fatigue when you get to the store.

Tell me this, have you ever gotten to the store around 6 pm and you weren't sure what you were going to get when you went? What'd you end up buying? I'm sure it wasn't fish and vegetables.

We've all heard the standard self-care strategies of taking a break, exercising, eat well, drink water. Don't get me wrong though! These are incredibly important self-care strategies, but I believe these don't happen overnight, and they need to be planned.

Take care of yourselves out there. Freelancers are the future. Happy freelancing!

Andrew Carter is the founder of Healthy Freelancers, where he aims to help freelancers prioritize their health by learning to put themselves first. He's a full-time translator from the US but currently living in Barcelona.