How to keep freelance work from eating up your life

Oct 23, 2019

At some point, most freelancers have tried the typical 9 to 5 routine of working for someone else. If images of the tedium made famous in the movie "Office Space" still haunt you, then you know doubt appreciate the liberation of working for yourself.

Sure, there’s nothing better than commuting to your couch in your pajamas, starting YOUR day when you feel like it, and running errands in the middle of it all because you can. It’s your time, after all.

But that’s just the thing. Your time suddenly becomes blurred and now your whole life is freelance. Nights, weekends, even when you’re out to dinner with family or friends, you’re spending that time replying to clients. While there is only one you, you need to draw a line somewhere.

To keep doing what you love and have a life of your own too, you need to get strict about dividing your time. Here's how to create, and stick to, various buckets.

Make a routine

The old office job gave you a routine. You had set hours to work and a basic tasks to accomplish. So set up your own. Start and finish your day around the same time every day. If you have things that you need to do mid-afternoon, like get your kids from school, then plan your hours around that. Eventually, it will all fall into place.

Prioritize your tasks

Whether you’re using a freelancer platform or app to help you stay organized or not, take a moment to establish what has to get done today. Focus on those things and cross them off your list to feel accomplished.

Do the most difficult tasks first

And by first, we mean after your coffee. Seriously, you might not be looking forward to that big boring project, but if you kill it first thing, you’ll have more to celebrate when it’s time for lunch.

Don’t procrastinate over unpleasant tasks

In a traditional workplace, you probably had someone to make unpleasant phone calls or write emails to clients that you didn’t want to talk to. Now part of being a freelancer means you have to do these things yourself. But just do it! The stress that comes with putting something off and continuing to dread it will only hamper the quality of your work so deal with it pronto.

Avoid getting sucked into your inbox

Many freelancers rely on email as a way to keep tabs on clients. It’s certainly better than being glued to the phone all day. Yet those messages can keep coming in all day long. And if you keep answering them as they come in, you’ll get off track fast.

Instead, tackle all messages you have in the morning, allowing only a small chunk of time for responding. Don’t check again until later in the afternoon when you set aside another chunk of time. Otherwise, you’ll spend all day playing virtual whack-a-mole with your inbox.

Create a distraction-free work environment

At your old 9 to 5, it was your coworkers and the free donuts in the break room. At home, it’s your TV, YouTube videos, social media, and even that laundry you didn’t put away that distracts you from getting work done. That doesn’t mean you should work, work, work, work, work with no breaks. Get tasks done and as you do, use one of those otherwise distracting things as your reward. Perhaps the laundry isn’t such a reward, but by staying on task during projects, you’ll get them done faster and have more time to live your life.

Decline when necessary

When you first start freelancing and building your name, you take on whatever projects you can get. But once your reputation is cemented and you have people beating down your virtual door for your services, you can afford to be choosy. If that means telling a pushy client "no" when you had planned a weekend to spend with your family, then say so. You deserve a life too.

Don’t forget your personal needs

You might be one person running your own show now but you have to meet your personal needs. When you worked for someone else, you had weekends. You had evenings. Unless you’re on deadline, take that time for yourself. If you find you never have those times, then refer to the above: decline when necessary. You have to make time for yourself to be your best at what you do.

Always make time for sleep

And finally, the most critical time management tool for any freelancer is to make time for sleep. It’s tempting to stay up late to finish a project, but when that alarm wakes you up super early, you’ll pay for it by being tired all day long. Sleep is when your body repairs itself inside and out. In fact, sleep is one of the most important things you can do to bolster your health and well-being. Set a bedtime and stick to it nightly. After a few weeks of better sleep, you will see a difference in how well you manage your time, not to mention how well you feel!

By taking the time to organize and balance your life as a freelancer, you’ll find that you get things done more efficiently. Don’t compromise yourself when prioritizing, and make sleep a huge part of that equation to see the biggest difference of all.

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 us your blog post.

Hannah Edmonds

Hannah Edmonds' mission is to encourage a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life experience for people through her writing. This is her true passion.