Putting “Free”dom In Freelance

Thanks to chum Cathy Miller for reviewing Marketing 365 over on her Simply Stated Business blog! I appreciate the review!

How was the weekend? Mine was a mixture of lethargy and laziness – in general, pretty darned good. We had his office party on Saturday where I had the chance to really chat up some of his coworkers and their spouses. A really nice time. Yesterday, some errands, a little thinking about doing some painting in the bedroom, but a lot of avoiding it. We did get out to Washington Memorial Chapel in the park for a program on music in the time of George Washington. Nice, but a little to “precious” as he put it with too much theater interspersed with too little music. We crept out in the middle.

This week I have two articles to finish, more marketing to conduct, and I meeting at a client location tomorrow. I also have a play date with Jenn Mattern, and I intend to go no matter what writing emergency arises. I don’t mind emergency work, but there are times when it’s okay for me to be unavailable.

We touched on it briefly last week. How free are our freelance careers? Sure, we have flexibility in clients, projects, and hours, but are we somehow out of balance? At the beginning of my full-time freelance career, I remember working when the work was there and just puttering about when it wasn’t. Those of you who have been doing this a while can guess where that led – eleventh-hour panic when I realized there were no checks coming in and no work lined up for the next month. I had to resort to temp agency work on one occasion. That’s when I adopted my “market when you’re busy” approach.

However, that scare can lead to an even scarier situation – having more work than you have hours in a week. That’s happened to me, but I’m pretty adamant about not working weekends, so only on rare occasion would I put in time on a Saturday and only if the project deadline were ridiculously short. So how do we balance?

That depends on your goals. My goals are free weekends with no computer. I’d much rather be spending time with the husband than with an article interview or an editing job. If you prefer working all evening and keeping your days free, or taking Mondays off, etc., what will you need to get there? No matter what your goals, start here:

Learn to schedule. I nearly typed “learn to juggle” because that’s what you have to do to guard that time off. Start with deadlines. Prioritize from there, and make sure that other phases of your projects – like interviews and client calls – are worked into that priority list. For example, when I get an article assignment, I send out the interview requests the same day. I may be working on other things, but it takes just five minutes to answer an interview subject and get the interview on the calendar.

Think like you’re out. If you’re used to weekends off, it seems to be easier to associate that time with no work. However, if you’ve decided Mondays and Tuesdays are your days, it’s very easy to answer those client emails when you’re supposed to be relaxing. Put up an “away” message if you must and definitely let all clients you’re working with know you take those days off. It wouldn’t hurt to let them know it’s because you work on weekends when the interruptions are minimal. It sounds efficient.

Don’t chain yourself to the work space. This is one of my biggest problems. I’ll sit here from 8 to 5 every day even when I’m not working. If you’ve done the work, done the marketing, and really have nothing left to do, it’s okay to walk away from the computer. Really. You’re not a paid employee and no one is watching you and judging. You work hard. Give yourself a break (note to self: heed your own advice).

If you must, block the time off. As much as I don’t like the “orderly” nature of it, I do schedule time off, even if it’s in just my head. Normally, I keep quiet about my whereabouts, especially on a Friday. It’s not uncommon for clients to disappear on Fridays, too. However, if I’m taking off a Tuesday, I’m apt to mention it, but only to those clients I’m working with currently.

Give yourself permission to relax. You are the biggest obstacle to getting free time into your schedule. If you’re working too hard, maybe it’s time to raise those rates? Still, even at higher prices, your skills are in demand. It’s okay to say “My time is already booked that day, but I can get to it the next day.”

How do you put the “free”dom back in freelance?

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  • Paula February 20, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    We all have peak times of day for different activities. I tend to focus best on actual writing in the afternoon, so I try to do interviews and research in the morning. The hour or so in between? Calls. No matter the day, I tend to place most of my business calls within the same 1-2 hour period (unless they're scheduled interviews).

    We all have different internal clocks, and sometimes tight deadlines don't give us the leisure to stick to our preferred schedules, but knowing which times of day you tend to excel at certain tasks is sort of like a super power of the self-employed.

  • Lori February 20, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    Super point, Paula. I know what times of day I'm pretty much spent, so those are the times I don't try to be creative.

  • Cathy Miller February 20, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    I just came off a great weekend as well. My youngest brother was here shooting a documentary. He's an award-winning filmmaker I wish more people knew about because i think he's quite talented. I'm a tad biased. 🙂

    So, my youngest sister & her husband drove up from southern ID and their son who lives here also came over. It was a nice mini-family gathering (mini since there are 4 more siblings in addition to the two that were here). 🙂

    I'm like you, Lori-I'm a fanatic about my weekends. Too many lost ones from my 30+ years of corporate life.

    But, flexibility is really what it's all about. I've adjusted to accommodate my training for the 3-Day Walk, to help my Mom with various needs and days I simply wasn't feeling it.

    Once you recognize it's okay to relax, it's really a good feeling all the way around. 🙂

  • Lori February 20, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Sounds like a terrific weekend, Cathy. I hope the visit was refreshing. 🙂 And you just point us to your brother's work – we'll promote him!

  • Anne Wayman February 20, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    This weekend I was focused on facilitating an awakening the dreamer symposium (awakeningthedreamer.org for the curious) It went well… I mostly don't work weekends and almost always take Friday afternoon off as well.

    Permission to relax… we should start a sign company that says You have permission to relax or something.

  • Devon Ellington February 21, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Flexibility is key. My best writing time is in the morning. On days when I have to leave for yoga or meditation at 7:15, it means getting up at 4:30 or 5 to still get that first 1K in before I leave. Because it won't happen after 10 or 11 AM.

    Editing and revisions are best done in the afternoons, so that's when I do that client work, or work with students. Sometimes the student work has to bleed into the evening or over a weekend.

    Writing for clients is usually done about mid-morning– after my first 1K, but before I get caught up in editing, lectures, revisions, etc.

    I'm making myself have one day a week where I'm unplugged, and I like it. It's not always the same day.

    If there's something I want to do during the day — and I'VE EARNED THE RIGHT TO WALK AWAY FROM MY DESK because I've kept up with the work and not frittered away the time — I do it. Go for a walk at a nature sanctuary, listen to a speaker somewhere, whatever. But if I've procrastinated and wasted time, I don't get to do it.

    It's a two way street — I get to have the freedom to construct my day, but I also have to earn that right by staying on top of the workload.