Deciding to go freelance has been one of the best decisions of my life. It’s also been arguably one of the most significant adjustments periods I’ve ever gone through. The differences between my life as a rat-race participant and my life as a freelancer are striking, to say the least.
When I worked 9-5, I often found it tough balancing work and life responsibilities. If I got stuck at work late, I had to reroute dinner plans. Making doctor appointments meant taking time off and getting errands done before stores closed could be an ongoing struggle.
Everything that I couldn’t fit into my after-work hours, including my social life, had to wait until the weekend. On the whole, my friends and family understood these time constraints, mainly because they were all on similar schedules.
After all, the 9-5 grind is the “norm.”
Becoming a Professional Juggler
The balancing act became a bit more precarious when I dove into freelancing part-time. I skipped lunch dates with friends to catch up on client work and found myself up late, working into the wee hours on my website. Mornings were rough, to say the least.
With what little free time I had, I prioritized my growing business. Much to the chagrin of my friends and family, I found I was bailing on events and plans more than before, and none were too happy about it, least of all me.
When I went full-time freelance, I had assumed all those scheduling issues would just disappear. I thought I’d be able to make dinner plans and get errands with ease. But with the freedom of freelancing comes a whole different set of obstacles.
A Freelancer’s Dilemma
When working a traditional job, I was (for the most part) able to clock out at 6pm and leave my work until the next day at 9am. Except for the one-off emergency, my boss and co-workers rarely contacted me outside working hours.
With freelance writing as my main gig, that was no longer the case.
At any given time, I had two overseas clients in different time zones. Getting urgent emails or having set deadlines at odd hours was quickly becoming my new normal. There was also the one-off needy client who would be sending constant emails, day or night.
Additionally, because I was able to be flexible with my working hours, I was able to make more family and social events than before.
I may have started saying “yes” to too many plans. This newfound and unbridled dominion over my time quickly lead to an overly packed schedule.
While I was in a time crunch freelancing part-time, I was burning the candle at both ends as a full-timer. If only for my sanity, I knew it was time for me to make some changes.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a freelancer, it’s that burnout is a very real phenomenon. Regardless if you’re at it full or part-time, boundaries are incredibly crucial in avoiding the dreaded freelancer fatigue.
Deciding on your limits is very specific to your needs, so be sure to take the time to evaluate carefully. Some of the most essential boundaries to set will probably revolve around the scheduling of your day.
Set Office Hours
Consider your responsibilities. Do you have a day job to schedule around? Family obligations? Use these commitments, as well as your preferences, to shape your working hours.
By planning your hours around your engagements, you make sure you not only block out start-stop distractions, but you also ensure you’re not evading any of your responsibilities.
Setting out regular working hours is that much more important when you’re a part-time freelancer, as you have less time to work with. Being regimented will help you maximize your output, even with fewer hours allotted.
Stay on Schedule
Possibly more important than merely setting your hours is actually sticking to them!
Take it from me, it can be all too easy to lose track of time and find yourself working way longer than you’ve anticipated. Knowing when to call it a day can be one of the most useful boundaries you can set for yourself, especially if you’re into freelancing for the long haul.
Try setting a timer for the end of your workday and when it goes off, shut that laptop! Sure, there will be times when you’ve really hit your stride on a piece or have an urgent deadline, but try not to make it the norm.
The aim should be to be productive as you can be, but not burn out.
If you have clients in different time zones, you may want to schedule some time outside your “working hours” to reply to their emails.
For example, if an overseas client emails about changes to a piece respond by letting them know you’ve received their request and that you’ll get right on it when your “office hours” resume.
By scheduling a dedicated email time for “specialty” clients, you’re remaining responsive and keeping your client relationship strong while not sacrificing your schedule.
Take a “Weekend”
Taking the previous boundary a step further, dedicate your time off as well. After all, working seven full days a week is a surefire way to burn out fast.
You don’t have to make your “weekend” fit the traditional notion if it doesn’t work for you either. Having a week-day off can be quite the treat if planned correctly!
I find that Sunday is a pretty slow day around my house. While many people are sleeping in and catching up on household chores like laundry, I personally find it a great time to get some work in quietly. If I put in a half day on Sunday morning, I’m still able to enjoy a late brunch, family dinner, and even Sunday night TV (I’m looking at you HBO!) with my loved ones.
I’ve also found that working even just a half day over the weekend really helps keep the Sunday Scaries at bay (which can be a real thing, even for those working from home!) By Monday morning, my inbox is already tended to, and I’ve laid out a plan of attack for the coming days. Overall, I feel a bit more prepared for the week ahead.
Communicate Your Limits
One of the most frustrating things about freelancing for me has been that, for the most part, people had a tough time understanding my schedule. It quickly became part of my job to advocate for both myself and my schedule.
Communicating your boundaries is extraordinarily crucial in balancing work/life responsibilities.
Being clear about your boundaries with clients should be on the top of your to-do list when it comes to boundary-setting.
If you’ve been freelancing a while, you may have noticed that some clients may feel entitled to unrestricted access to you, regardless of the day or time. It’s best for all if you nip this in the bud as soon as possible.
Trust is a vital component of any client relationship. Being transparent about your schedule right from the beginning is an ever important step in fostering trust and thus, creating a healthy working relationship. Setting clear expectations will both help the client avoid feeling ignored as well as help you protect your time.
Besides your regular working hours, always be sure to let clients know about any vacations or trips you may take.
While freelancers are lucky enough to work from anywhere, there will be times when we want to get away and go entirely unplugged. In cases like these, you’ll need a bit of pre-planning to submit any work ahead of time. Regardless of any early submissions, it’s best practice to let clients know when you’ll be unreachable.
Even if you’re taking a “working” trip, it’s always a good idea to let clients know of any schedule changes or possibilities of lapses in connectivity.
Friends and Family
Clients aren’t the only ones who need to know your boundaries; keep your loved ones in mind too. The flexibility freelancers have can quickly become a curse if you haven’t set out limits with your friends and family.
If you’re not clear about your limits, you may find yourself under pressure to take on more than you can chew.
Remember, just because you can move around your schedule, doesn’t mean you should. It’s okay to say, “Sorry, I have work,” just as anyone else would.
If you’re working from a home office, adopt a “do not disturb” policy during your work hours. We have enough distractions as is with household chores, social media, and streaming TV services; nix further diversions by family, friends, or roommates by being steadfast about your intrusion-free time.
I even go a step further and put on an auto-reply on my cell. This way, when I get calls during my working hours, the caller receives a message along the lines of “I’ll get back to you after work!”
All in all, setting boundaries can dramatically increase the quality of your life as a freelancer. With clear expectations, you can expect happier clients as well as an overall more productive workday.
Being flexible is a much-needed trait in freelancing, but be sure you’re not taking that flexibility too far. Set your boundaries, stick to them, and see it through to success!