It is important to stay on top of your game as a freelancer if you want to stay valuable and in demand. This means continually improving and honing your skillset. When you work in a job where you are surrounded by others, or when studying your trade at university, you will feed off other people and naturally push yourself to compete.
However as a freelancer, often working alone, you can easily fall into a vacuum where your current level of expertise feels good enough. Give in to this and your service may lose value over time. Unless you have a burning internal urge you may find it helps to put yourself into situations that force you to stay on top.
As a freelancer it is your job to keep yourself improving. This is true no matter what field you are in, but perhaps most critically those fields where you deal with technology – programming, web design, flash animation and so on. But even if you are a writer or illustrator, just keeping up with current styles and new ideas is invaluable.
Here are some things you can do to help keep yourself on top of your game:
by contributor Robert Janelle
Hi, my name is Robert and I am a slacker.
This is a problem, particularly for a freelancer who doesn’t have an angry boss who yells when you’re not working. A few months ago, I realized I need to knock off the bad habits and start becoming more productive.
For me, the first step in slacker rehab was to replace the angry boss with a to-do list.
A list of tasks is simple, yet incredibly powerful. The question, “What should I be doing right now?” is answered by glancing at the list. Get distracted? A look back at the list and you know where you were going.
Plus, there’s the endorphin rush that comes from crossing off tasks as they’re completed. The feeling is even better when you realize there’s nothing left on the list.
Of course, the to-list becomes useless if it’s neglected, like deferring tasks without adding them to a new list list or forgetting to add tasks as they come up. It would be similar to your boss not caring if you finish the project or not.
Most of us know the basic rules for ensuring we don’t cripple ourselves at our desks. The problem of course is that often we do not actually practice them. One recurring shoulder injury later, and I am realizing the value of a bit of pre-emptive action. The following are easy steps to take that will make a difference to your working life and help keep your body from withering away:
Invest in a proper, ergonomic chair or pilates ball
A good chair can be pricey, but if you’re going to be spending long hours at work it is worth the cash. A cheap chair equals back pain, no matter what your age. Consider how much you might spend on say a car and how much time you actually spend in a car vs sitting at your desk, in that context spending a little extra makes sense.
I love the web and I love computers, but one thing that gets me everytime is remembering what username/email/password combination I used when signing up to something. This is called login-fatigue (actually that is a word I just made up, but I’d like to start a trend so please spread it).
As freelancers we often have more than our fair share of web and productivity applications, from timers to invoicing tools to project management apps, and that can only mean one thing – more logins
Until biometric finger and eye-scanning move out of science fiction and onto your keyboard or systems like OpenID become mainstream, login-fatigue is only going to get worse. So if, like me you are tired of the ache and pain of countless forgotten logins, passwords tied to email addresses that belonged to an old employer or lapsed domain, then read on and give these ideas a try:
Many freelancers find discipline and motivation a problem. You start out with the best of intentions, but soon find yourself waking up at midday and lounging in front of the tv. These are the first in a series of tips and tricks you can employ to stay motivated when you don’t have a boss on your back.
Give your client a timeline even if they don’t ask for it
A good way to make sure you don’t waste your days is to give yourself a tight schedule and put it in writing for your client. Commit to dates for small milestones throughout the project, so hopefully you won’t find yourself working through the night to meet your deadline.
Update: This article has been translated into German by Alex Wicht.
One of the big draws of freelancing is the prospect of working from home. Say good bye to commuting, say good bye to peak hour traffic and in their place say hello to your pajamas, to sleeping in the middle of the day and to all the other comforts of home. When I first started out I did in fact work from home and I must admit I have even worked an entire work day in my underwear. In the end though I began to discover some nasty drawbacks that I had never thought of and since then I have separated work out to a little mini-office and home to… well home.
These were the problems I found:
- No separation between life and work
The biggest problem with working at home is that the separation between work and the rest of your life is much smaller. There is no “now I’m at work, I’m on alert mode… now I’m at home, I’m in rest mode”, its just always a semi-work, semi-home state. What this means is that rather than switching off in the evening you can’t help but feel maybe you should be doing some work right about now instead of relaxing. Or instead of waking up on the weekend feeling like you have the day off, you still feel a little like you are at work.