Feeling Challenged, Can You Maintain Steam?
Something every freelancer has to face is the sense of dread when things start to go south in their freelance life. It happens for so many reasons: unexpected emergencies, clients backing out, or the Bill Monkey on your back wanted to remind you they were still around. Regardless of the scenario, you feel panicked, and begin to reconsider your efforts to freelance.
Instead of letting this bring you down, try to use it as a motivational tool to complete tasks and re-align your freelancing career! Today, I’m going to list and explain some of the ways I’ve been able to achieve this; and hopefully assist anyone who’s channeling a certain captain when they say: “It never goes smooth. Why don’t it ever go smooth?” Let’s keep that freelancing train chugging smoothly down the tracks, and running at full steam.
Maintain Control of Your Freelance Life
As human beings (and especially as freelancers), control of our lives is one thing most of us consider absolutely essential to being happy. Most of the time when things go wrong people begin to stress that their lives are now “unhinged,” or that they lost this control.
It is absolutely essential that you do not let this affect your work or personal life. There are many ways to avoid its effect, such as: dedicated relaxation time, pursuing personal hobbies, or (my personal favorites) creating definite tasks for yourself and trimming your day.
I consider the last two options to be the most critical for freelancers, for two reasons: creating definite tasks helps ensure you’re being productive every day (you are your own boss after all!), and removing unnecessary tasks (or establishing better schedules) improves your time management skills and improves your freelancing capacity. Therefore, I’m going to discuss some caveats and examples I’ve found.
Establish Wants vs. Needs
The first step to getting things back in order (and staying productive) is to establish a clear line between what you need to accomplish to keep going, and what would be nice to have at some point. By doing so, not only are you forced to “take inventory” of the necessities of your career, but it also helps you write to-do lists (more on the importance of those and my favorite strategy in a second).
Example of a Want: a few weeks ago, I got time to watch the pilot of “A Game of Thrones,” and wanted to continue doing so on my iPad with HBO Go. However, due to a completely random internal fluke, my cable provider wasn’t showing my HBO subscription in a way that HBO Go could utilize (meaning no HBO Go for me). It took two days of tech support phone calls, in the prime hours of the afternoon (to get a support representative). That time could have spent on the other projects I’m working on, or the other issues I was having.
A good way to figure out what a want is to see if there’s a task you completed, but haven’t utilized yet (and can’t justify it either). That’s exactly what’s happened with HBO Go.
- Example of a Need: We inherited a server for our home office, and wanted to do a number of things with it to make our lives easier. It took a full two weeks of work (not 24/7, but dang close). We had to format the machine after waiting a week to try to get the password (and the install process took forever), there were various issues we were having as it affected our home network, sound problems (Another Note: Servers are loud as a mess), and running CAT6 cable to it to make it faster. After that, getting things set up was a breeze. And we use it pretty frequently now, and will use it more so as projects get further along.
- Example of a Fringe Case: One of the issues with having a home server is the costs of running it 24/7, but I wanted the benefits of being able to access the server without thinking about it. Solution: Have the server go into standby mode when it’s not pinged. We got it working, after another week of “side project work” (whenever we had a spare moment), and only by a fluke. We could have survived without it, but now that it’s finished, I feel it will be indispensable.
Why these examples? Rather than focus on things such as “I want to go buy a new game/movie/album/etc.” vs. “We need this application for this project” (which are easy to distinguish), I focused on project and fixing problems. These were all things that were tasks I needed to complete, or things I felt needed addressed. By understanding the different types of projects (and level of importance), one can better define their to-do list to be effective.
Schedule! Schedule! Schedule!
Being a freelancer can mean that things are often “up in the air” (in fact, that may be one of the things you are worried about). Regardless, try to set up a schedule to keep yourself regular (hehe) and keep accomplishing tasks. When working focus on actions to get more done in less time, which will improve you freelance life. If you really think about it, there’s a number of things you could be doing every day: improving your marketing, socializing with colleagues/peers/friends (and building relationships), or getting ahead on your grand schemes or big projects.
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, and using each day to its fullest potential. Try to understand when days are lost, and make up for them later (this is another reason why you establish your want vs. need agenda. Imagine if you wasted an entire day on a purely superficial and pet project, especially when you’re on you last legs).
A friend offered me this piece of advice: “Act like you’re working in an office: have set hours for your office and stick to them consistently.”
Open Up to Freelance Opportunity
By trying new things, you can increase your breadth of knowledge, build more relationships, and maybe find a new marketable skill. If you’re running out of work, you might as well try new things (especially to keep you busy and accomplish things each day). A freelancer should always be learning, and versatility is one of the most important aspects of our lifestyle.
Example of Bio Writing: a friend of mine has been re-designing her website, and asked for some help in writing a personal Bio. Since I didn’t have much else happening that day (and saw a great opportunity to apply my writing skills and have a new portfolio piece, plus I owed her for an awesome surprise birthday gift, I happily took up her offer.
The task took me about three hours (I timed it for future reference, a must for if you want to improve your billing and time-management), I got to flex my writing muscles (the Bio acted as a narrative of her resume, highlighting her skills and expertise), and I felt awesome and re-vitalized for the next few days. Oh, and I found out I’m pretty good at writing Bios, and will be marketing that when I get the chance.
- Example of Collaboration: Another friend of mine is a designer, and we both share a love for a particular subject. I’d had a project bouncing around in my head, and I decided to talk to him about it and ask if he was interested. Now, we’re both coming up with great ideas for the project, get to learn from each other, and gain valuable experience and insight.
Flip through your Rolodex, multiple times if needed. Utilize your contacts for trying out new ideas, solving problems, and collaboration.
Fix What’s Broken
See if there’s something tangible that brought you to this state. It could be your workflow, your rates, your marketing efforts (or lack thereof), or a personal dilemma. After you’ve identified it, do everything you can to fix it. Maybe you need to re-design your website, come up with a new prospect list, or make another marketing push. Perhaps family and friends don’t realize that just because you’re a freelancer, that doesn’t mean you’re always available.
If remembering the gravity of situations helps keep you grounded, always keep this in mind. If you’re in a rough patch, remind yourself that when you’re not doing something to fix it, you’re hurting yourself, and shifting your freelance life off-track. Whether it be taking an evening to work instead of watching TV, or telling a client that you need more time to complete a project (after the 7th all-nighter), you should always be working to improve your situation.
Accomplish 5 things a Day
Work to make the most of your freelancing day. 5 tasks (especially if they are essential to your business) per day is an impressive feat, and you’ll feel great if you can accomplish it (and you usually can if you’ve planned right and keep working, disasters notwithstanding).
Focus on What’s Important
One of the most important things to remember (especially with all these suggestions on how to improve and alter your freelance life) is to never, ever forget what is important. These are steps you are taking to improve your life, and you shouldn’t come out behind afterwards.
If sharing a meal or taking time out of your day with your significant other or family keeps things together and happy, then don’t sacrifice it to get more work done. Likewise, if link sharing with your friend helps mimic the water-cooler of an office, but IM is too distracting; ask if you can try to do it via email at night. By being happy, you can achieve more and take the complications of each day in stride.