Do you know what freelance guilt is? Even if you haven’t heard of this term before, if you’re a freelancer, chances are you know exactly what it means.
While having a flexible work schedule and being “your own boss” sounds amazing, there’s one huge downside to it as well. That downside is feeling guilty over not working more.
Figuring out how to create a good work-life balance can be challenging, and in some cases – impossible.
Yep, that’s right – while 9 to 5-ers spend most of their work time counting the hours until they are done working, we freelancers tend to do the opposite and see every minute not spent working as a waste of time. Do you catch yourself having any of the following thoughts?
“Just because I have finished my entire to-do list more quickly than I expected doesn’t mean I should be resting!”
“It’s only 2 pm and I’m already done with work? While others will be working for 3 more hours? That’s not right!”
“I know I said I’m only answering client messages until 7 pm, but I can just glance at it, maybe it’s something important.”
“Yes, I’m out with friends and I should be having fun, but I feel so bad when I think of all the work I left for tomorrow when I could have finished it tonight!”
If you recognize yourself in some – or all – of these, then you, my friend, most probably have an issue with freelancer’s guilt.
Being your own boss and manager isn’t easy: feeling guilty about working half as much as others while, at times, making more money is a serious struggle for a lot of us. And people saying things like “oh, you’re so spoiled, if you were working twice that much you’d be filthy rich by now!” aren’t exactly helping.
So what can help you ditch the freelance guilt and feel better about yourself in these situations?
1. Make realistic plans – and stick to them!
This one may take some getting used to. Depending on how much experience you have, you may need some time figuring out how long it will take you to finish a certain sketch, or write a report, or design a website.
But once you get the hang of it, create realistic expectations for the next day. Can you easily write an entire article in two hours? Cool, then maybe can add some more tasks to the list! But if you’re in the business of retouching 1000 photographs, don’t feel bad for not finishing all your work in a single day!
You’re the best judge on how much you can work without letting the tiredness get the best of you. Once it does, take a break – but make it a REAL one.
2. Work is work, and rest is rest
You’re not going to get much rest if all you’re thinking about while resting is what you need to do next and how you’re going to do it. To “force” yourself to follow this rule, schedule alarm clocks. If you’ve given yourself 20 minutes of rest, then don’t think about ANYTHING work related to those next 20 minutes.
If you catch yourself doing it, try your best to return your thoughts to the time alarm that’s there for a reason. Work shouldn’t be everything there is to your life. Some me-time is essential when it comes to being happy, healthy and, well, satisfied with your life and work itself.
3. Choose your work hours and – yes – stick to them!
When are you most productive? People usually fall into two types. They either get up with the sun and start working as soon as they open their eyes, or they wait until it’s dark out for their productivity to kick in.
Either is okay, as long as you can successfully balance it with other parts of your life – social, personal, etc. But do you catch yourself falling into both types at the same time because you don’t get any rest? Then you should definitely reconsider your priorities.
Pick the hours when you are most productive and treat them as your work time. If you have some extra work to finish (which is urgent), you may go over those hours. But if that work is absolutely not urgent, respect yourself enough to follow the schedule.
4. Don’t let others’ opinion bring you down
People who work 9-5 tend to think freelancers have it easy. All you do is sit in front of your screen, work for 2 or 3 hours a day and enjoy your life! Where’s the justice? Someone else is working for 8 hours, 9 if you count the commuting time, so of course they have the right to feel jealous! Right?
Not really. For one, feeling the kind of jealousy that makes you put others down is something everyone should be working hard to get rid of. And for two, research shows that during an 8-hour workday, an average worker is productive for only 2 hours and 53 minutes! So they’re not really jealous because you work less – you don’t! – but because you can leave your work behind once you’re done, while they have to sit in the office until 5 pm.
Think of this the next time you hear or think you’re spoiled and unproductive. Make a conscious decision to spend the extra time you have been given in a good way, instead of worrying about other people’s opinion.
5. Turn off the notifications
Yes, I’ve said it! One of the most difficult things in the life of every freelancer is deciding to ignore any emails, messages, or requests until the next day.
What could happen if you’re not there for the client 24/7? They may get mad, sure. But if you’re following the schedule and delivering on time, they can’t expect you to only live and breathe for them. Furthermore, if you want to stay sane and productive, it’s crucial to practice digital detox once in a while.
Let’s be real, in 95% of the cases, sleeping on a message will result in absolutely nothing. Besides, when was the last time you had a client that answered your messages the second you send them? Which brings me to the last part, perhaps the most important one…
6. Put yourself first
When you look back on your life someday, what is it that you want to remember?
Try to answer this sentence whenever you’re caught up in work you don’t need to be doing while ignoring amazing opportunities to have fun and live your best life.
I guarantee you that in 40 years your favorite memories won’t be those of you slouching on a chair, laptop in front of you, your eyes all but closing while you’re ignoring text messages from your friend because you feel guilty over not working.
Don’t put your clients first. By all means, do your best work, follow the guidelines, and respect the schedule – but anything beyond that is them using your goodwill and guilt to their advantage.
Work as much as it takes for you to fulfill your goals. And not for work itself and for fear of being lazy! Once you’re done for the day, that’s it. Walk away, leave your work behind, ditch the freelance guilt and go make some memories.
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