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Finding Freelance Balance

freelance writing balanceSeems like freelance writers tend to fall into two categories – at least in the beginning. They either work way too much or way too little. A routine helps, but it isn’t always easy to get.

When you have a regular job you know what your hours are – you generally work 9-5 Monday – Friday or some variant. You get, if you’re in the US, two weeks vacation – more if you’re in Europe. You probably get some sick leave and your life is structured around that job, including the commute.

When you step into full-time freelance writing the structure that was imposed by your job is gone. You’re left to your own devices. You get to choose if you’re going to sleep all day, get up at dawn or dark. You get to decide if you work at home or in a coffee shop. You get to choose if you work during the day or at night. In other words, it’s all up to you.

I remember clearly how confused I felt the first week or two when I finally stepped out of jobs into freelancing. My kids were small then, but going to school, but once they were out of the house for the day I hardly knew what to do.

A lot of me yearned to go back to bed and read – I’m always up for reading. But I also knew that if I started that I’d soon be looking for another job and I really didn’t want that.


So I tricked myself by taking a notebook (paper kind back then) to a coffee shop to write for an hour or so over breakfast.

Then the problem became spending way too much time at writing and various other stuff associated with my business – a trap I can still fall into.

Notice what you’re doing

If you’re feeling a bit out of balance, notice what you’re actually doing. I track my work time using Toggle It’s easy enough so I actually use it most days. Every now and again I’ll run a report and see how much time I actually spend working and what kind of work I’m actually doing.

I include my websites, my client work and my marketing time. Since I tend to do household stuff during the day, that also shows up in my Toggle account, but I can quickly see what’s what.

It’s surprising how often I think I’m doing something like writing, but when I start timing my activities I find I’m actually doing something else – like reading email or getting distracted looking for images, etc. (John Soares had a great post on this sort of thing called How This One Simple Technique Boosts My Morning Productivity.)


For example, if  I’m feeling extra fatigued or finding it really hard to do some writing, the reason often shows up in what I’ve been doing – trying to actually write more than four hours a day in my case, or not exercising, etc.

Decide what you want

What do you want? What do you mean by balance? You are the expert on your own life – if that means you want to work a three-hour day and can make that generate enough income for you, fine. On the other hand, if you find it takes more hours, figure out how many and build the rest of your life around that.

Or maybe you already know you want to spend more time with your family, or traveling, or staring into space, or going back to school, or… whatever it is it’s fine. Know too that what you want is likely to change over time.

Put the pieces together

In many ways life is sort of a jigsaw puzzle. We get to put the pieces together roughly the way we want. I say roughly because stuff happens.

That stuff seems to show up in higher relief when we freelance full time. I think it’s because we have more options. While you can leave a job for several hours to help a child once in a while, do it often and you’ll probably lose the job. When the kid comes to your home with a bleeding knee, it’s hard to ignore, and you probably shouldn’t.

One of my favorite techniques for finding some balance is designing my ideal day. Somehow writing down the way I’d like my work day to go helps me get closer to my ideal. Sometimes I’ll take the time to do this exercise in detail, others I’ll just jot down a few things I’d like more time for, like gardening or friends or… Since part of my ideal includes balance, I find I keep moving toward that ever-moving target.

How to you work toward balance in your life?

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Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by cogdogblog

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • I’m always glad to hear how other writers structure (or not!) their time. And thanks, Anne, for the tip about Toggl. That’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.

  • So true. I need to schedule my work outs into my day. I worked out this weekend, and I’m still feeling it. 🙂 Working out is important to me, but I’ve been so focused on writing, that’s it has gone out the window. Not anymore. I’m putting ‘working out’ on my schedule. After all, I sit in front of a computer all day writing. My body needs and craves exercise. Plus, being out and about in nature is great for my creativity.
    Amandah recently posted..5 Simple Ways to Make Blog Posts Viral (Even if You’re about to Give Up)My Profile

  • Suzanne Canada

    I like Ali’s comment because it pretty much describes my life; one problem of being a freelancer that I have is getting sucked away from my writing by many competing demands, but also burnout–the idea that a professional writer can sit in a cubicle and crank out content for 8 hours a day doesn’t work for me. Perhaps there is a way to control the flow better or charge rush clients a “burnot fee” ;). Thanks for the ideas to keep the creative flame burning.

    • Actually a burnout fee might work… as a reality check, I can only put in about 4 hours of real writing time in a single day – that’s – any more and I can’t do it again the following day. I also need at least one down day… mostly for myself… reading, what-have-you.

  • I always want what I do not have, Im like a child.

    When I was working for myself I used to crave a job where I could work until 5 and then finish and that was it but now I have that I miss the days in bed and the working through the night!

    I think, having tried both for long periods I am naturally better at working for myself and doing it at night!
    Kers recently posted..Learning to driveMy Profile

  • Coming off a trip of several days of wedding celebrations, I am having trouble getting productive. That’s from fatigue. So, I find one way I find balance is forgiving myself when I’m not in top form. We beat ourselves up to the point of paralysis. By allowing myself to mess up or to be less than productive gets me back on track quicker than wallowing in guilt.

    Thanks, Anne, for a timely post. 🙂
    Cathy Miller recently posted..A Business Blog to Rival GumbyMy Profile

    • Oh yes, noticing if you need rest then getting it… being okay with not being spot on all the time… allowing being human… all necessary.

  • I think toggle is so effective for tracking working time. So, its a great idea for me. I want to track my using toggle. Thanks for sharing this nice post.

  • I like the idea of “designing my ideal day.” Seems like a form of positive reinforcement to motivate you to start the day off on the right foot and follow through. I’m going to try this!

    • Cool… let us know how it works for you.

  • Ali

    Finding balance is really important, not only for writing but for everything you do in your life… Reminds me of what Dalai Lama said when asked what surprised him most about humanity, he replied:
    Man!
    Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money,
    Then he sacrifices his money to recuperate his health,
    And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present.
    And as a result, he does not live in the present or the future,
    And he lives as if he’s never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived.
    Ali recently posted..How The Experts Find Blog Topics That Almost Always Make MoneyMy Profile

    • Ali, love the Dalai Lama… he sees himself and the rest of us so clearly. Thanks.

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