Seems 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?