For Freelancers, Staying on Track Is About More Than Just Scheduling…

freelancing woman on laptop at cafe

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Freelancing is awesome.

You get to set your own hours, do work you (hopefully) love, work from anywhere (kinda), and eschew corporate life. Many freelancers choose this life so they can better prioritize happiness, make other dreams happen, or just travel and be generally privileged and modern.

Unfortunately, the irony is freelancers often have trouble with some of these “life balance” issues. Just like anything, freelancing takes a modicum of discipline to achieve — but that looks a bit different than it does for “9-5ers.” So, let’s talk about some of the things that can upset the balance and how to stay on track.

Spoiler: This is about more than just time management and scheduling. Although those are big.

By the way, when you’re done with this post, check out this article as well, which dives into the most common obstacles to wellness for freelancers.

Work/Life Balance

Freelancers often start freelancing to create a better work/life balance. Yet, as you’ve probably already experienced yourself, most of the time the exact opposite occurs.

If you work from home, this can be particularly problematic, as there’s no separation between home life and work life. One of two things happens to all freelancers at home; either they work way way way too many hours because there’s no boundary, or they just can’t get their mind off of work, which impacts their ability to be present for loved ones, do household things, and especially sleep.

One solution: Marry a 9-5er! When your spouse comes home, you’re done just like them. It’s brilliant! Other than that, just create your own boundaries. It’s up to you when you work, but you should actually define those hours and keep them reasonable – after all, if you wanted a 40-60 hour work week, you could just get a job. After hours (even if “after” means 11 AM to 2 AM), don’t take client calls, don’t do work, don’t sneak around and research something on your phone…cut it off!

It helps also if you can make yourself a dedicated workspace at home. A place where you really don’t do anything else. Whatever you do, don’t put your laptop on the same coffee table you watch TV on or work in bed. Take it from a 28-year veteran of freelancing.

+ Read more on Flypaper: “How Do You Eat an Elephant?”

Efficiency and Avoiding Screen Time Saturation

There’s no more debate. Screen time is pretty bad for you. Your eyes get tired, your head gets achy, your posture gets wonky, and massive amounts of emitted blue light (especially at the wrong times) wreak havoc on your circadian rhythms. Especially if you don’t set the boundaries above, you could find yourself working all hours of the night and messing up your sleep.

One solution: Efficiency. Work fast, don’t multitask (it slows you down), get up every half an hour, and avert your eyes to look at plants, cats, or the floor – anything real. Once you’re done with work for the day, close the laptop, put it away, and minimize phone time. Most likely as a freelancer, your work life is far more screen intensive than your 9-5er counterparts (they have meetings, you have Zoom meetings, they have water coolers, you have Facebook).

So, your reset shouldn’t be four hours of television and simultaneous TikTok scrolling. That may be your 9-5 partner’s way of winding down, but you should probably put the phone in the other room.

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Productivity and Health

Sitting is the new smoking – that’s well-known enough to be a cliché by now. Unless your freelance work is journeyman plumber or something, you’re not only on screens, you’re sitting down in place. And because you don’t have meetings to go to or the aforementioned water cooler, or random cornhole leagues started in your office (yes that’s a thing), freelancers are even more prone to a sedentary lifestyle than 9-5ers with the same job description.

This is a problem. Your health can seriously suffer, and in case you’re only interested in productivity body-be-damned, if you have a heart attack or a stroke at 35 you’re not going to be working.

Trust a 28-year freelancing veteran who’s had some hospital time – you don’t set up your laptop and get things done in that room. This isn’t a TV show and you’re not a mob boss.

Also, you don’t get much done when you’re exhausted and there’s no blood in your brain – even if you don’t end up in the hospital.

One (and only) Solution: Get up. Many successful freelancers start their day with a workout, which is often more effective than ending their day with it. Most smartwatches and FitBits can be set to remind you to stand up and walk around. Use this. Work out, be active during the day (pretend you’re going to a meeting or just get yourself a drink), and again, don’t always use couch time to refresh after work. Go for walks, do minigolf, join a fight club.

Diet and Stress

This one is frustrating. You’d think being a freelancer, especially if you work from home, you’re less in a rush, you’ve got a kitchen and groceries at your disposal, you’d be well-situated for low stress and healthy diet. But many freelancers have worse diets than jobby job people!

This often happens because freelancers have another problem – stress and vulnerability. 9-5ers get a steady paycheck; freelancers get paid when they work and never know when it’ll dry up. That tends to make a person work themselves to the bone trying to make hay while the sun shines (see above re: work/life balance) and lo and behold, they’re left with little time to make good food. So they order pizzas or nosh on whatever donut holes they’re working stiff spouse left in the fridge and drink Cokes all day to stay wired (and then can’t sleep).

Some solutions: Reduce stress with boundaries, planning, and a regular weekly outreach session that keeps new clientele rolling in. Further reduce stress by setting clear financial goals broken down from year to month to week, rather than thinking “I wanna make as much as possible!” Further reduce stress with healthy practices like meditation, exercise, yoga, and charitable work.

And finally, use that mellow feeling and added sense of time and space to make real, healthy meals. Luckily this goes nicely with the working out thing we talked about.

+ Read more on Flypaper: “Digital Overload – 8 Tips to Help You Detox From Your Devices”


Before we go any further, we have to address an elephant in the room. Some freelancers don’t make enough money. Obviously, this is bad for a business. Plus, as mentioned, it makes you feel vulnerable, limits your resources, stresses you out and might make your partner resentful. All of this can make it hard to grow your business (duh).

There’s only one solution to this imbalance besides just making more money (which is hard if you’re all off-track), and that’s to become a ninja money manager.

The main about this is you need to manage money differently than 9-5ers. It’s not necessarily better, just different. Since you don’t have the same paycheck every week, you need to manage money in a more fluid fashion. This is a whole article in itself, but some key topics include conservative budgeting, pre-paying ongoing expenses, judicious saving (get an IRA right now), and earmarking funds.

This is a big topic, but you need to master it, so check this article out for a pretty good start.

And Now Finally, Time Management

As promised, yes, scheduling and time management are super important for freelancers — more so than 9-5ers. The reason this is last is that you need to understand everything above first so you can understand what to make time for. As you now know, it’s not just about blocking your work out on the calendar.

You also need to block out healthful actions, accounting, business management, getting new clients, correcting errors, communicating with clients, and of course time for not working. Unfortunately, no one can tell you exactly how to do this, because it works so much differently for everyone. You could try a time management tool like Asana or ClickUp – or that may be just another thing to keep track of.

You could use an old-school physical planner. You could use a whiteboard. You could use Google calendar. You can use batching, time-blocking, self-appointment setting, or even coworking and accountability partners. You could set your business up so that you only do projects with your clients, not on your own.

The key point here is you need to schedule. Don’t just keep it in your head or take an artisanal approach to your workday where you follow your instinct and do what calls you. Write it all down. Most successful freelancers use some type of planner and they have at least one scheduling session per week where they plan the week. This assignment in this slot, that meeting in that slot, etc. 

And keep it simple. Don’t do anything more complicated than you need, and don’t overbook. Projects that usually take an hour and a half should go in two-hour blocks, and so on. Set boundaries and say “no” a lot. This one trick will help you more than any other.

Keep on Grooving…

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