how to balance work and life as a freelancer

After typing in that title I was going to just leave this entire post blank, or draw a huge question mark, or ask “NO REALLY, HOW???” But then I figured I was letting down the approximately .127 readers who are seeking the answer to this question for themselves.

So. Here is my highly personalized take.

Image source: me

Working alone, from home, is not the pantsless hedonism that cubicle dwellers assume it is. I cannot sit around all day with peanut butter in my hair as the TV blares reruns of RuPaul’s Drag Race at top volume. I cannot leap up at will and shake it like a wet dog on the living room floor to Missy Elliot’s “Ragtime Interlude/I’m Really Hot.” I cannot disappear into the bathroom for upwards of half an hour to pick at my face in the mirror while mumbling irritatedly at my reflection. I cannot burst around corners with finger guns aloft and shout, “FREEZE, ASSHOLES!” at dust motes floating in a sunbeam. 

I mean, I can do all these things, but they must be on my time.

What is this? What is “my time,” anyway? As far as I can tell, “my time” can be defined as “the time I am not getting paid.” Which, if I’m being honest, is infinitely better than the time I am being paid. I don’t care how much you like your work: sitting down and doing it feels like slow, slightly uncomfortable death by the clock. Because every single second you spend on doing what you need to do is a second you could otherwise be spending on doing what you actually want to be doing. And until I can figure out how to get money deposited directly in my bank account for Googling images of Jordan Catalano, I am forever going to have to just grit my teeth and slog on through my responsibilities.

I have a unique situation in which I work for one company, but I am not that company’s employee. I work for myself, here, but I don’t have to go out and hustle for clients. This suits me well, because those 8 months of 2008 when I did try to run my own business showed me that I am very bad at running my own business. I much prefer this setup, which combines the structure of regular work with the freedom of setting my own schedule.

It’s magical to be in charge of your own schedule, yes, but it’s terrifying when that schedule spirals out of your control. I am a very routine-oriented person, which is a key part of my work-from-home success (the other part is despising human interaction). Still, a lot of my work day feels like trying to methodically pound a square peg in a round hole. In the end I’m left wrung out, watching “work” prance around the boxing ring beating its chest, while “life” lies on ground in a bloody pulp. Life never even got to throw a punch, man.

I’ve sought a lot of advice to help me down the path toward the ideal work/life balance. So allow me to share with you here the tricks and insights I’ve gleaned along the way:

Experiment with your schedule to find what works for you.

Try getting up earlier to get a head start on your day. Wake up at 4 am to pee, remember that you’re meant to get up in two hours, and groggily switch off your alarm in a fit of hell no bitch please. This is getting off to a swimming start!

Keep strict hours, and don’t deviate from them.

Unless you have to run an errand, or go to a doctor’s appointment, or there’s a particularly compelling thread on Twitter, or if you suddenly notice the spice jars are dusty and they simply cannot be dusty one second longer omfg

Figure out when your prime concentration hours are, and build your workday around them.

Until you realize that your prime concentration hours are 3-8 pm, and there’s no way in hell you’re going to want to be working all night while your office job-holding friends are laughing gaily and clinking glasses at happy hour together.

Focus. 

Encourage concentration by clapping at yourself. “GET TO WORK, ASSHOLE,” is an excellent motivational cheer.

Call yourself out. 

Shouting “STOP LOOKING AT FACEBOOK, FUCKFACE,” is a good way to draw attention to your procrastination, and make your neighbors suspect you have mental problems.

Limit distractions.

Download and use an application that blocks your internet access for user-selected periods of time. Remember that you must have access to social media to complete 80% of your work tasks. Oh.

Hold yourself accountable.

Set small goals and reward yourself when you meet them. Realize midway through a vicious, feral attack on a bag of chocolate peanut butter pretzels that perhaps treats aren’t the best tactic.

Use your flexibility to your advantage. 

Don’t feel like working one morning? Don’t. Instead, spend that precious “me” time fretting about the hours you still need to put in and how you don’t want to wind up working all night. Whose idea was putting all this work off until later anyway?

Accept your mistakes and setbacks and move on. 

But not before whining about them. Loudly. With stomping. When your partner walks in the door a little after 5:00 pm and greets you warmly, be sure to icily retort: “Oh good, you’re home already? That’s great, I’m still working.” Conveniently forget to mention that you started work at 11 am, because you’re a totally unmotivated asshole and it’s so unfair. What was this part about moving on, again?

Wish you were an office employee again. 

Because no matter what happens in an office, even if you spend a large portion of the day researching bridal shower ideas for your friend’s wedding or Googling photos of Jordan Catalano, you can usually just go home at 5:30 anyway and be done. Jealous! So jealous of all these people in offices! Remember that people in offices have deadlines too, and that you hate interacting with coworkers. Oh.

So, this is where I am, friends. I’m in a place where I have hammered down a pretty solid routine of flailing around uselessly each morning, getting my head on straight each afternoon, and finally wrapping my workday around 7 or 8 pm. I don’t particularly enjoy this schedule, because I’d like to have more time at night. More time for chores and errands, more time for my to-do list, more time for what I want to do, like write this here blog. But no matter what I do I can’t seem to change any of it. it just falls back into this same pattern.

Office life and work-from-home life are both private hells, it’s just that work-from-home is a private hell of your own construction. So that’s slightly better, I guess? That’s one step down the road to a happy work/life balance.

Now I just have to figure out the other steps.

You, uh, got any tips?

10 Responses to “how to balance work and life as a freelancer”

  1. LOVE THIS. That bit about “working” in an office and going home at 5:30. Yep. Thanks for putting it all in perspective for me, Lyn.

  2. “STOP LOOKING AT FACEBOOK, FUCKFACE.” <– I'm going to try that today.

    Also, this: "Limit distractions. Download and use an application that blocks your internet access for user-selected periods of time. Remember that you must have access to social media to complete 80% of your work tasks. Oh."

    That is my life! I don't know how to do it, since I'm so much of an all-or-nothing girl. I can either be on facebook, or I can cut myself off entirely, but just going on for 10 minutes? Not in your life… I'm still searching for the solution to this one.

  3. All excellent tips. Please tell me you’re not using that wretched program that clocks you on and off every second you’re not ‘working’? You were using that initially when you started working from home, I seem to recall….

    I love the level graphic. Also love you and your blog, it’s nice to have you back x

  4. Yep, this is it exactly.

    And “Because no matter what happens in an office, even if you spend a large portion of the day [picking at your nails and staring out the window] or [catching up on the latest twitter gossip], you can usually just go home at 5:30 anyway and be done.” Which is why I choose to work in an office. John also has the option of working from home but after doing it a couple of times, has pretty much decided it’s not for him. It’s fun for about 45 minutes and then it’s just demoralizing. Somehow your procrastination stares at you more judgementally than it does in an office. Like right now, I’m procrastinating! but I’m in a cubicle so it’s fine.

    I have no tips. It kinda sucks.

  5. I don’t, but man. I hate interacting with coworkers (in person), too. I really would like a private hell of my own construction, I think.

  6. I have no tips. I work from home most of the time, but I’m a writer, so if I’m not working, I can blame it on writer’s block. It’s true about 27% of the time. I’m most productive when I wake up, pee, and get to work. When I’ve worked for an hour, I reward myself with three hours of flitting about time. Rinse and repeat. Luckily, no one cares as long as I meet my deadlines.

    It’s a weird thing.

  7. all of this + baby. I sadly still have to yell at myself to get off Facebook and what’s particularly fucked up is that I HATE FACEBOOK!!!! but it’s so hard to stop.

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