One of the questions I got in response to the survey I sent out last week was: How do you take care of yourself as a freelancer and avoid overworking?
I felt like this was a relevant topic on the heels of this piece from the New York Times about wealth, success, and misery, as well as this one on workism from The Atlantic.
And I want to be totally candid about this topic because...we’re all friends here, right?
So, here's the truth: This is an ongoing struggle for me.
These days, I'm taking better care of myself and trying to avoid over-working, but...there's a lot of room for improvement.
In the first year of two I was freelancing full time, I worked a lot. These were long days with short breaks and *maybe* a 10-minute lunch.
I woke up in the morning mad at myself if I’d overslept by even a few minutes, sweaty with panic and already worrying about whether or not I’d get everything done for the day.
The reason: FEAR.
Those first few years of full-time freelancing were 100% fear-driven.
Fear that I wouldn’t make enough money and would regret leaving the security and stability of my full-time job.
Fear that I’d look like an idiot failure to my friends and family.
Fear that I wasn’t smart enough to manage running a business on my own.
Fear that my clients would think I was a charlatan or my work would suddenly dry up.
Lemme tell you: It wasn’t a great way to live.
Turns out existing in a constant state of low-grade anxiety isn’t all that healthy, either. I got really sick. Not only was I dealing with a variety of ongoing health issues, but I couldn’t sleep well and I had terrible back pain from so much sitting at the computer (even with a nice chair.)
Was it nice to have the freedom and flexibility of being my own boss?
Um...maybe? I wouldn’t have known. I wasn’t taking advantage of either. I just worked like a dog—way more than I did at my 9-5.
I’m grateful to have a partner who called me on this and that cares about my general well-being. He was the one who finally said, “Hey, this isn’t working. Something has to change.”
So I started doing some things to regain that work-life balance thing I’d heard so much about:
1. I took Paul Jarvis’s Creative Class and got some time-saving processes built into my business. (Bonus: I finally picked a niche to focus on, too.)
2. I learned to say NO. If you’re a people-pleasing person like me that JUST WANTS EVERYONE TO LIKE HER, DAMNIT, this is a hard thing to learn. But I did, and it helped me be more selective about how I invested my time and energy...which also made me resent my work a lot less.
3. I built in movement to my schedule. This sounds weird, right? Probably is. However, scheduling times for walks, going to the gym, or taking a yoga class meant that getting up and moving around was just another part of my daily to-do list.
4. I instituted office hours (kinda.) I think a lot of people are lying when they say they don’t check email around the clock. I know I do. It’s just another app I open as I’m checking social channels. But by turning off push notifications, it put some of the power over that back in my hands. No more incessant DING! at all hours of the day. Now, I use flags to mark the emails I need to respond to when I’m back at my desk. And while I read emails outside my office hours, I don’t respond until the next day. It helps me mentally prepare for what’s coming and stay on top of messages without being pulled into reacting right away.
5. I started doing things that generally made me feel better on a regular basis. These were things like getting a massage every 3-4 weeks, drinking lots of water (the secret is lemon!), going to therapy, and implementing a sleep routine.
The other big shift that happened was that I finally give myself permission to chill. (Oooh, that should be a t-shirt.)
I toned down the self-competition and started asking for help when I needed it. I made myself get out of the house and go be around other human beings during the day. I stopped letting that fear dictate my days.
Aaaaaand now I sound like a Hallmark card in a Lifetime movie. Cue the confetti and a song about female empowerment!
In all seriousness, the concept of “self care” or whatever you want to call it...it’s pretty important. And it takes work, just like anything else.
If you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your work (or anything else.)
Want a lil' more? I discussed this topic of 'dealing with stress' in episode 6 of this podcast.
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