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A couple of weeks ago I had a birthday, which happily coincided with the second anniversary of my turning freelance. On that day, as I sat there eating birthday cake and going through my tax return, I thought “I wonder if I can get a list formatted advice article out of this fact?” which is one of the things that happens a lot when you’ve been writing for the internet for a while. Needless to say, freelancing does some weird things to your brain. To make sure those things aren’t two weird, here are three crucial tips that have allowed me to stay (mostly) sane for the last couple of years.
Get up, get dressed, go for a walk
One of the best things about freelancing is that, should I feel the urge, I could do my work in my pants, in bed after waking up at around noon. I won’t deny that on occasion I have actually done this and it was awesome, however it is definitely, by no means a lifestyle choice. To keep yourself from dissolving into a filth pit you should try to get up at roughly the same time every day (for me it’s usually between half eight and nine, because while I respect the importance of routine I’m not going to get up before eight if I don’t have to), get dressed, and here’s the important part – go to the shops. There’s always something you need – milk, tea, bread, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that before you sit down to work you should see just a tiny bit of the outside world. When you have a job that involves going to an actual place the journey into work is a great place to depressurise and get your brain warmed up. If your place of work is the desk in the room next to your bedroom, it’s a good idea to go elsewhere to start that process.
Know what you need to achieve each day
As well as having a workplace that is closer to your bed than the toilet is, freelancing also gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of hours. This isn’t the great thing it might seem at first. You know how much work you have to do as a freelancer? The answer is: Infinity work. Aside from the assignments you pick up, there’s also the admin work, the sorting your taxes out, and then, when that’s done, you need to go out and hunt for more work! When your freelancing you could easily work all the time without a break and still have leftover things to do afterwards.
To stop this happening you need to decide what your working day is going to look like. Set your deadlines, stick to them, and when you’ve done everything you set out to do in a day, STOP. Sometimes this means you’ll be working until 10 o’clock at night. Sometimes it means you’ll finish at three and get to head off to the pub. The important thing is that you know what the working day looks like before you start, so that you know how much you have to achieve before you can (literally) call it a day.
Get out of the house at every opportunity
Walking to the shops every morning is not enough. If you don’t want freelancing to send you on the train to crazyville you need to spend your spare time talking to people. Go to the pub. Invite your friends over for a movie night. Look for jobs in the voluntary sector, simply spending your Saturday morning helping out at an Oxfam shop can be enough to get you the moving about and interacting with people you need to keep your brain nice and healthy. Personally I’ve found doing a bit of voluntary work with the Joe Humphries Memorial Trust has been an invaluable way of getting out of the house and keeping my screws tightened.
Freelancing is far from easy, but if you make sure to look after yourself it’s also got plenty of rewards that you won’t find anywhere else.
Sam Wright is a freelance writer who is still mostly sane.