Self-care for freelancers. Ha… what’s that?
As a freelancer, it can be tough to balance making a living with looking after yourself. When you’re responsible for completing every single task within your business, it’s all too easy to push self-care aside bit by bit. Things like spending time with your family, eating healthy, exercising, catching up with friends and even rest and relaxation. Before you know it, you’ve found yourself working 70+ hours per week and existing on the brink of burnout.
That’s not conducive to creativity, productivity or profitability. And as you’re the only person making decisions and doing the work in your business, it’s so important that you have an understanding of self-care for freelancers.
So, here’s my 5 tips on prioritising self-care for freelancers.
1. Create a morning routine
While it’s possible to recover from a poor start to the day, it’s far easier if you simply start it well. Any productive morning begins with a solid morning routine as it preps your mind and body for work, and also reduces the need for mundane decision making.
The key to developing a solid morning routine is finding a structure that works for you. Perhaps you have to get the kids ready and drive them to school, maybe you sleep late or like to exercise first thing. You have to take this into account when planning because the right morning routine for you is the one that sticks.
I like to start my mornings by getting dressed as soon as I get up, in the clothes I laid out the night before. While it’s tempting to hang around all day in my pyjamas and dressing gown, I’ve found getting dressed first thing helps me mentally transition from self-time to work time.
Then I make a tasty coffee in my Chemex. This process takes about 5 minutes and I try to be completely focused on the task at hand – my own personal brand of meditation.
Then, I sit down to work. When I write first, I always find my day is far more productive. Both because I begin my day with the most creative task, and because I feel like I’ve achieved a lot within the first hour of my workday. So I always try to make writing the number one task on my daily to-do list.
Now, that’s my simple, three-step morning routine. But yours could be drastically different. Take some time to figure out what works best for you, then stick to it. Because when you start the day well, you’re more likely to finish the day well, freeing up time for self-care in the afternoon and evening.
“But I have kids/responsibilities in the morning.”
It’s far easier to develop a consistent morning routine when you’re the only one involved in said routine. However, life simply isn’t like that. So rather than trying to run your household like a military operation, consider creating a ‘pre-work routine’ instead. You could complete your morning tasks, like getting the kids ready for school, then begin your morning routine once you get home. Perhaps start with stacking the dishes in the dishwasher while you make a coffee, signalling the start of your work-day.
2. Exercise regularly
I’m a qualified personal trainer, so it’d be remiss of me if I didn’t add exercise to this list. Like making coffee, exercise is the other time in my life when I’m able to completely focus on the task at hand, and allow my mind to stop exploding like New Year’s fireworks. Exercise also helps me to keep my body fit, strong and healthy.
One of the biggest mistakes I made in my first attempt at online business was neglecting my training. I always had more work to do, so I found myself skipping training, instead choosing to work longer hours in the hope of finding success. This had a significant impact on my life, leaving me overweight and in pain, with low self-confidence and self-esteem, which in turn, impacted my business because I need self-belief to succeed.
So now, I schedule exercise time in my calendar and treat it like a work appointment. This minor change means I can plan my day around ensuring I make time for exercise and as a result, I’m far more likely to train. It also adds a level of structure into my workday that I wouldn’t otherwise have, preventing me from over-working.
If you’re not really into exercise, you could swap this out for simply going outside for an hour or taking your dog for a walk. It’s very much an opportunity to get out of the house, get moving and clear your mind. Regardless of your choice, I think some form of movement is essential in improving self-care for freelancers.
This is without a doubt, one of the most important changes I’ve made in my business practices. About 12 months ago, I challenged myself to limit my use of my phone, email and social media. In doing so, I found I was far more focused when completing tasks, and less likely to be dragged into tasks that didn’t have a high return on my investment of time. Another unexpected benefit of limiting connectivity is, I’ve been sleeping far better since limiting social media in the evenings.
Here’s how I’ve limited connectivity in my life:
I only allow myself to check email twice per day; once in the morning after completing my most important task for the day, then again before I finish work. When I check my email, I try to deal with every email in my inbox.
I also ensure I log out of my email account for the rest of the day. This includes the app on my phone as well. I no longer get distracting email notifications unless I want to, so I’m able to completely focus on more important work tasks.
I also only check my social media accounts once per day in order to post, check notifications and engage with friends and followers. I deleted all social media apps off my phone so I don’t succumb to the habit of mindless scrolling when I’m bored or looking to procrastinate. These changes alone have freed up hours of extra time per day which I now use for self-care.
I only use two to three social media accounts for my business too. I used to have over 10 social media accounts. It was so overwhelming, social media was like a full-time job. Now, I prioritise a select few and leave plenty of time for the rest of my work (and self-care, of course).
While I’ve deleted most social media apps off my phone, I still have messaging apps. So when I’m working, I leave my phone in another room. This tactic reduces the distractions I face while working, so I’m able to be more productive.
Your connectivity decisions may not be so extreme, but regardless, it’s important you monitor your social media usage and ensure it doesn’t get out of hand. If you’re struggling to find enough hours in the day to get your work done, chances are, this time suck has something to do with it.
4. Plan ahead
A saying that’s stuck with me since my Army days is:
“prior preparation and planning prevents piss poor performance”.
It might be an old Army saying, but this is a perfect mantra when discussing self-care for freelancers. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
I take time today to plan for tomorrow, so I limit my distractions and decision fatigue when I should be working. Here are three ways you can plan ahead to set yourself up for a great workday tomorrow:
Write your to-do list for tomorrow at the end of each day. Purposely put less on the list than you think you’ll be able to achieve. (Everything will always take longer than you think it will, even when you plan for it to take longer than you think). A good rule of thumb for this is to write just three items you’d like to complete each day. When you sit down to work in the mornings, you don’t waste time planning or procrastinating.
Cooking at every meal can take too much time out of your day. Instead, always make enough dinner every evening to have leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. This means lunch is in the fridge ready to be eaten at lunchtime. This limits the length of your lunch break and ensures you face fewer distractions and can get back to work soon after lunch.
Some of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs wear the same clothes every day to limit their decision fatigue. That’s a bit extreme for my liking, so instead, I plan my outfit the night before. It’s a good middle ground if you feel the same. Plan your outfit and put it in a pile. When you get up in the morning, go straight to the pile and get dressed for the day. This will not only limit the decisions you make in the morning but will also mean you’re far less likely to still be in my pyjamas and dressing gown at 2 pm if you work from home like I do.
5. Prioritise relationships
If you’re in a relationship, whenever possible, try to finish work when or before your partner gets home from work so you can spend quality time together. It may not always work out as planned, but as long as you make an effort, you should be able to set aside some time to focus on your relationship at least a few nights per week – even if it’s just to Netflix and chill.
Plan a full day off work
This is, without a doubt, my #1 tip for self-care for freelancers.
Every single week, make sure that one day has a big, fat cross through it. On this day, you’re not allowed to work. This means no social media, no email, no work tasks at all. This will give you the opportunity to take a break from work tasks, and to prioritise your relationships.
If I didn’t have and follow this rule, it would be all too easy to get caught up in thinking I have to work because I’m at home and not doing much.
Bonus: Use your intuition and rest
When I feel myself struggling to concentrate, find it difficult to make decisions or can’t get out of bed in the mornings, I know it’s time to take a break. You may have similar signs or a whole list of others that are different from mine. Regardless, it’s important to listen when your body is showing signs you need a break.
When this happens to me, I might go to the gym early, or I add a swim, sauna and spa at the end of my session. Often, I sit in the garden or play with our cats and dogs. Sometimes I walk the 30 minutes into town and grab lunch. Regardless of how I work around it, I always ensure I’m taking notice, and I take time out when I need it.
A key factor in allowing myself to take time out when I need it is asking myself:
“can it wait?”
99.9% of the time, it can. So I can relax without feeling like I’m creating more stress by rushing to meet deadlines.
BUT what if I’m flat out?
When I write about self-care for freelancers, of the questions I most often get asked is:
“How can I do all this stuff and manage my workload?”
Sometimes, we simply have to put our head down and push hard to get the work done. That’s an inevitable consequence of running your own business. However, if you’re feeling constantly overwhelmed with your workload, it’s time to change something your business. You could:
- Start a waiting list instead of saying ‘yes’ to every project immediately;
- Increase your prices so you’re still earning your current wage for working fewer hours (creating time for self-care);
- And/Or you could hire someone to take some work off your plate (e.g. a social media manager or admin assistant).
It’s time to prioritise self-care for freelancers.
I ran myself into the ground with my last business and I refuse to do it again. You shouldn’t either.
If you’re constantly putting yourself on the backburner for your business, treat this post as a wake-up call. Hopefully, you can turn around now, before you find yourself standing on the brink of burnout, unable to take another step forward.