Learning to love the peaks & troughs of freelancing

The one aspect of freelancing, that in nine months, I’ve yet to enjoy are the quiet periods. However, this week, I’ve resolved to start embracing those peaks and troughs that come as standard with a freelance lifestyle.

It’s a strange scenario having a day or two off in the middle of the week but it very often happens. Usually I spend this down–time worrying that I’m being lazy or that I don’t have enough work on in spite of the fact that I do. The very fact of the matter is that with freelancing you have to set your prices to cater for the fact that half the time you aren’t doing billable work therefore I’ve catered for slow periods financially but my brain can’t quite appreciate that.

This month I’ve been working two days a week on site for a client and supplementing that time with a further day of work for other clients and probably a few hours of business housekeeping (blogging, client contact, accounting, etc). This workload is more than enough to ensure that I have decent month financially yet I haven’t managed to stop fidgeting on those days where I’m not had work in.

But from now on if I find myself with a day off, like today — I’m going to enjoy it. I’m going to take a walk or watch a DVD — of course, I won’t be able to switch off completely but I won’t feel guilty if I only spend one–two hours doing web related work. Frankly, I think the time spent not working will actually make me feel a bit better when I actually do work and give my brain the freedom to think up new ideas.

Are you a freelancer? What do you do in the days you’ve not got work booked-in? How do you stave off the guilt that you should always be doing something productive with your time?

7 responses to “Learning to love the peaks & troughs of freelancing”

  1. We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve been quite consistently busy recently, but we generally use troughs to work on internal projects, such as redesigning our website (stop and start for the last 4 months!) and refining our CMS/ecommerce software.

    Personally, if I’m not working I tend to get fidgety and think about work. Having said that, I do notice a renewed vigour after a full day or two off.

  2. I don’t get too many free days which I guess is a good thing, but when it happens, I don’t seem to be able to relax – I’ll find something to do – work on my website, learn something new, spend time doing admin, anything. I really need to take a leaf from your book and enjoy one of the benefits of freelancing. Good advice Phil!

  3. If you are making enough money that you can take days off here and there, I don’t see why you shouldn’t.

    Then again, I’m just a lazy student, what do I know lol.

    • Well to be honest the idea is that the money you charge covers these days off – however, I rarely sit down and decide to say take Tuesday off – it’s more a case of where bookings fall can often leave odd days where there is nothing to do which can be considered chargeable.

  4. I’m the same. I find it hard to relax. At any one time I have probably have at least a 15 item to-do list which is typically administration or “errands” that get pushed to the back when working on client work.

    I usually find I’m feeling guilty about those if I do have any free time. I was told to put “relax” as a recurring to-do! It replenishes energy and gives a sense of well-being because after all, we work to live and not the other way around.

    My best escape on unexpected days off is a good DVD or book that makes me think. Some people find it suprising when I say to relax I try to read or watch a DVD that takes concentration but that just what I need, to be thinking of something else!

    The Wire, The West Wing, State of Play (BBC) are my recommendations, they are over a lot of episodes but short enough to watch in bursts and are not something you can watch without paying attention or in other words drifting off thinking about work.

    If I really can’t stop I will make a deal with myself to get one or two things done that have been niggling in the back of my mind and then go out and have fun or sit down and relax.

    Not much chance of that for me at the moment but when I do get the chance I will be sure to make the most of some spare time. :)

  5. I’m totally in agreement with Paul. It’s very difficult to just switch off and not try to be getting on with something you could be doing. One of the worst things I tend to do is procrastinate pointlessly and waste hours by “sort-of” dealing with things while YouTubing/Facebooking – as I’ve been doing today!

    Very good idea to put something mentally stimulating on – especially something like The West Wing which is simply brilliant.

    As Phil says, it really helps to actively relax and go out for a walk or sit down and put on a film. This works much better than just lazing around in your dressing gown all day!

  6. I do love these articles, Phil. Wish I could have enjoyed them back when I was going solo.

    You can get a bit nervous when things go quiet – because essentially you don’t know if it’s going to be a bit of flotsam or the tip of an iceberg. I tended to worry a lot (freelancing is easier for horizontal folk) and there were two side-effects from that: a) sometimes I got trigger happy, accepted short-term crap work and missed out on a nice (long) contract for which I could and should have waited a bit longer and b) I wished I’d done something useful with the downtime.

    The sort of worry I felt back then can be mitigated if you’re a horizontal sort of person, you don’t have a big loan/mortgage and your missus brings home the bacon regularly!

    Planning holidays in advance (just like being a permy) was also beneficial, otherwise life could feel a bit too random. That way, even when things were quiet, I still found that it felt “legit” to be doing admin (of which there was always plenty). I think I actually worked harder and besides being a freelancer still means you can have all the holiday you want ;-)