The Constant Unrest of the Freelancer

Never fully working, nor fully resting

Photo: Kevin Ku, Unsplash

How often do you take holidays as a freelancer? I mean, real holidays: at least five consecutive days dedicated to doing as little as possible, avoiding any thought or action related in any way to your work.

In my case, it happened twice over the past twelve months. I consider myself lucky, as I know that some people don’t have this luxury at all.

The trick is, I don’t consider any of my regular weekends to have been a day off.

Why?

Because I am always thinking about work, even when I am not actually working. Should I have one day with absolutely nothing planned, I immediately start feeling bad, because I am doing nothing to improve my professional situation.

This seems to be a recurring curse among freelancers.

You never really cut off from work — so you are never 0% engaged. And because you are freelancing, you also hardly ever feel like you are 100% engaged. Constantly questionning the quality of your work. Always on the lookout for new clients and contracts. Setting your own rules, without anyone to validate them.

Even when you are working 12 hours a day, you are still not sure that you are being productive enough. You always have this itchy feeling that you could — that you should — have done something more today.

Never fully working, nor fully resting.

On the long-run, this is simply exhausting.

How to deal with that?


Feeling good about what you did

The first step is to find satisfaction in what you achieved.

Preparing to do lists at the beginning of each week or each day has proven helpful to me. It took some trial and experience to get to know myself enough and set realistic objectives, that are still ambitious enough so that I feel good when achieving them.

If you are true to yourself and to your ambitions when setting your goals, then every time you actually check all the boxes, it feels like you won your day 100%. The simple act of checking a box feels good. Treat yourself to this small pleasure.

But the actions you take and the boxes you check every week should also make sense as parts of a bigger plan. Do they fit in some kind of roadmap? Will they be useful to you or someone else in the future?


Feeling good about what you don’t do

The most challenging part may be figuring how to disengage fully from work. How to go into a full resting mode for at least one entire day, without anxiety popping out of nowhere?

Try extending your vision of the future. Uncertainty is what is always keeping us freelancers on the edge of our seats, unable to relax and trust in the future to come. It becomes easier to stop worrying for one day or five when you can foresee more clearly what is to come.

What does it mean, practically? Two things.

First, it requires gaining longer-term financial security. Always having the equivalent of 6-months spendings available on a bank account. It doesn’t mean that you are good if your savings amount to 6-months spendings in total. It means that, in addition to meeting your goals in terms of savings, you also have put aside enough cash to cover for 6 months of basic expenses, should you suddenly lose all your sources of income. Six months is long enough for you to rebound and find new clients — or find and go back to an employee job for some time if you need to.

But financial security is not enough to secure your vision of your future.

It’s also necessary to feel good about your freelancing activity in the long run. Do you feel like what you are doing today is helping you grow as a professional? Do you keep learning? Are you making and nurturing fruitful connections? Are you associating your name — your brand — with projects you are proud of?

If you know where you are going, why you are doing what you do today, then you will feel better about every step you take. Including doing nothing and just rest for some time.


Do you have any trick or habit you implement in order to escape this exhausting situation of “never fully working nor full resting”? Please share your opinion and advice in the comments!