Do You Have Freelancer Anxiety Syndrome?
Before you ask, yes, I just came up with this term myself. However, it’s very real. I’ve been there, many of my team members have been there, and chances are you’ve been there as well.
People working from home, freelancers, and distributed team members suffer from anxiety more often than we think. What’s worse, they suffer in silence. Anxiety can be debilitating, and working from home can make things even worse since it’s so hard to separate life from work, unplug and unwind. I have to say that I’m not talking about a real anxiety disorder here, which may require serious therapy and even medication.
I use a whole arsenal of tools and techniques to keep my “freelancer” anxiety at manageable levels, but sometimes things just don’t go well and I have bad days. They usually go like this:
I wake up, usually still tired after a long day of work. Yesterday I had to stay up and work very late because I couldn’t organize my day very well and I let distractions get the best of me. I look at my phone and see a hundred unread emails, Slack, and Basecamp notifications. Already I’m feeling a knot tightening in my stomach, though I’m still in bed and it’s only 9 a.m. I get breakfast, get on my computer, and start my work day. It takes me forever to go through all messages. Two hours later I’m exhausted, got nothing done, and added 20 more to-do’s to my already-never-ending list. The rest of the day I spend in a half-conscious state of anxiously going through these tasks, jumping from one thing to another, being busy and accomplishing nothing.
I consider myself a very organized, very productive person. Yet these days happen, and over the years of working remotely and managing a remote team, I found some patterns.
Some of the things that cause my “freelancer anxiety” are:
- Poor planning
- Poor task prioritization
- Poor management, meaning you’re regularly assigned unrealistic workload
- Jumping from one task to another too much
- Having too many notifications
- Ignoring your internal clock and energy levels
- You may not delegate enough
- Too many distractions in your surroundings or on your work computer
And here’s my list of things that help control “freelancer anxiety” symptoms.
Under-Plan and Prioritize
Yes, under-plan. There’s always something unexpected that comes up that prevents you from doing the important things you planned for the day. So, under-plan, and handle tasks in order of their priority. I use the 135 List to prioritize tasks every day. It’s free for up to 5 lists and looks great.
Set Realistic Deadlines
Whether you’re setting deadlines for your team or for yourself, think ten times before committing to a deadline. Is it REALLY realistic? Save yourself and your team (and clients!) a headache and build in good buffer time in any project to allow for bad days or unexpected events that prevent you or your team from working at a usual pace.
Practice Deep Work
I highly recommend this book, it changed the way I work and how much I get done. Multitasking is overrated. You need a good stretch of uninterrupted time to create anything meaningful. Try switching tasks less often and see if it works for you.
Turn Off Notifications
Do new emails or the dings of new notifications constantly take your eyes off a larger task? Just think, do you need to read and answer this now? Can it wait till you’re done with your current task? Most of the time the answer will be yes. So turn off those darn notifications! They distract and confuse your brain, eventually contributing to anxiety.
Understand Your Biological Clock
Are you a morning or an evening person? Whenever possible, try to listen to your body and build your schedule in a way that allows focused work when you have most energy. Pay attention to when you hit lulls, when you need a break, and when you’re hungry. Basically, focus less on minutes in a day and more on energy in yourself.
Anyone who manages at least one person knows this problem. You can work on this now, or you can train someone and delegate it. You’re in a rush (because of poor planning) and you decide to do it yourself. What happens next time you need to do it? You’ll have to do it again because you didn’t train anyone! If you have more important stuff to do, and there’s someone on your team who can do this task 80% as good as you, delegate!
Work where you work best
Seriously, don’t work from your bed. Unless you really think you’re most productive there, then work from your bed. I work best around people who work (shocker!). So I work from coworking spaces, or at least a coffeeshop with a “work culture.” Choose a place and set up that works for you and stick to it. There’s no need for additional distractions.
Working remotely often means you have to be your own boss, even if you already have one. Managing yourself is just as hard as managing others (or maybe even harder!). Do yourself a favor and invest in your wellbeing and productivity.