You went freelance to have a happier work/life balance, enjoy all the perks of working for yourself and be your own boss - so why do you feel so miserable, stressed and exhausted? When we work for ourselves, we often make many mistakes that lead us to despise our businesses rather than enjoy them. We forget the reasons why we went solo in the first place and become trapped in a vicious circle of negativity.
Being a business owner you'll have many ups and downs. There will be times when you'll feel like pulling your hair out. You'll have unpleasant experiences with people. You'll sometimes mess up considerably. You'll forget to take regular breaks. You may even work 15 hour days, seven days a week and push yourself to breaking point. No matter where you're going wrong, I've put together these top tips to help you become a happier freelancer...
Have a morning routine
When you work from home, it's all too easy to roll out of bed and stumble straight to your desk. Before you know it, it's 11am and you've not even had a shower or had any breakfast. Adopt a healthy morning routine. Get up, have a shower, get dressed, shave/put on make-up and relax and have breakfast. Start work at 9am like everyone else, if you can.
Stick to normal working hours
Just because you work for yourself, doesn't mean you have to work every waking hour to make yourself a success. Avoid long working days by sticking to a regular routine, working normal office hours like 9am until 5pm. Studies have shown that working for more than seven or eight hours a day doesn't mean you'll get more work done. This is because your productivity levels will drop. You're best calling it a day and stopping work at the same time every evening. There will always be more work to do, granted. But you just have to accept that your job list can never be ticked off completely in one day - it will be constantly added to.
Work when you want to
Of course, not everyone suits the 'normal working day'. If you're most productive between 11am and 2pm and again between 5pm and 8pm, then just work during those more productive hours. Just make sure you don't spend more than seven or eight hours each day working. It doesn't matter how much work you've got to finish, if you're still spending 15 hours at your desk every day - it's time to figure out where you're going wrong. Consider any distractions and get rid of them. Turn off social media if it's ruining your concentration. Eight hours every day is all you need - just make sure those hours are spent as productively as possible.
Get your work environment right
A desk facing a brick wall in a darkened room isn't going to make anyone happy, so make sure your workspace is inviting and comfortable. Ensure there's lots of natural light, a window to look out of and your desk is clean and tidy. Get a decent office chair - an ergonomic one, if you can. And set yourself up so you can easily listen to music, if it helps you to be a happier worker.
Take regular breaks
Freelancers who forget to take regular breaks end up making themselves ill. I can't stress this enough - take regular breaks away from your desk or studio space. Breaks help you to recharge and boost your productivity. In fact, health officials advise you take a five minute break every hour, even if it's just to get up and stretch. If you're not currently doing this, start taking breaks now!
Know when to stop
Guess what! Just because everyone else is working 9am until 5pm without stopping, doesn't mean you have to! If you're having a bad day or you're feeling unproductive, put down your tools and take the rest of the day off. Put an 'out of office' responder on your emails, saying you're in meetings and add a suitable voicemail on your mobile. Clients won't know that you're really in your local swimming pool or catching up with friends, so don't worry about it!
A dose of daily sunshine is good for you. It's a scientific fact! Get outside and breathe that fresh air, even if the sun isn't shining. There's nothing worse than feeling cooped up in your home or office all day - it can leave you feeling isolated and depressed. Get outside and stretch your legs, even if you're just going out to buy a sandwich for lunch.
Having something to look forward to is a wonderful thing when you freelance. Particularly when you've got a huge workload and tight deadlines to meet. Book regular breaks and holidays to keep yourself sane and have something to make all that hard work worthwhile. And when you're away? Leave the laptop and mobile at home, so you can completely switch off and recharge your batteries.
Exercise is proven to reduce stress. Join a gym if you can afford to or dust off your bike and get out there. Do at least half an hour of exercise every day. I wouldn't be able to cope without my gym membership. It keeps my stress levels down, keeps me sane and when I'm pounding the treadmill I often come up with solutions to many problems I'm facing. Start an exercise routine today!
Eat well, sleep well
Look after yourself by adopting a healthy diet and ensure you're getting plenty of sleep every night. Avoid alcohol if you can and save it for special occasions. Alcohol is a depressant, so although you think it makes you feel better after a stressful day, it'll actually make you feel worse. Alcohol also disrupts sleep and you'll feel terrible the next day. Eat well, drink lots of water and get a good night's rest. Leave the booze to the weekends.
Get out and about
It's easy to get cabin fever when you work from home, so turn your business into a virtual or remote one, so you can work wherever you like. Ensure you can work on your laptop and access your files from anywhere. This means you can tap into the WiFi at your local coffee shop or even go on a short break and continue to work. Make the most of being your own boss and have a better work/life balance.
Be impeccable with your word
No matter where you are, what you're doing or who you meet, always be impeccable with your word. Never bitch, slander or moan about anything or anyone. Those poisoned words or angry rants might make you feel better in the short term but they'll only make you feel worse once the emotion has subsided. Saying and doing nice things makes you happy - it's a fact, so really think about what you say to people in business.
Don't make assumptions
Most of life's miseries come from making assumptions about other people. For example, that client you know who drove past you the other day and didn't wave back? They weren't ignoring you - they just didn't see you! Or that fellow freelancer who was supposed to call and never did - it's not because you did something wrong! You'll no doubt torture yourself over all sorts of assumptions like these. Stop it! Everyone is dancing to their own music and perceives things differently. To be happy in business you have to stop making assumptions and give people and situations a fighting chance. Always assume the best! And if the worst happens? It happens. Just don't waste precious time and energy inventing dramas or issues that don't exist.
Don't dwell on negativity
Why are we programmed to remember the bad things people say or do rather than the good? It's in our nature to dwell on negativity but we can change the way we think. If someone attacks, snubs or hurts you, don't spend ages analysing the situation - just learn to move on quickly. Learn any valuable mistakes and then get on with your life. Instead, make sure you remind yourself of all the positive things people say about you and your work. It will help you to stay focused and happy.
Never burn bridges
In business, there will be many situations when you have to deal with difficult people or clients. Whatever you do, always stay positive and never burn any bridges. The creative industries can be a small pond and you never know when you're going to bump into people again.
Have money in the bank
Nothing is more stressful than living each month on the edge and being constantly worried about when the next pay cheque will come in. Stop this misery by having a nice cash reserve in a savings account. Plus keep your overheads low and avoid lengthy contracts with expensive things, such as vehicle contract hire or mobile phone agreements. You don't want to overburden yourself with too many expenses or bills to pay.
Always save for your tax bill
We all do it! Leave the tax bill to the last minute. To be a happier freelancer, start saving for your next tax bill every month. Put money aside and don't touch it! Remember, it was never yours to keep in the first place, so leave it alone to avoid a nasty shock come the end of the year.
Do what you love
Freelancing sometimes means we offer services that we don't really enjoy. While it's always tempting to broaden your offering, you might end up doing more of what you hate, rather than what you love. If you can, stick to what you enjoy the most and take steps to ensure you win more of that particular work.
Don't overburden yourself
It's all to easy to book in too much work, especially when you want to make as much money as possible to avoid those quieter months. It might seem strange at first, but you really should stop over-booking yourself and have a more manageable workload. I'm not saying turn work away - just try and find ways to manage workload more effectively. Why not create a really strict work diary and tell new clients that you can work with them but can only schedule them in on a certain date? It might not work for everyone but you could certainly give it a try.
Pat yourself on the back
Freelancing is tough. It requires a great load of discipline and skill. If you're running a successful business - and by successful I mean.. you're making ends meet - then you should be darn proud of yourself. Pat yourself on the back and be proud of what you've achieved. Not everyone can go solo - you've done it, so be happy about that!
Always do your very best
Freelancing brings all sorts of challenges, stresses and pressures. But if you always do your very best, you can't ever be hard on yourself. Be the best you can be, go above and beyond and you'll always be happy that you did all that you could. And your clients, colleagues, associates and fellow freelancers will always praise and love you for it.