Within the last year more people have turned to full-time freelancing and those numbers continue to grow. As the current gig economy relies on contract work, more freelancers may find it difficult to manage their own self-care. With everything on our plates, we tend to think “I don’t have time to do X for myself and create a thriving business!”. But we are all too familiar with where that line of thinking leads us: toward burnout or potentially something worse. You know on the surface you’re worried about losing clients, but, let’s be real, no client is worth the depression or anxiety you’ll face if you don’t take care of yourself.
What even is self-care?
Self-care is a topic that gets thrown around quite a bit these days, though we rarely talk about what it means for the individual, let alone freelancers. It’s too easy to think self-care is something you add to your list and check off. Nope! Self-care isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. It’s also an ongoing process toward defining your own values and balancing those values around your responsibilities with better boundaries and healthier habits. For you it might look like seeking out a therapist once a week and journaling about your experiences. For someone else, consciously budgeting and investing in their future might provide ongoing satisfaction. As you try new things to prioritize self-care, its definition will get clearer for you.
Taking care of yourself is more important than anything else—and we’re here to help remind you how to put yourself first every time. These self-care tips are designed to help freelancers in particular, so take them in stride with whatever works for your current situation.
Tip 1: Put a plan in place
Work-life balance looks totally different when you’re freelancing. Now that you’re physically in the same space that you carry on both your life and your work, finding this kind of balance is tricky. You’ll need to investigate and organize your activities in order to find your balance. Grab a physical planner and start writing down the things you do in a day. Then, once a week, start planning for your whole week and keep reassessing how you are spending your time.
Before you take pen to paper, ask yourself what does real balance look like? As you plan, you’ll start noticing where you spend all your time and where you can find better balance. For example, the “life” part of work-life balance might disguise itself as, you guessed it, more work. We see you, laundry! Get outta here, tax prep! Not today, floor mopping! Start calling your chores what they probably feel like for you—more work—and start filing them that way into your plans. But hey, if laundry provides the kind of relaxation you want during your free time, you do you.
Now that you are clear about all the aspects of work, think about living—what would your life include if you didn’t have to do chores or conventional work for clients? Would you go for a run? Draw? Learn a skill? Catch up on TV? That’s more of the life balance we’re talking about—do what makes you feel happy, relaxed and healthier. Organize your “life” time on equal footing with your “work” time and you’re on your way to finding true work-life balance.
Tip 2: Break, Listen and Lean In
This tip falls in line with our previous suggestions on stress-relief for freelancers. As freelancers, we’re great at working for long periods in one place, just cranking out the latest project. While timers work amazingly well for productivity, we can all make better use of our break time through active listening... to ourselves.
Once it’s time for a break, turn off all distractions. Put away the phone, turn off your wifi—in fact, get off your computer entirely. Sit right where you are in silence, breathe and tune into how your body and mind are feeling. Hungry? Feed yourself. Tired? Take a nap. Feeling anxious? Do something meditative to alleviate anxiety. Maybe you take 5 minutes for literal meditation or whip out a drawing pad and sketch something in front of you. Body hurting? Time for a stretch! Make this active listening time a part of your daily routine and act on what your body is telling you in the moment.
Tip 3: Talk it out
In these socially distanced times, we as freelancers forget that we have a full-on support network of friends and coworkers in our industry. There’s a tendency to believe we shouldn’t bother anyone for advice. Truth is, we’re all going through or have gone through similar things. We need each other. Chances are, there’s someone in your network who would, not only love to talk to another human right now, but also has great advice from the field.
For personal things, like working through anxiety or continual bouts of depression, only a therapist can truly help. Whether you find your therapist through your network of providers or want to try a subscription service like Betterhelp or Cerebral, make a step toward finding a solution, however small. We’re not minimizing how much courage this takes, or how long it takes to find a therapist that clicks with you. But each step you take will be one in the right direction toward a healthier you.
Tip 4: Say “no” more often
This one’s maybe the hardest tip to take in stride, but it also might be the most beneficial. Setting boundaries in the freelance world is tough, to say the least. Work seems to come in waves or not at all—and then when you land a job, there’s a tendency to throw all of your time and energy into pleasing that client. The reality is that your time is precious and finite. Treat it like that and know how much you and your time are worth. In a capitalistic society, there has always been work and there will always be more work. It’s up to us to do, like Ms. Jackson told us: take control.
So, how do we do it? How do we say “no” to work or a client’s needs? Like we said, it’s a process. Start early and be firm with others. Being better equipped to say “no” ties into our first tip of balancing your time. The more you know about how you spend your time and what your time is worth, the better you’ll get at being in control from the onset of every project. A, you can’t possibly do it all and, B, you realize that saying “no” clears space for other things you actually want to say “yes” to. Being excited about the kind of work you’re doing is a real sweet spot that can only come from knowing what you’ve got time for (and what you don’t). Want more on how and when to say no to freelance work? This piece from Fast Company is a fantastic place to start.
In short: Setting boundaries leads to a stronger sense of self and increased personal empowerment.
Tip 5: Explore different settings
The freelancer slump can creep up on us faster than we realize. One day you’re thriving in your creative space, your home environment is peaceful and everything feels like it’s in its’ right place. The next day you look around and realize you’re not feeling it. Getting out of the house will bring a much-needed reset, whether you’re treating yourself to delicious take-out or just taking a lap around the neighborhood.
If getting out of the house is too difficult, try visiting a museum virtually. Many public cultural spaces have moved to online and offer an array of accessible experiences right at your fingertips. And who’s to say you don’t get a little fancy for the occasion? Getting dressed up can be another form of practicing self-care.
Finally, if you decide it’s not the mind or body that needs adjusting, changing up your workspace might offer another boost in creativity. Sometimes it’s amazing what a few new office supplies or better organization can do for your whole freelancing operation.
Like we said, self-care looks different for everyone and it’s a process. But know that we’re here at Artisan to help you in your freelancing venture every step of the way.