Time - The Most Important Resource
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Self-Motivation and the Downsides of Freedom
People who have regular jobs envy the freedom that freelancers are perceived to enjoy; I discussed this in my comparison of freelancing and conventional employment. But this freedom is very much a double-edged sword, especially when it comes to work time. There’s no boss to make demands on you, but also no boss to ensure that you do your work even when you’d really rather not. You are free to work when you want to, but if you don’t work you don’t get paid. As a freelancer you must be self-motivated and self-disciplined to succeed. You have to be willing to go out and find projects and then complete them, even when the only person insisting that you do this is yourself.
Freelancing requires the ability to forego short-term gratification in order to pursue a long-term goal. One analogy I often use is to compare freelancing to losing weight. If you’ve ever tried to drop a few pounds, you know that doing this in a healthy manner takes time. It doesn’t matter what you eat or whether or not you exercise on any given day—only your pattern of eating and activity over months and years is important. Eating chocolate cake on the couch one day is no big deal; it’s when you do this every day that you start to become, er, more gravitationally attractive.
Freelancing is the same way. The flexibility is great, because it allows you to adapt freelancing to your schedule. You can take a day off when you need to. You can even decide to not work for a week. But if you make a habit of taking off time, you won’t make money and your career will stagnate.
The “freedom to not work” can be especially troublesome for people who are very inertia-bound, such as yours truly. I tend to be the sort of person who, when he is working, works a lot, but when he takes time off, can have a hard time getting back into the mode of working again. Any time I decide not to work for a couple of days, I risk losing a week. And if I lose a week, it sometimes stretches into a month. If you are like this, you need to balance the need to tend to other aspects of your life with the need to remain committed to your freelancing.
If you live by yourself, you can work whenever you want and as much as you want; not so if you share your life with others. Significant others, children, even roommates—they all have their own schedules, which can interfere with your best plans for concentrated work time. You’ll need to work with others to come up with arrangements that make sense.
To whatever extent possible, try to segment your work time into activities that really need your complete focus, and those that do not. For example, most people find that scanning for new work, writing proposals and doing bookkeeping can be accomplished far more easily when others are around than actually completing projects. Then, try your best to really ensure that you have the time you need for those activities that require the most concentration.
If you’re married, and especially if you have kids, you may find that the time you have available for complete uninterrupted quiet is limited. This can be exacerbated by a spouse who doesn’t fully understand the difficulties associated with working from home. Be sure to communicate your needs with him and her, and use a process of give and take to come up with an arrangement that allows you to meet your family obligations while still getting your work done. After all, you’re all in this together.
Finally, don’t be afraid to “close your door”, either literally or figuratively, when you’re on task. Children, in particular, often need a physical reminder that even though mom or dad are home, they’re working.
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