Well, maybe this point has been covered by freelancers and entrepreneurs before. But if it is covered, then I don’t think it’s addressed enough. So what is this elusive, ill-addressed yet important factor of the freelance life?
The fact that it’s all in your head.
What I mean by that is that to be a successful freelancer or independent creative, you’ve got to have your brain in the game. And I don’t mean just for the knowledge of your industry – though obviously that’s important.
I’ve read dozens of blogs and articles about how to organize your time by setting timers, calendar notifications, or special apps. The same with organizing your budget to having an irregular income stream. Again, these are vital skills if you want to be a freelancer or otherwise self-employed.
But few people discuss the mental aspect of all of this. The organization and discipline really starts in your head.
To be a writer, a freelancer, an independent creative, an entrepreneur (pick your term or title), you need to be disciplined. Disciplined with your time and your money, because you don’t have a boss telling what to do and when to do it; nor do you have a predictable paycheck coming in. But this discipline with your calendar and your bank account starts in your mind. You can’t think about spending all your money the same way you did when you had a regular job paycheck. You might need to focus more on savings during your busy work times, because freelance work is often feast or famine. Your disciplined actions start with thinking about your work in a disciplined way.
It’s hard being a freelancer/independent creative – especially if you’re doing it as your full-time or sole income. The glamor of setting your own schedule and working from home – or the park or the beach – is real, but so are the long hours, or the lack of hours (and therefore money). And don’t forget the difficult clients, the tedium of tasks that you hate but that pay well, or the drudgery of keeping your own records and receipts. You have to be mentally tough enough to pick your own self up when you’re feeling down, because you don’t have a boss or coworkers to do it for you.
This is the point that I just recently had a revelation about, which is what prompted me to write this post. It’s important to be disciplined and organized with your time, to set yourself a weekly schedule with work times and relaxation times built in. But then sometimes, you have to change your tidy schedule – and change it fast.
I’m naturally an organized person, and I like to have a predictable schedule. I like to be the one to decide that Friday is social media management day (for example), and then sticking to that nice predictable schedule. But then a new project comes along that I don’t want to refuse, but it messes up my “Friday-is-social-media-day” schedule. I have plenty of time for these new tasks – I just need to rearrange some things. But before I can move dates and tasks on my calendar, I need to be mentally prepared to move things around.
Like the previous two points (and like anything in life, really), action follows thought. I can’t be truly flexible with my time and activities if I’m not flexible with how I’m thinking about them. I don’t have a boss who tells me to move social media from Fridays to Tuesdays; I have to make that decision on my own, and I have to be comfortable with that decision. It all starts in my head.
If you’re a freelancer or independent creative, how do you stay mentally disciplined, tough, and flexible?