The Art of Saying No To Yourself As A Freelancer

When you work for yourself there’s always one last email to reply to or another article to write — but it’s important to know when to switch off

Being a freelance writer requires a lot of discipline. Anyone who’s ever worked from home knows how hard you have to resist getting up and going to stare into the fridge, aimlessly eating grapes (or cold cuts) every 15 minutes.

One of the hardest things to do when you are freelance or self-employed is to know when to switch off, because there is always more money to be earned. You have to strike a balance between productivity and quality, ensuring you have a regular output of content that is engaging and well-edited. But you also have to strike a balance between working and chilling out with your friends, family and loved ones.

Chances are that writing on Medium isn’t your primary source of income (although rumour has it there are a handful of people who make this their full time gig). A lot of people on this site seem to support themselves through a variety of freelance ventures — from ghostwriting, marketing or social media management, copywriting, or even publishing their own courses and ebooks.

When everything you create has the potential to pay for another bill, or even just cover the cost of a coffee, you always have an incentive to keep working for as long as you can physically manage to sit in front of the keyboard before you start typing gibberish.

But it’s so important that you start to be self-disciplined early in your freelance writing career because your art suffers if you don’t know how to switch off. If you work beyond the point where you make sense, then as a writer your clients or readers aren’t going to be all that impressed with your work.

Hardly any writer’s workspaces look like this | Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

Clearly separate your work and chill space — even if you don’t have any space!

It’s exactly for this reason that many people have a designated writing place such as a study or dining room table where they work. If you work from bed or the sofa, your entire living quarters become your ‘office’ and it can be very difficult to detach yourself from the ‘work’ mentality at the end of the day.

Of course, many people — especially renters like myself — don’t have the luxury of space or even a spare room where they work. But even these people need to clearly delineate between a professional working space and a place where they can relax and chill. Otherwise, they may notice that their health is negatively affected. But how do you manage that?

Use clothes as a way of changing out of ‘at work’ mode

One way of getting round a lack of space is by getting dressed for work, just like you would if you were in an office — and then changing into something comfier to delineate the end of your working day. The outfit change helps emphasise the link between your change in appearance and change of mindset. You might still be in the same room, but you should no longer refresh your emails waiting for a reply from a client after a certain point in the evening.

Not to mention, sitting in a chair or at a table is generally going to be better for your posture in the long run.

Use alarms and reminders to tell yourself to walk away from the computer

Set alarms or reminders on your phone telling you to switch off for the day — and when they go off, listen to them! It can be tempting to say to yourself ‘I’ll just send this last email’, but 45 minutes later and you’re still working because the email reminded you of something else you hadn’t done yet.

Although the temptation to work for longer might seem like a smart one in terms of bringing in more money, if you’ve been working all day the chances are your work isn’t going to be as high quality as when you first started writing that day anyway. It’s better to leave it to tackle the next day, and use prioritised to-do lists each day to manage your workload.

Clients have lives too, and that’s easy to forget when your livelihood depends on them. By not replying to their email at 9.00pm at night you’re doing them a favour — you’re encouraging them to spend more time away from their screens as well. Unless time zones are a huge issue in your client relationships then there’s really no reason for you to be communicating outside of office working hours.

Hit the power button, just do it | Photo by Panos Sakalakis on Unsplash

Literally switch off your electronic devices, especially before bed

If, like me, you rarely shut your laptop down completely and just close the lid so you can come back five minutes later, then you really should get into the habit of closing it down at the end of your working day. If you worked in an office you wouldn’t walk out of the building without turning your PC off, so why do you leave your own devices on when you work from home?

It’s easy to switch off for the day if you’ve switched off your devices — not to mention the effects that blue light can have on your sleep quality, if you’re still working close to when you go to bed. Plus, you’ll probably save yourself money in the long run from excess electricity use anyway.

Sometimes freelancing can be lonely, difficult work — which is exactly why sometimes you need a gentle nudge from a friend to tell you to take care of yourself.

Do you have any tips and tricks that you use to tell yourself when to switch off? Tell me about them below if so.

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The Indiependent Founder, NCTJ qualified journalist, Oxford University grad. Interested in tech, political communication & data ethics. Tweets: @BettyKirkers

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