A lot of the time, when people find out I’m a freelancer, their first words are ‘oh so you don’t have a boss then?’. This is quickly followed by a series of wistful fantasies of ‘you must have so many lie-ins’ and ‘it must be great working in your pyjamas every day’. Compared to the work of the 9-5, a freelance career with no strict working hours or demanding boss might seem appealing.
But the lifestyle of a freelancer doesn’t always make up for its disadvantages. Setting up and establishing a freelance business requires hours of hard working, hustling and grafting – disciplining yourself to stay focused and self-governed. Without a boss, your work is entirely down to your schedule and if you lose a client, you could lose everything.
This pressure can take a toll on your mental health, and I’m often struck by how much guilt I feel after a day working on freelance projects. Did I put in enough hours? Was this really my best work? Does my hourly rate reflect the work I’ve done? With two client meetings, a Skype session, lunch with a brand and my own life to upkeep do I have time for this?
What does self-care mean?
Due to the digital nature of my job, I always describe self-care as anything I do away from a screen. Whether I’m filling in a crossword, having a coffee or applying a face mask, if my eyes are off-screen, I’m relaxed. If I’m doing something that won’t benefit a client or provide a service for anyone else – I’m enjoying self-care.
Yes, self-care is selfish. But when you work in a client facing job, it’s absolutely ok to be selfish sometimes. By doing an activitity that only benefits you and your mental health, you are taking the time to care for your mind and body. No matter what the activity is, if it makes you feel good, calm and peaceful, it’s self-care.
Why do freelancers in particular need self-care?
As previously explained, the lifestyle of a freelancer is often portrayed as relaxed, unrestricted and, well, ‘free’. But in almost every aspect of the job, there is some level of pressure. You must be the ‘best of your field’, ‘better than an agency’, on time and perfect for your client. Your rates can’t be too high or too low. Your invoices must be set up expertly and your taxes must be calculated correctly.
Without working hours keeping your focus limited to 9-5, the acknowledgement that you can literally be working all the time is overwhelming. Each hour of downtime could be spent making money, perfecting your craft or hustling for clients.
We need self-care as permission to let go. To let ourselves just be humans, rather than freelancing machines. To be involved in normal society, rather than a laptop-bound beast with repetitive strain injury. The typical in-built relaxation opportunities of an office don’t exist, and ‘after-work’ drinks never come around. This is why self-care, for us, is so important. A stressed and tense freelancer won’t be able to create good quality work.
How Do We Factor self-care into our schedules?
With the awareness that self-care is a necessity for sane and mindful freelance work, there’s no excuse for not factoring it into your routine. Taking lunch breaks away from the screen, giving yourself set hours for work and then closing the laptop once they’re over. Whether you work your schedule out with timetables, hourly plans or to-do lists, self-care should be right up there as a priority.
If you struggle with time management, an activity with an end date or a finish line is a good way to naturally implement self-care breaks. Quick puzzles, a chapter of a book or a short yoga session are all ways to relax to ‘completion’, allowing you to organically return to work afterwards.
Another way to manage your self-care as a freelance is to have set rooms or spaces for work. If you don’t have the luxury of an office space, make sure you keep your work to one desk or room, without blurring the lines of work and relaxation. Your living room or bedroom should be places of pure relaxation and should help you to feel calm and soothed. If you spread your work out between them, there’s no way to segregate your working life from home life. Choose a spot and stick to it.
Self-care might seem like the next ‘influencer trend’ but it honestly is a such a big part of a successful self-employed worker that it’s always worth giving it a go.