10 Ways to Treat Yourself When You're a Full-Time Freelancer
A few months into full-time freelancing, I was frustrated, discouraged, and constantly battling inbox anxiety. I didn’t get it—I loved the work I was doing, I adored my clients, and everything was going smoothly... so why did I feel like such a failure?
It sounds silly, but here’s the realization that made all the difference: I wasn’t treating myself like a valuable employee. I was constantly pushing myself to be more productive and do everything perfectly right from the start—I wouldn’t want to be treated this way if I worked a corporate job—so why wasn’t I giving myself the VIP treatment I deserved? And, let me tell you, that switch made all the difference.
I immediately set to work brainstorming new ways I could start treating myself and creating a healthier work/life balance. Here’s what I came up with:
1. CREATE A BETTER WORKSPACE EXPERIENCE.
I was working with an old laptop I received as a gift in 2012. It was slow, out of storage space, and only half of the trackpad worked. I would slump into my couch, day after day, and wonder why I wasn’t feeling productive or excited about getting to work.
When I decided to start treating myself like a valued employee, I knew my first order of business would be improving my workspace experience. I love the freedom of working from anywhere, so I wanted to maintain that #laptoplifestyle, but that didn’t mean I was stuck to old couches and poor lighting.
I started going to local coffee shops, to parks, and libraries. I re-arranged the living room so I had a table to work at if I chose to stay home, with better lighting and a comfortable chair. I bought myself a wireless mouse, which instantly improved my happiness—instead of being frustrated with my half-clicking track pad, I could swipe and click and scroll without a second thought.
And I started looking into new laptops. I know, I know, upgrading is a no-brainer at this point, but 1. I’m really freaking attached to my little baby 11” Macbook Air, okay? and 2. I want to invest in a laptop that will last me just as long—so I really want to make an informed choice. So I set myself a deadline: Upgrading to a new laptop by Black Friday. If I get a great deal, that’s stellar. If not, that’s still my deadline, no take-backsies.
Update: I got too frustrated one day in early October, and marched on over to Best Buy to buy a new laptop that afternoon. I’d already picked out exactly what I wanted, and I’m so grateful that I had spent some time reminding myself that investing in myself and in my business is worth it.
2. GIVE YOURSELF GYM MEMBERSHIP PERKS
When I was looking into corporate jobs in the year that led up to my decision to go freelance, I couldn’t get over how cool it was that some companies included gym memberships in their employee perks. My family has always valued physical fitness, but it’s something I’ve been majorly slacking on… since high school. I know that I’m a better Sam—a better friend, girlfriend, employee, business owner, all-around human being—when I’m working out consistently. So.
I invested in a Planet Fitness membership. I looked around, tried out a few gyms, but ultimately knew that PF was the gym for me. The best part? With my membership, I can access any Planet Fitness gym in the nation. My membership will always be worth the money, since I can work out wherever my travels take me.
3. BE SMART WITH TIME TRACKING
Okay, a little backstory: for about a week leading up to My Big Realization, I was clocking in around 3-4 hours of Client Work per day. And constantly beating myself up for it.
With my workload at the time, I didn’t actually need to work more than a few hours each day. But I would spend all day in front of my computer and phone… and, by bedtime, I would look back like, “That’s IT?”
So here’s what I did: I started tracking the time I was putting into my own business every day. I started tracking time I spent talking with clients, or other creatives. I tracked the time I spent on food, running errands, and—here’s the big one—FUN. I wasn’t leaving any room for fun before, and by setting myself a daily goal (usually around an hour), I started to invest in enjoying my time away from work, instead of stressing about how little I’d “accomplished.”
4. LIMIT UNNECESSARY SCREEN TIME
Hello, iOS update! I had been using a few other apps to monitor my screen time (and, let’s be honest, stop me from losing myself in the Instagram scroll), but now that it’s built in? Easy peasy. Here are a few other ways I’ve limited my screen time:
Created a greyscale shortcut with my home button. If I tap the button three times, my entire display is flooded in greyscale… and much less interesting. You can set it up in your settings!
Set my phone “downtime” to launch every afternoon. I… seriously struggle to get anything done in the afternoons. In addition to pushing all client meetings to afternoons, I set my phone to block almost every app during those few hours. And you know what? I’ve used that time a lot more effectively.
I set Instagram to block me after 2 hours of use every day. It’s been a struggle, but OH MY GOSH was I spending way too much time on that little app.
5. INCORPORATE MORE FRIEND AND FACE-TO-FACE TIME
I called my grandma! Got smoothies and vegan poutine with my best friend. Visited Joelle. Turned off my phone when catching up with Daniel. I still feel pretty far away from most of my friends, but adding small doses of friendship and conversation is doing wonders for my work/life balance.
6. CREATE VISUAL CALENDARS AND TO-DO LISTS
Have you seen my Instagram stories lately? I made a MASSIVE post-it note calendar. Here’s the deal:
I have about ten clients. With various projects, that require various amounts of time. I needed a really good visual way to organize my to-so list to get them all done before the end of the month… in a way that didn’t massively overwhelm me.
Each massive post-it is a work day, and each client is color-coded to a set of sticky notes—square, and the smaller rectangles. Each square is an hour of time, and each rectangle is half an hour. I wrote the task on each sticky note and organized my to-do lists for the month accordingly. Now, all I have to do is reference the sticky notes on one massive post-it to get my tasks for the day.
7. ORGANIZE YOUR WORKFLOWS
Creating regular check-lists is an absolute game changer. Hi-fives for creating systems instead of scrambling and reinventing the wheel with every new client.
Stick around for more examples of the workflows and checklists I use for monthly projects!
8. HIT “PAUSE” WHEN YOU NEED TO
I agonized over this decision, but once I hit a “pause” on on-boarding new clients, I felt so much better.
I was finally able to prioritize these things in my business:
Creating an on-going schedule for every month (heyo, sticky note calendar!) that helped me feel organized and confident that I would get every project done for every client.
Freeing up time towards the end of the month, if we went over on a project, or if a client asked if I could tackle something else for them.
Really giving potential clients and newly-onboarded clients the time and attention they deserved.
Up my game: finally schedule pins on Tailwind, plan out my Instagram feed using the @previewapp, and create a portfolio on my website to showcase past client work!
Because I hit pause, I was able to organize my business, get a better idea of how much time I had free for more projects, and really turn work “off” when spending time with Daniel in the evenings.
PS—When I decided to hit “pause,” my business unexpectedly had its most profitable month yet! Instead of stressing over not having enough time, I streamlined, systematized, and opened my arms for the abundance that was heading my way.
9. CREATE WORK-AROUNDS FOR YOUR ANXIETY
I knew, before even getting into virtual assistance, that my inbox anxiety would be something that I’d have to navigate. I get stressed about emails filling my inbox (or voice messages, or video messages)… and it’s not that I’m scared about the contents, but the initial opening and acting on whatever message I’ve received can feel overwhelming. Unreasonable? Maybe. But it was slowing me down, emails were piling up, and I felt like I was constantly letting my (generous, sweet) clients down.
So here’s what I did:
I added a little message in the footer of my emails. I kept it simple, letting my clients know that I was thinking of them and that I’d get back to them the next time I checked my emails. I also included a heads-up about the next time I’d be out of the office, so my clients can plan to contact me accordingly.
I set a 15 minute timer, and planned to check my emails at the same time every day. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by taking a huge chunk of my day to respond to clients, I set aside a small amount of time and planned a sweet, little reward that I could only get after finishing that task every day.
10. TAKE TIME TO CELEBRATE
I can be productive. I can work through my anxiety. I can be organized and give my clients what they need. I can also take the time to celebrate. I created a small list of big things coming up, and an accompanying list of little rewards I will have earned when each project is completed.
Instead of just rushing from one task to the next, I love the reminder I now have to slow down, relax, and celebrate the things I’ve accomplished for the month.