To have a successful freelance life, you might feel like you need to put in more hours, take on more projects and get yourself ‘out there’ as much as possible. But there are some habits – even those built on good intentions – that could actually be holding you back.
From my own experience as a freelance trainer, I think there are seven habits that many freelancers have that you need to break straight away for a happy and successful freelance life.
1. You’re too easily distracted
There are two levels to this bad habit.
On a day-to-day level, you may find that you sit in front of the computer to work on creating training materials and instead find yourself distracted by the call of social media or reading online articles.
My tip is to write a list of what you want to do, set a timer for a limited period of 20 minutes or so, and promise yourself that you won’t do anything else until the timer is up.
Distractions can also be bigger and come from not having a focus or goals for your business. Many freelancers are people who get distracted by new ideas and opportunities – some call it ‘bright, shiny object syndrome’!
If a new opportunity does crop up, it’s crucial to ask yourself whether it’s really relevant to the direction you want to take your business. If it’s not, then it might just be a distraction, even if it’s an appealing one.
2. Working 24/7
Although you’re probably not working 24/7 – even the biggest workaholics need to sleep sometimes – it perhaps feels like it.
As a freelancer, it’s so easy to start clocking up 60-, 70- or even 80-hour work weeks. You might feel that if you just put in more time on your business, everything will come together.
In reality, that rarely happens. Many people feel like working 24/7 is manageable until, suddenly, it isn’t. Their health starts to suffer, they can’t sleep, their mental health declines, they become isolated from their friends and family.
As much as you love your freelance business, it’s important to maintain your work/life balance. Take time off, be with people who enrich your life, take up pastimes that give you joy – I promise you that your productivity will skyrocket.
3. Not setting boundaries
While I’m on the subject, people often find they have to increase their work time when they don’t set boundaries.
If you’re someone who says ‘yes’ to every request or opportunity, who doesn’t want to let anyone down and who is worried about not being available, it can get exhausting very quickly.
As a freelance trainer, you should be able to set the boundaries for your business that suit you. This includes your working hours, availability and even when you are happy to answer the phone. If you choose not to work Fridays or you only like to have telephone meetings after lunch, that is your call.
I’ve always found that, as long as I’m clear with my clients and I stick to my boundaries, I’m able to structure my working week in a way that suits me.
4. Starting too late in the day
Many successful entrepreneurs, freelancers and business people swear that the secret to their success is making an early start on their work every day.
You might find that getting up an hour earlier and implementing a morning routine such as writing a to-do list or checking your emails before your clients are in their offices helps you to manage your workload.
Of course, this doesn’t work for night owls but it might be worth a try.
5. Doing work that makes you unhappy
One of the consequences of a bad habit such as saying ‘yes’ to everything is that you can end up creating a job for yourself that makes you unhappy rather than a business that fulfils you.
Sometimes, we find ourselves taking on work or clients that don’t gel with our own values or who have unrealistic expectations. This can be draining.
If you are doing work that makes you unhappy, I urge you to break the habit as soon as possible. Look at your customer database – who are the clients that you love working with? What training projects fill you with excitement? What are you passionate about?
If you can build your business around these things, it will transform your life.
6. Sitting at your desk for too long
Even if you’re disciplined about the hours your work overall, you could be spending too long at your desk throughout the day.
Apparently, the Health and Safety Executive recommend that short, frequent breaks are far better for us than less frequent longer breaks. Try to take five to ten minutes away from your desk at the end of every hour and you should feel much more productive.
It’s such a common freelance habit to overpromise. After all, you want to look like you’re completely in control and capable of delivering whatever your clients need.
But this also means that you might underestimate how long a project will take to complete and deliver it late, or offer to take on more tasks that you can accomplish with your current workload, eventually letting people down.
They say it’s better to under promise and over deliver, which I think is a good rule of thumb.
Are you guilty of any of these bad habits? Even picking one to break should make a noticeable difference to your life as a freelancer, but break them all and I’m sure you’ll find successful freelance life much easier (and less tiring) to achieve.