Last week I talked about famine for freelancers and how to deal with it. This week I’ll focus on the other side of freelancing – the feast periods. Everybody wishes for those, right? Work is plentiful and steady, you don’t have to worry about the bills, money is flowing in and your inbox is bustling with job offers. You made it! You can’t ask for better proof of your successful career and marketing efforts.
You finally got where you wanted to be but at what price? If you’re ignoring your family, your health and well-being, this feast period might not be as good as it seems. After all, money isn’t everything!
Just as I’ve had my share of freelance famine, I’ve had periods of freelancing feast when the idea of a freelancing famine was the farthest thing from my mind because after all, I had tons of clients and was getting more work offers every day. There have been times when all I could think of was work and my next looming deadline. In several cases, they took their toll on me. My health suffered along with my personal relationships and lastly, my work. That’s when I realized it was time to find a balance between the two.
While I can’t say I’ve found the Holy Grail of work-life balance, I have however managed to work out a system that helps me stay on top of things and lets me have weekends and a few evenings off (sometimes).
Here are some of the things I do to manage these stressful periods and even benefit from them career-wise.
I love to-do lists. They tell me what to do and keep me on track. My calendar is full of color-coded notes. I write down everything I need to remember immediately and don’t delete it unless it’s been successfully completed. If you can’t remember half the things you need to get done or you’re looking for a way to stay on track, then to-do lists are a life saver!
Use whatever you feel more comfortable with to make a note of your pending projects along with specific instructions for each project, such as client notes/requirements, software to use etc. I’ve tried all the following tools for my to-do lists:
- PC applications, e.g. Outlook
- Online applications, such as Google Calendar
- Smartphone apps, such as Evernote
- Paper notebook/calendar
- Post-it notes etc.
One of the first things to suffer in a freelancer feast is time management. Suddenly, you have many projects with deadlines dangerously close to each other or your daily schedule has more things than you can accomplish. Even the best organizers have trouble with that.
I might be organized but that doesn’t mean I’m good at time management as well. Most of the times, I organize my daily schedule based on the fact that I’m a Supertranslator (nope, turns out it’s not the same as an overworked translator). I never leave time for breaks, family distractions, phone calls, difficult projects that require more research than I had anticipated at first, unexpected guests, PC problems or anything else that’s not on my to-do list. If I start working at 9pm, I’m usually already behind schedule by mid afternoon.
If you have trouble sticking to your daily schedule, try these tips that have worked for me in the past:
- Double the time you think is required for each project. For translators, if you can usually translate 500 words per hour, allow more time for a specific wordcount, say 300 words per hour. Think about it, you’ll probably hit and exceed your target every hour! Isn’t that a nice incentive?
- Allow time for other activities during the day. Don’t overlook the fact that you’ll be more relaxed and concentrated to work after a long walk or quality time with your partner or kids.
- Never forget to sleep well. Most people need at least 6-7 hours of sleep to be able to function properly the next day. I’ve pulled many all-nighters, which could have been avoided if I had applied better time management.
- Just stop taking on more than you can handle. At some point, you’ll have to come to terms with the fact that you can’t just work all day long. Admit it, there have been times when you know you could have done a better job but didn’t have the time to do it. This is a slippery slope, if you keep making this mistake, both your health and business will be harmed.
Saying no is always an option. As a freelancer, you’re a one-person team and business, which means that you have to take care of everything. The beauty of it is that you can also choose what you work on – and what you don’t want to take on.
Not all jobs are good. If you are inundated with work, you have the luxury of carefully picking the projects that interest you. Plus, it’s not disrespectful or bad for business to decline a job because you’re busy with other projects. Send your client a polite email explaining that you are fully booked at the moment, thank them for their consideration and (always a plus for you) recommend other colleagues that you’ve worked with and are suitable for the job. Your client will surely appreciate the gesture.
Ask for an extension
You took the job, but you’re way behind on your schedule. Let your project manager or client know as soon as possible (NOT a few minutes before or after the deadline has passed!). If you need a significant extension, then you’ll also need to explain why and keep in mind that due to time constraints, the client might choose to re-assign the project. If you need just a few hours or a day, you’ll probably get it. Just remember to be nice and professional while asking for it. And no, we can’t say “the dog ate my paper” anymore.
The first thing that’s affected during feast periods are the normal everyday activities apart from work, i.e. house chores, dry cleaning, grocery shopping, walking the dog etc. Ask your partner/parents/sibling to help during the busy times or outsource.
If you make $50 per hour and your house cleaner asks for $20, it’s a no-brainer, right? Time is money for freelancers, so make the most of it.
If you have more work than you can handle but don’t want to pass on the job, then consider outsourcing some projects. Have you worked with colleagues before whose work you liked and whose work ethics you can vouch for? If yes, then ask them to help out with your pending assignments. This way everybody wins! Your clients are happy because they’re getting their work done on time, the freelancer you outsourced to is happy to be getting work and you’re happy because you’re not stressing about deadlines and workload.
But the most important thing to remember before outsourcing your projects is to inform your client first. They usually have to agree in writing before you can outsource the work they have sent you, especially if you have signed an NDA for the said project. In the latter case, you might not even be able to discuss your project with a colleague, let alone outsource it before informing your client.
The tips provided above are some of the actions I take to deal with my freelancing feast periods. Of course, it’s not all about decisions and actions. Sometimes, psychological and business factors are just as important. We’ll talk about those in the next post (Part II), stay tuned.
For now, share your thoughts, tips and suggestions on dealing with freelancing feast. How do you handle your super busy times and more importantly, have you achieved the sought-after work-life balance?