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As a mother of two and an educator of 10 years, I thought I had mastered self-discipline when I chose to give freelancing a try. After all, I had been writing for fun for as long as I could remember, so writing for pay couldn’t be that hard, right?
So, I researched details about freelancing and searched job postings incessantly until I found a few promising clients, and my journey toward working from home began. As the months passed and clients came and went, I realized one thing:
I knew nothing about self-discipline.
In this online world of clients, writers, and editors chock full of deadlines, competition, obscure topics, and (sometimes) insanely specific guidelines, I quickly learned the following 5 things about self-discipline as a freelancer.
Self-Discipline is Not Just for the Self.
Like many freelancers today, I began freelancing to be able to work from home. Some do it to be able to stay home with their kids (because childcare costs are phenomenal). Others use freelancing as supplemental income because getting a second job outside of the home isn’t feasible.
Me? I did it because I suffer from chronic back pain that was making it all but impossible for me to stand on my feet all day in classrooms. I needed less physically demanding work, but I still needed to make money.
In the beginning of a freelancing journey, you spend tons of time online – figuring out your niche, searching for jobs, sending in applications, and so much more. Before I knew it, I was easily spending entire days “working” but not actually getting any “work” done.
This was my first lesson about self-discipline. It was not only required to protect me from overworking myself, but it was also required to protect my loved ones. Yes, I was home – but was I present?
My self-discipline had to change to incorporate all the aspects of daily life into a work-from-home job, such as:
- Spending quality time with my kids
- Cooking for my family
- Keeping up with housework
- Attending school, family, and social functions
- Helping with homework
These things and so many more can be easily brushed aside for “another 30 minutes” of work because you’re sure the client you’re about to speak to holds the key to your freelancing future. But that 30 minutes turns into 3 hours incredibly fast, and before you know it, it’s 9 p.m. and you’ve forgotten to help your kid study for their history test tomorrow.
If this sounds like you, try the following tips to help you manage your time:
- Set a timer. If you say you only need 30 more minutes to do something, commit to that 30 minutes. When the timer goes off, stop what you’re doing and tend to what you need to tend to.
- Set a working schedule. If you want to get 7 hours of work done 5 days a week, set a weekly working schedule for yourself. Give yourself the days off that you need for the week, and commit to working specific hours for the rest of the days. Do this each week.
- Plan family time each week. This can happen as many days as you’d like. You can set up a weekly Friday dinner and game night or a day in the park each weekend – or both! The beauty of working from home is that you make your schedule.
- Limit the time you spend looking for clients each day. Especially if you are a beginning freelancer, finding clients takes time and you sometimes feel counterproductive taking time off from searching. To remedy this, set aside 2 to 3 hours each day to look for jobs. If you are looking for jobs during your scheduled work days, don’t add this as extra – include these hours as working hours.
“Before you know it, it’s 9 p.m. and you’ve forgotten to help your kid study for their history test tomorrow.“
As someone who has now been freelancing over 2 years, I can guarantee you that the client you are trying to land will still be there once you return. All clients worth working with understand that working from home also has to have a balance with living at home.
Losing Clients is Not Always About Your Self-Discipline.
I remember the first few months of freelancing like it was yesterday, and it was not all good, either. There are many reputable freelance jobs to be found, but there are also ones that will require much more work than the pay is worth. Not to mention, there are also scams to look out for.
The first time I was fired from a freelancing job, I was absolutely devastated. I had been working 12-14 hours a day, every day, for almost three weeks for a client that barely paid anything but had showered me with promises of promotions and higher pay.
After the almost three weeks of non-stop work and sleep, I developed the worst eye strain of my life. I typed an email to the client, with my eyes barely open, explaining that I needed a day or two off to let my eyes rest.
I woke up the next day to a response from that client berating me, telling me that I would never amount to anything as a freelancer because I had no self-discipline or work ethic, and a myriad of other hateful things. Then, they refused to pay me for over a week.
I share this cautionary tale to let you know that it is not always your lack of discipline that causes your relationship with a client not to work out. Clients and freelancers can part ways for several reasons, including (but not limited to):
- The client simply doesn’t need your services anymore. This doesn’t mean your work was poor. Some clients are smaller and do not have work that will continue for years, or even months. Some clients only need one or two articles. The end of a contract can merely mean that work is no longer available.
- The client’s time zone doesn’t work with yours. Online jobs are available all over the world, so you will often land clients that live in another time zone. Most of the time, the work is flexible enough to allow for different time zones to work together. However, extreme time zone variances can cause a lag in work production and turn-in that the client cannot really afford. It can also cause you not to be able to have your questions answered in a timely manner.
- Your voice isn’t right for the client’s needs. As with any creative job, sometimes, what you create isn’t what the client wants or needs. This doesn’t mean that you did a lousy job, though. Clients commonly outsource their work, but they still need the work to match their brand and voice. Even the best writers (and editors) can be let go from a contract because of conflicting voices.
These are only three reasons that a contract can end that have nothing to do with your self-discipline, but there are many more! You must remember that there will be times when it really isn’t you – it’s them.
Self-Care is Part of Self-Discipline.
One of the side effects of freelancing that I faced early on in my journey was burn out. Yes, I had been writing all my life, but it had always been for fun. My family’s finances and well-being had never depended on my writing before, so I found myself working longer hours than intended, caring for my family, and often forgetting myself.
But when you forget to care for yourself, your work suffers. So, part of having self-discipline as a freelancer is to remember to take time to relax and de-stress. Just because you work from home does not mean you are stress-free!
Some of my favorite self-care practices are:
- Making sure to shower each day (yes, I have forgotten before!)
- Taking at least an hour to talk to a friend or friends each day
- Ending most of my nights with cuddle time with my kids and a movie
- Ensuring I always have a bottle of my favorite body wash
- Allowing myself at least 1 hour away from electronics each day
This is not an extensive list of my self-care practices, nor is it an extensive list of all the ways you can practice self-care for yourself! It is up to you to find the things that help you feel calm and collected and visit them from time to time – and remember to shower!
Self-Discipline Requires Planning.
I’ve always been a planner, but it was always a chaotically organized planning. For example, instead of using an actual planner with, you know, dates and times, I had Post-it notes with scribbles of appointments, reminders, and whatnot plastered all over my computer desk and monitors.
“For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.“Benjamin Franklin
Suffice it to say that this planning style did not work when I started freelancing. And trust me, I tried to make it work! It wasn’t long before I had to change up my planning game to make sure that I actually met my deadlines on time and kept my clients happy while also remembering to do important things like paying bills on time and attending my kids’ school functions.
Here are some of the ways that you can revamp your planning and organization:
- Make spreadsheets. When you’re trying to keep your clients’ orders together and track your delivered articles, spreadsheets are incredibly useful. They are located on your computer already, so you don’t have to find your planner or a notebook to write anything down. You just click on the saved file and update it. (Also, spreadsheets are amazing!)
- Get a planner. Don’t grab just any planner, either. Get a hardcover one that features both full month spreads with weekly breakdowns. Even better, get one that breaks down each day by the hours. This way, you can plan entire days down to the hour when you are particularly busy.
- Use your phone. Any good planner knows that a back-up is always convenient and can be a lifesaver – especially if your planner is misplaced. You can choose to input whatever you’d like into your phone’s calendar to have yet another reminder of important deadlines, events, bills, and more.
Having a dedicated system (or two) for keeping your tasks on track significantly helps your freelancing business. You can even use things like dry-erase boards and Post-it notes for extra reminders around your workspace when deadlines or important functions are coming up.
If you’re looking for a fantastic planner with tons of features that push you toward your goals, I recommend the Law of Attraction Planner. I’m completely in love with mine!
Taking Days Off Does Not Mean You Lack Self-Discipline.
If I’m going to be honest, this is one that I haven’t yet been able to master without feeling guilty. Since I’ve now moved on from just freelance writing to the majority of my work being freelance editing, I feel like I have to be constantly available to my writers and clients. But all freelancers should know at least this:
You are not failing anyone if you take a day – or multiple days – off.
It’s quite the opposite – you are failing yourself by not taking days off! (I know – I need to practice what I preach!)
Amidst all the time management and planning and self-care, it is essential to ensure you take days off, too. (You could say taking time off is part of time management, planning, and self-care.) Even the most demanding traditional jobs allow for days off, and no one tells traditional workers that taking days off equates to having no self-discipline.
Days off help you recharge. They give you ample time for self-care and family time. They allow you to take a break from the monotony of your work days and enjoy time away from the computer screen. If you’ve ever experienced the eye strain that I spoke of earlier in this article, you know how vital time away from the computer screen is!
Pro-tip: If you struggle with taking days off like I do, plan a day out with your family or friends to keep you away from your computer! My personal favorite day-cation is a trip to the park with my family followed by eating at a restaurant that we love. It doesn’t have to be extravagant!
Self-discipline is absolutely necessary if you are going to be a freelancer, but it does not feel quite like the self-discipline you’d expect. While you do need to be motivated enough to keep up with your deadlines and clients, the discipline doesn’t stop with your work – it extends to all areas of your life. It requires you to create a balance that only you can find.
What did you learn about self-discipline when you became a freelancer? Share with us in the comments below!