Some days you will wake up with that “I don’t want to” feeling. The difference between working for someone else and working for yourself is often what you do when that feeling strikes. Do you push through anyway? Most people who report to an employer fight the feeling, but it can be a lot easier to stay in bed an extra hour when you are your own boss.
This feeling can strike at any time – on a Monday morning, or right in the middle of a big project that you’ve been working on a long time. So how to you push through and stay focused on those projects when you are running out of steam? The trick is in a combination of things you can do for the project and a few things you can do for yourself.
Create Task Lists
If you are having trouble keeping up with projects that extend beyond your normal project schedule think about keeping project-specific task lists. Break everything you need to do down into small increments so that you can work on it along the way and not end up with a large deadline and more work than you can finish all at once.
For maintenance-type projects, consider recurring task lists for things that need to be done on a regular schedule. This can work great for website clients that want a new homepage image each month or updated events listings. It can work on a daily scale too, by helping you plan to do things such as update content, schedule social media posts or check in on how a piece you need is coming along for a specific project.
Add the Project to Your Portfolio
Look back on your work. Adding a project to your portfolio is a good way to reflect on the work you have done and rediscover what you might have liked about taking on the project in the first place.
You might consider showing the evolution of long-term projects in your portfolio as well. How has the design changed over time? What changes have you made with the client to achieve even more success?
Looking back can also help you plan for what’s next as well. Maybe you finished a website revamp a couple of years ago and have just been performing maintenance for the client. Is it time to start thinking about a new design?
Plan for Quiet Work Time
When it’s time to think about projects or work that you are dreading, plan some quiet work time. Close the doors, remove all distractions and schedule dedicated hours to getting the project done.
If you work in a home office and just don’t think this is possible, consider a change of scenery for a day to two to get things crossed off your to-do list. Try working from a co-working space or quiet coffee shop. Sometimes just that simple change can help spark a little creativity.
Take a Mini-Vacation
When the “I-don’t’-want-tos” are in full swing, sometimes the best option is to take a day off. That voice in your head telling you not to work is actually demanding a break and time for a mental refresh. Take it.
It can be hard for freelancers to detach sometimes. Add planned vacations – even if they are only a long weekend or two – into your calendar at the start of the year. Let clients know you’ll be taking breaks and try to avoid working during those times.
Consider the Consistent Income
One of the great things about long-term freelance projects can be the consistent income that comes with them. Whether you edit copy for a client on a schedule, design a brochure a month or maintain and update web projects, this can result in income that you can count on every month.
If you lose the project, you lose the income. (Sometimes that thought alone is pretty motivating.)
Plan for Work Rewards
Have you been eyeing a new keyboard or monitor? How about that new font bundle? Or a conference registration? Reward yourself with work tools for hitting certain professional milestones.
This is a great way to help push yourself through projects that can be weighing you down and set a plan for replacing tools and equipment. (Sometimes the best tricks serve multiple purposes.)
This is a good exercise to perform annually. At the beginning of the year, make a list of all the tools you want but maybe don’t need right away and pair them with project completions, anniversaries or other milestones. It can provide a good mental lift – and new tools to continue building your freelance business – throughout the year.
Automate Processes Where You Can
Depending on your specific freelance work, there are probably plenty of tools that can help you improve your daily workflow and patterns. There are others than can help you automate routine tasks. Use these tools where you can.
Tools to automate mundane processes can free up time to work on other things and take some of the “routine” out of your workflow. (One of the things that is appealing about freelancing to many is the variety of work and changes to projects and pace.)
If you manage websites, for example, consider Google Analytics automation, with reports that can be emailed to your or clients each month. Consider a tool to help you track time to manage billable hours; use cloud-based storage such as Dropbox to manage project files so that you can access anything from anywhere with ease.
Schedule a Meeting
Get out of a work rut with a little get face time with your client. Schedule a call or meeting to talk about the project, where it’s going and how you and the client are feeling.
This conversation will help you re-establish why this is a good fit for your freelance business or might help you see that it’s time to move on. Either way, it is always a good idea to touch base – and not just with an email – to get feedback and an idea of where the project stands.
Remind Yourself Why You Love Your Job
Take a few minutes to think about why you became a freelancer in the first place each time you feel yourself losing focus. Make a list of the top five reasons why you chose this career path then and five reasons why this is still a good option for you.
Now think about that list in relationship to current projects. Do they align? If not, are there changes you need to create that alignment? Chances are just a few moments of where you are and why you want to be here in terms of your career are enough of a kick start to get you going again.
There comes a time with almost every long-term project that you just start to burn out. But you can avoid letting a project fall apart by changing your perspective on how it is coming together. Past reflection can help you plan for future success or help you discover that some change might be in order.
Freelancing 101 is an occasional series to help the increasing number of freelancers in the market. Whether you are a designer, writer, developer or wear multiple hats, we will share tips, resources and ideas to help you make the most of your small business. Is there something in particular you want to know? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.