Being a freelance web designer gives me the sort of freedom I’ve always looked for in a job. The freedom to pick my kid up from school and attend various school-related plays and assemblies without having to ask permission from “My Boss”. The freedom to shift my working day around by a few hours if I’ve had a bad nights sleep (incidentally I’m a lot less prone to sleepless night since being a freelance web designer).
I also get more personal freedom to arrange my working week around school holidays, family anniversaries and illness. Choosing to work on a rainy Sunday and enjoy a Sunny Wednesday, for example.
This sounds great, and honestly it is, but it’s also often misunderstood. I’ll often have people say to me “Oh I wish I could work when I wanted” or the often heard and always irritating “Do you ever work?”.
Do you ever work?People, often
What these people don’t understand is that in most weeks I will work 50 – 70 hours. This is not all client work of course, a good percentage of being a freelance web design, or a freelance anything for that matter, is also running the business, promoting yourself and generally being a part of the web design community.
This doesn’t mean I’m on the phone to clients or coding away at every given minute. I could be watching a video on the latest web design trends, brushing up on recently released features in a tool I use daily, or even writing this blog.
It’s an often misunderstood idea that when you’re not actively working on an invoiceable project, that you’re not working, and this is simply untrue.
Ah, but to the point of this blog, how to shut off? For years I honestly thought I was shutting off at the end of the day. I’d log out of my computer, shut it down and leave the office… go on my phone and watch a video on the latest design trends of the year or “10 biggest mistakes you’re making in web design right now!”. That’s right, I was leaving the office to do work, and I didn’t even know!
Over the years I’ve trained myself to “Shut down” after a hard days work and once you know what it is you do, you’ll spot your bad behaviour and adjust it pretty quickly. So without further-ado, here’s some helpful tips…
Notice: I in no way follow these tips on a daily basis. I’m just not that good at shutting down. These tips can be used to help you shut down but as a freelance web designer and a human being, it’s not always possible to shutdown. There may be a project deadline looming, a live stream of a new tool or any number of things that prevent the planned end of your working day from being the actual end of your working day. What’s important is realising this is normal and that it will happen.
Every thing is best served in moderation and this includes shutting down at the end of the day. Most of us are in the web design or development industries because we are passionate about it and we enjoy it, which is more than a lot of people can say. So don’t actively avoid what you may otherwise want to do.
No Screens for at least two hours before bed
I know, I know, start with the obvious, but it’s true. There recently been a lot of hype around how blue light before bed can affect your melanin production and cause your natural sleep patterns to go haywire. There’s even been a surge in software light filter apps and many OS’s now bake it in to core (Those of us in the know will be shouting F-Lux at their screens right now) and that’s great, it’s correct, it’s obvious but it’s not the only reason to stop using those screens last thing before bed.
In order to shut off, you need to unwind, and it’s very hard to unwind when you’re doing the very thing you’ve been doing all day, staring at a screen. This goes for ebooks too. You may think the very act of doing something other than work at that screen is enough, but it’s not, it keeps that brain fired up, active, ready to tackle the next challenge. You want that brain to realise it’s in a different state and to CHILL THE HELL OUT!
Turn the phone off
It’s not just screens that cause your brain to be active and switched on. Knowing your phone is on and nearby is enough to get you all twitchy.
Separate your business and personal phone numbers. For years I operated my business under my personal mobile number which meant I was continuously at the beck and call of clients at all times of night and day, 7 days a week, and it sucked. When your business number is the same as your personal number it becomes impossible to ignore that buzz as the device lights up on the coffee table.
If, like me, you offer maintenance contracts, website monitoring or you’re working with a client that may need to get hold of you at odd times of the night, then get a SIM, bung it in an old phone and use that number for that express reason.
Same goes for email. I have a separate device setup that is only connected to the inbox of a separate email dedicated to maintenance contracts only. That way if it buzzes, I know it’s something worth looking at and I’m not constantly on edge that my phone may ring.
Try to remain on a planned schedule
We’ve all been there. “I’ll just work a couple more hours and get a few more of these tasks checked off”. You then get up the next morning, tired, feeling like crap. You go to look at the code you did last night and it makes zero sense.
If you do not define a clear boundary or cut-off time where work ceases, you risk stumbling into that blurry no man’s land where you’re not quite at work, but not quite finished work. Your brain doesn’t turn off, but it ceases function enough that it’s pretty damn useless to you.
Try to work out a cut-off time, where you will stop work completely, beforehand. At least 24 hours if possible. I’ve found that telling myself to stop at 6 pm every day, and then organising days where I can work later, with myself, seems to do the trick.
Be your own boss
Not in the way that spammers so love to promote these days, but by being “strict” with yourself.
All the tips and methods in the world wont work if you can’t or choose not to listen to yourself. You have a choice to make, be the boss you want, or be your own worse enemy.
If you tell yourself that you absolutely must finish work by 7 pm on Wednesday and Thursday, then do that. Now I’m not stupid, and I understand stuff can happen where you may need to forgo your 7 pm finish, the trick is to see those situations for what they are, a necessary evil and not an everyday occurrence.
I caught myself a few months back working on a project with a client where I was staying in the office till 10 pm every night, despite promising myself I’d be home by 6. These late nights had the knock on affect that getting to the office early became a chore, the client expected 9 am meetings of which I’d suggested, and I found that very little got done for the first few hours of the day, completely negating the point in staying late in the first place.
In the end I stepped up as my own boss and simply told myself to stop being so stupid, get everything done that needed to be done before 6, and then head home.
Client meetings became more upbeat, less work was wasted (coding tired is never recommended)
Keep track of what you’re doing / have done
Seems obvious I know but keeping track of your tasks is vital to measuring progress. It also helps with the sense of achivement when you look at a 100% ticked off to-do list.
How you choose to track this is up to you. Most importantly it shouldn’t get in the way of your actual work. Nobodies business card should state “Freelance web designer and professional to-do list completer” and if it does then I would like some royalties.
Over the years I’ve flirted with all sorts of methods of task tracking, from web apps and phone apps to online calendars. Currently I’m finding a lot of success in using a simple notepad, pen and highlighter.
This helps you switch off at the end of the day by reassuring you of a job well done. By looking back across what you achieved across the day, you gain a sense of accomplishment that goes on to help you relax.
Hopefully this has helped a few of you look at how you structure your day and how you switch off at night. Being freelance, especially in the web design industry where it’s often the case that you’ll be working for yourself from home, can be a bigger challenge than you realise but making sure you follow a few key steps will hopefully make you feel much healthier and much more alert.