It’s pretty crazy that I’m already in my eighth month of freelancing after breaking away from a thirteen-year career grinding away in the corporate world. One thing is for sure-when you are self-employed, things are constantly changing. Over the last wonderful and travel heavy three weeks, I had some unexpected aspects of freelancing come to me that I want to share with you.
Time Goes Faster
I had this notion that time would slow down once I left my day job. I was convinced that without any more rude, PITA clients stressing me out, and no more 1.5-hour daily commute, surely I’d have so much more time each day. Mmm, not exactly. Time hasn’t slowed down for me at all – it’s gotten faster!
Not having to commute is undoubtedly priceless to me now, mostly because I hate crowds. San Francisco has sadly become way too congested, and public transit can’t keep up.
As a freelancer I have some extra time not having to commute, but not a ton. Why? In the past I used my commutes to respond to emails, listen to podcasts, read, research, etc. so I was already “using” that time.
I do love the convenience of being able to start working as soon as I wake up now, which is great. There’s always a ton of things for me to do in the morning, so it’s easy for me to look at the clock one minute and see it’s 8:30am and then look at it the next and be shocked it’s 12:30pm. The hours easily disappear. When I had my day job, however, the mornings took forever in comparison.
“Extra” Free Time Is Quickly Absorbed
The upside to time going faster is that doing more meaningful work is way more fun. I didn’t have a very balanced life for many years but now I feel extremely satisfied all around.
When my life was unbalanced, I was either at the office or at home. I really didn’t do too much else when I wasn’t traveling. Now, however, I work from home, which I love and also joined an accapella singing group, take weekly dance classes, teach music lessons, joined a gardening club, see my friends more often, and have been traveling around like a crazy nomad. I can’t function without a calendar now!
So all the tons of extra time I imagined I’d have just lying around the house as a freelancer doesn’t really exist. Now I’ve always got something to do or somewhere fun to go, which is a fun change of pace. The catch is time management has become way more important in my self-employed lifestyle than I expected. So I am working on planning out my days a bit better so I don’t run late or miss any deadlines.
Weekends Feel Different
Another unexpected aspect of freelancing is the days can really run together, especially since I work six to seven days a week on average. Thank goodness for my iPhone or I wouldn’t know which day it is about a third of the time!
Weekends feel similar to any other day, except I really love that incoming email requests slow down, which is a welcome relief. I imagine some freelancers strictly work Monday through Friday, but for me it’s easier to spread things out over seven days.
Having some pattern to the week helps me keep track a bit better, like dance on Tuesdays, teaching on Wednesdays, deliver weekly assignments on Fridays, etc.
But Sunday nights are way better than they used to be because I no longer dread Mondays! 🙂
Working On The Road Takes Serious Planning
I used to be an obsessive planner when it came to travel. I’d prepare months in advance and do a ridiculous amount of research to get the most out of every trip. But the thing about planning is it gets exhausting!
Five years ago I never would have imagined myself booking one-way tickets when I travel. Now, I can’t imagine not booking one-way tickets! The flexibility of working independently is fantastic.
The challenge, however, is keeping up with projects and deliverables for clients when there are so many other things going on. I tend to travel for one to three weeks at a time too, which is a long time to be away. Some of the places I travel to don’t have the best cell service or wifi either. This can be a big problem and productivity drag when you work online!
Plus, as a freelancer your clients don’t give you paid time off! So, you have to manage expectations carefully. Don’t expect to unplug entirely if you have active clients. This has been an adjustment for me, since I prefer to be completely unreachable when I’m in vacation/travel mode.
Your To-Do List Won’t Shrink
Another unexpected aspect of freelancing is that my to-do list has grown a lot. I thought that it would shrink and shrink once I became self-employed because I’d have so much more time, but it’s done the opposite.
The positive is that I have more time to brainstorm, more things to be involved with, and more opportunities to stay challenged and grow.
Being self-employed is not a walk in the park. Things are always changing and staying adaptive is way more critical than when you’re someone else’s employee. To keep up with changing times, there are always more and more things to do.
Multiple Bosses Are Harder Than One
Freelancing has a great appeal because you can be your own boss and never have to report to anyone again, right? Well, not exactly. As the CEO of yourself, you can pick and choose your clients and assignments. But, those clients can sometimes end up feeling like a jumble of disorganized, or even clueless, bosses.
Of course this depends on the type of work that you do. For me, my clients are essentially my bosses for as long as they’re paying me. I do what they want, even if I disagree. It’s not worth arguing.
I’ve also had to report to multiple people at the same client. This takes a lot of flexibility and a willingness to make changes. I’ve even received opposing instructions from people at the same client before. It’s not always smooth sailing when you’re the one on the outside – there are plenty of hiccups.
Weaknesses Can Come To A Head
When you work at someone else’s company, it’s much easier to plod along in the shadows. You can hide your flaws, pass the buck, and make all kinds of excuses for your mistakes. I don’t recommend doing this of course, but it happens all the time.
Try doing those things as a freelancer, and you’ll end up broke without any clients. You’re much more exposed when you are self-employed and your weaknesses can quickly catch up to you.
Time-management is one of my weaknesses that has really come to the surface since I started freelancing full-time. As someone who isn’t the best at staying focused, the additional distractions on the road left me up late many nights until 1:30am-2:30am to get assignments done. With better preparation, I’ll be able to explore more and work less when I’m traveling.
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Money Beagle says
I think that any time you go into something brand new, you’ll always find a ton of things that you couldn’t prepare for. The goal is to adapt, which it sounds like you’ve done very successfully. Good work!
Thanks! That’s so true. It’s impossible to prepare and anticipate everything even if we want to. We just gotta roll with the punches and learn from our goof-ups.
Jim Wang says
Owning your own business is never as easy or convenient as working for someone else, it’s nice to predict that your 9-to-5 will be relatively similar from day to day; but there are other benefits (as I’m sure you’ve seen). I don’t think freelancing is for everyone and it’s good that you’re willing to share your challenges with freelancing, not many folks are willing to do that.
It’s true that freelancing isn’t for everyone. It’s not always easy for me to openly talk about things I’m bad at, but I’ve found it helps me face my weaknesses and learn from them faster. Plus if I can help others avoid the mistakes I’m making, even better!