“I can’t wait to get to my desk and start dealing with paperwork, pitching prospects, and calling clients about their past-due invoices,” said no freelancer, anywhere, ever.
Yes, there can be some amazing lifestyle benefits for freelance professionals in today’s gig economy: freedom to set your own hours; casual clothes; the ability to get your work done in a Starbucks using nothing but your computer and their free WiFi.
But as you’ve probably realized, if you’ve spent any time as an actual freelancer, the daily reality doesn’t quite match the hype—or those laptop-on-the-beach stock photos you’ve seen. Very few freelancers actually do their work on the beach, in case you were wondering. Who wants to risk their laptop getting ruined with sand?
No, in reality, freelancers actually experience many of the same ups and downs as people running any type of company.
Sometimes business is frighteningly slow. Your phone doesn’t ring. Your email doesn’t ding. Even your fax machine doesn’t make that awful screeching/buzzing sound that lets you know someone is trying to send a fax. (And while we’re on the subject, why are you still using a fax machine?)
Other times, things are chaotically busy. Client jobs are coming at you faster than you can handle them, and every one of them seems urgent. You barely have time to stop and catch your breath—let alone go to the beach, like those fake-freelancer magazine models who tricked you with their stupid stock photos.
How can you maintain an even keel and stay motivated to keep moving forward through all of these ups and downs? Here are three strategies.
1. Find Your “One Thing” Each Day
In his book The ONE Thing, author Gary Keller points out that we have only so much energy each day to be productive and creative. When we’ve used it up, it’s gone for the day, and we won’t get more of it until we’ve gotten a full night’s sleep to recharge.
One reason you might be finding yourself frustrated or unmotivated with work is that you aren’t prioritizing your tasks each day. As a result, you end up wasting all of your creative energy early in the day on stuff that’s urgent (a panicking, screaming client) but also not strategically important to your business (it’s also a tiny client that doesn’t give you much business).
Keller’s great advice is to be very careful about how you use your day’s finite amount of energy. Figure out each morning the most strategically important or advantageous thing you can do for your freelance practice that day—and put everything into it. If it’s a busy time, pick the most important client project to make progress on. If it’s a slow day, make a plan to create a compelling new pitch for prospects.
Start every day with your One Thing, and watch how your motivation soars.
2. Change the Scenery
One common complaint freelancers have when they launch their home-based businesses—which they often find surprising—is that they feel cooped up, lonely, even creatively stifled in their new home-office environment.
We forget that people who commute to an office every day have a few advantages. The commute itself helps them mentally transition from free-time to work mode, for example. Plus, they see and interact with coworkers throughout the day, which can keep them more mentally engaged.
As a freelance professional, on the other hand, you have no such home-to-work transition, because your desk might be 15 feet from your bed. Nor will you necessarily have as much human interaction as you would if you were in an office.
But luckily, because you’re a freelancer, you have freedom to change your environment. Get out there. Go talk with people. Take a walk around your neighborhood. Do your work at a coffee shop or the library.
Changing the scenery and your work routine can shake loose new ideas and generate some fresh creative energy. Just don’t take your laptop to the beach.
3. Figure Out Your Work’s Larger Purpose
Let’s say you’re a freelance mortgage broker. Maybe you have trouble getting enthusiastic about your work because, well, the tasks you do all day bore you. You call prospects. You check credit scores. You submit loan applications. And you daydream about the beach. (Darn you, stock photos!)
Maybe the problem is that you’re thinking about work only in terms of the many little chores it consists of. What if, instead, you thought about what your work actually meant in a bigger-picture sense?
You’re not just filling out paperwork—you’re helping a young couple buy their first home!
You’re not just submitting loan applications—you’re helping someone jumpstart the real estate investing career she’s dreamed about starting for years!
Find your freelance work’s larger meaning—not to you, but to the people you serve. Then you’ll find it impossible not to feel motivated.
Don’t Forget How Lucky You Are
Making your living in the gig economy is going to take you through some difficult experiences. At times, you might even lose interest in the work or feel a hint of burnout. But if you do find yourself losing enthusiasm or motivation for what you’re doing—and none of the tips above help—you can always remind yourself how lucky you are to be able to work for yourself, when, where, and how you want.