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I’m always paying attention to what topics get Black freelancers interested, so when this article (it’s about what a 6-figure freelancer does every day) turned out to be one of the most popular, it really stuck out to me — partly because it was popular, but also because it honestly gave me a bit of anxiety.
It’s a good article. It takes an important look at what it can take to become a 6-figure freelancer. I love the idea of more transparency into daily freelance life…but still, this one line gets my heart rate up.
“I get a lot of work accomplished in relatively few hours, but that means that when I’m on, it’s intense.”
That last word right there? That’s something I swore to leave behind in my employed past. I don’t want intensity in my work anymore. Even if it’s self-imposed, I’m done. The stress isn’t worth it to me.
Admittedly, my life is very different than the woman who wrote the article (I’m not responsible for caring for anyone else) and taking advantage of my employed background carved a perforated path to higher earning, so I’m not comparing anyone’s lives. I do though, want to take a look at how we decide the pace and productivity of our lives as employer-independent people.
“How Hard Am I Going to Work for My Business?”
This is a question most freelancers run up against. It’s a question we tend to answer without much thought, picking up habits from employment or from lives where we feel pressured to always be on…sometimes even using work as a distraction from less pleasant parts of our lives.
We need to be more deliberate. While we should be able to push and even track our productivity, first, we should be able to answer exactly why we want to be productive in the first place.
Is it because we need the money? Because we’re over-invested in low-paying services, clients, or niches? Because we’re overbooked? Because we picked up a certain pace from employment and feel guilty if we don’t keep that up?
In a culture that prizes busyness for its own sake, we all need to be able to answer that question.
The Only Two Reasons You Should Want to be More Productive
For those of us who are trying to balance income and peace in our freelance work, I think there are only two solid answers to that question.
One is to boost income. If you produce more, you earn more. Depending on your income goals (which I hope are concrete and designed to support your ideal life), your idea of “enough” will change. Remember though, this only works if you charge by the project. If you’re working hourly, all extra productivity does is sell your results off at a lower rate.
The other is to spend less time working. I went to Japan for a couple weeks last year, and to get in maximum time with by brother and sister-in-law, I made sure to get up at 4AM and finish my work day by 9 or 10. That left the rest of the day to go to as many pottery festivals, ramen shops, and farmers markets as I could stand. You might need more time to care for a parent, family member, or child. You might want to travel, or devote more time to organizing around a cause. Whatever your goal is, increasing productivity can help you maintain a higher income while still having time for your life.
Anything else, well…I know for me, I struggle with the pressure to always be productive for a few different reasons. I’ve gotten MUCH better since I walked away from employer-dependence, but it’s still there.
Even when I’m hitting income targets, sometimes I get that little voice in the back of my head that says “intense” is normal and that I’m falling behind…that’s it’s good and where I should be and that relaxing or “doing nothing” isn’t just…human and OK. I have to actively talk that voice down more often than I’d like to admit, but I’m getting better.
Better though, has mostly come from having concrete income goals (I know where my “enough” line is), knowing where my daily averages should be, and what I want my schedule to look like. If I didn’t have those boundaries as the What answer to my freelance Why, I’d probably be stuck even deeper in the cult of busyness. I’d probably also be earning less than I am now, trying to grind my way to more money instead of looking for the path of least resistance and highest return.
So I want to encourage you to do something this year. If you ever feel like you need to be producing more, churning faster, handling more clients, or just being more productive, ask yourself Why. If you can’t find a reason that aligns with your freelance strategy, it might be time to ask whether you really need to be more productive at all.
Chris Obudho says
Thank you for this. If a freelancer needs anything it’s clarity: clarity of thought, clarity of strategy, clarity of goals, etc. I’ve had colleagues say they’re soooo “busy” with this or that, but not really sustaining their business or client work, but that kind of busy where they’re looking for sympathy or “attaboys.” Yes, I’ve felt guilty for not working all day and all night, but asking “why?” shuts those voices down.
Exactly…and we really have to ask it multiple times, over years, because we fall right back into the same thought and behavior patterns of finding value in busyness and overwork.