Balancing Career and Freelancing

Aerial view of computer laptop on wooden table

Many of us need or want to freelance.  Most of us who do freelance also have full-time jobs and full-time families.  So while freelance work tends to be fun (this is, after all, the work we choose to do) it can also be a bit overwhelming.  As a result, many of us (yours truly included) end up freelancing for a bit, burning out, then having to go back and restart the freelancing side-business all over again.  I think you’ll agree that this is not what you want to do.  So here are a few tips on how to avoid the burnout that comes with fitting in that freelancing job into your career and family lives. (No, lives was not a typo.)

Figure out How Much Time You Have

Before you look for that first great gig figure out how much time you have.  If you’re like me, you have an eight-hour per day job.  Except it’s not really eight hours per day, is it?  There is getting to and from work, the lunch hour, the occasional overtime.  So how many hours per week do you work really?

Then there is your family.  For me that means my husband and my pugs.  For you that may mean your Mom, Dad, sister; or your husband and two kids.  But no matter what kind of family you have, they all have one thing in common: they need your attention.  And this one gets a little tricky because families, unlike your work, are not structured but you should try (to the best of your ability) work out how much time you need to give your family.  For example, when my pugs are asleep (and the average dog sleeps 17 hours out of a 24-hour day) they don’t require as much of my attention as when they are awake.

Now throw in chores, eating, relaxing, and sleeping.  Yes, you will still have to set aside time for those things as well or you will burn yourself out.

When you do the math, I bet you will end up with about two-three hours per day.  And that’s if you’re very organized and (like me) live very close to your work.

Figure Out What You Want to Do and What You Can Reasonably Do

This was the hardest part of it for me.  Part of the reason I freelance is that I love to write and I love writing lengthy essays.  (If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you probably know that.)  The thing is, when you are working for someone else, they (quite reasonably) expect you to submit a finished and polished product on their schedule.  This is reasonable.  They are paying you and they need their product delivered on time.

But I only have so many hours in a day to give.  If I give more, I have to cut back on something else.  Too often, that something else ends up being sleep which destroys brain cells and yes, leads to burn-out.  It also leads to friction inside the home.  When you’re tired, grumpy and overworked you are way more likely to get into an argument with your loved one than if you are awake and refreshed.

So having spent several years taking (and quitting) a number of freelance jobs that required me to write interesting and profitable (but hugely time-consuming) essays, I have learned to be more selective about the kinds of work I do.

I have also learned that it doesn’t need to pay a lot.  Yes, I miss the $600 or more per month extra income and the fun jobs.  But if I am never awake to enjoy it, what’s the point?  So before you plunge in, think about:

  • Your strengths
  • What you enjoy doing
  • How much time you can spend doing it

Be Selective

There are so many freelancing opportunities out there.  And there is one (and probably more than one) that’s just right for you.  But you will never find it if you’re not selective.  Yes, you want to build good relationships with your customers but no, as a part-time freelancer, you simply won’t have the time to respond to every single “emergency” a customer may have in the course of a given day.

And if you do happen on such a customer, don’t be afraid to tell them that you can’t work for them anymore.  You have a full-time job and family and your relationship with them matters more to you than your relationship with a needy client.

Manage Your Time

Most of successful freelancing is time management.  You have to decide on the scope of your freelancing and on how you will successfully carry out your commitments.  And you need to do this before you accept a single assignment.  (Incidentally, when working out how much time freelancing will take, don’t forget to budget for maintaining a blog.  These days, people expect a “real” freelancer to have an online presence so you need to work that into your schedule as well.)

For me, that meant working out how to get my whole family involved and literally calendaring everything.  That may be too much for you but that’s what worked for me.

Find Your Freelance Job

Once you’ve done all the prep work, you are ready to look for that freelance job.  For me, that meant writing reviews.  No, I am not getting paid for it but I do occasionally get free stuff to review.

Writing good reviews takes time, especially since these days the reviews themselves are not enough.  You also have to take photographs or even videos of the products.  But it is writing which is what I love doing.  More to the point, it is writing I can fit into my schedule.

And it does help.   Writing reviews has (for example) helped us renovate our home and introduced me to some wonderful books I might not have otherwise read.  And that has definitely improved our quality of life.

So at the moment that’s the right freelance gig for me.  How about you?  What’s the freelancing gig that’s right for you?


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