6 Tips for Staying Sane as an Independent Contractor
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Working as a freelancer can be awesome. You dodge office politics, set your own schedule, take on the projects that you want to, and have no financial ceiling. For all of its benefits, though, independent work can be lonely. You don’t have co-workers to socialize with, your motivation is totally self-determined, and even a few weeks without new leads is enough to cause anxiety. Below are 6 tips that will help you to stay sane as an independent contractor or freelancer.
1. Get friendly with your competition, and stop thinking of them as your competition! As a sole proprietor, it can be hugely beneficial to reach out to larger companies in your area that do the same kinds of work. Most of them are happy to offer advice to smaller businesses. You aren’t a threat to them, you’re most likely operating on a different level and work with clients with much smaller budgets. Larger companies may also have freelance opportunities for you if their workload ever gets too backed up. It’s worth reaching out to other independent contractors, too. I work in video production, and I’ve become friends with a bunch of other videographers in my area. It’s great to grab a bite, catch up with them and discuss what is and isn’t working for you; these are the types of people who can directly relate to your pain. Plus, there’s tons of potential for referrals if one of you double-books or needs a second pair of hands on a larger project. This type of thinking is called a “growth mindset”, and comes from the logic that there are more gigs out there than there are workers to handle them, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to have a network of people that can get the job done.
2. Socialize whenever possible. Working alone can be a blast, but it can also get lonely. As an independent contractor, you probably have the most flexibility out of any of your friends, so don’t be afraid to be the one to reach out and set up plans! I try to catch up over lunch or dinner at least twice a week, and I spend as much time with my significant other as possible. If you’re bootstrapping your business and don’t have a ton of money to throw around, even going for a walk or watching a movie at home with your friends will do so much for your mental well-being.
3. Get some sun. Never underestimate the power of a 10-minute walk outside! Sun exposure has been proven to increase your serotonin levels, boosting your mood and helping to stay positive. A quick break can also help you refocus when you come back to work.
4. Embrace the Pomodoro Technique. This formula for increased productivity hinges on the fact that most people can really engage with their work for about 2 hours at a time, after which productivity starts to plummet. Set a timer for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, take a 5 minute break (thus completing one “Pomodoro”). Every 4 Pomodoros, take a 20-30 minute break. This gives you a reset every 2 hours, and a couple of mini-breaks in between to stay sharp.
5. Understand when your most productive times are throughout the day. The best thing about sole proprietorship is the total autonomy you have when structuring your day. Everyone has different hours where they’ll be the most motivated to get things done. I’ve found that my peak hours of performance are from 8am-2pm. After that, the coffee wears off and I start to see a huge dip in my motivation. By around 5pm, I’m bored and ready to get back to work for another few hours. Learning to leverage your own rhythms can have a huge impact on how much you get done throughout the day.
6. Remember that you’re in it for the long haul. Rome wasn’t built in a day, my friends! You will have slow months and all of the anxiety that comes with them. It can be tempting to lower your rates, but don’t let a few slow weeks make you question your path. Instead, use this time to reevaluate your marketing strategy. How have you connected with previous clients? What channels are you ignoring? Keep your eyes on the horizon and before long, the right customer will come knocking.