Freelancing is hard work. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freelance writer, a freelance web designer, or a freelance tiger rancher, you’re going to run into problems keeping yourself motivated from time to time.
It happens because suddenly, possibly for the first time in your life, you no longer have a boss telling you what to do. You know you need to make money; you know you have to keep gas in your car, keep food in the fridge, and pay rent so you have a place to keep your fridge, but when it gets down to the day to day grind you’re having a hard time keeping your mind on the task at hand.
Working from home seems like such a faraway dream for so many people that they rarely stop to think about what that actually entails. In the blink of an eye your handsome, overworked shoulders are now the cushion for every financial responsibility in your life. It changes the way you budget, the way you pay taxes, heck, it even changes the way you sleep.
Not even taking into account the inherent distractions of working out of your home, the stress really adds up and, over time, it can actually physically damage the cells of your your brain. You heard that right. Stress is basically a really slow, really boring motorcycle accident.
But others have already done a good job of pointing out the ups and downs of freelancing, so what I want to talk about is the solution.
And don’t worry; I’m talking about real, helpful solutions here. Solutions that will get you back on the right track with your freelance career. Solutions like…
For the sake of argument, I’m going to assume you’re not a nudist.
So you probably wear pants, shirts, other things. Suspenders? I don’t know.
When you start working at home, you are going to want to stop wearing those things. An entire life dictated by dress codes is going to slip into something more comfortable and leave you feeling like it’s perfectly alright to go to work in your pajamas or your underwear.
And here’s the catch: It IS perfectly alright to do that. It’s dandy. You work at home, man, and you can wear (or not wear) whatever tickles your fancy. It’s acceptable. Unless you live in, I don’t know, an elementary school, but we’re also going to assume you’re not homeless. For the sake of argument.
So here you are, Mr. Freelancer, living the pantsless dream. But now you’re having trouble waking up early in the morning, so you start to sleep in later. That’s fine; you set the schedule, you set the rules! You also stay up later, usually working, sometimes not.
As this goes on and the initial hype of doing it slowly starts to wear away, you find yourself falling further behind on your assignments. That’s fine though, just need to muster up the energy and knock a few more things out of the way and you’ll be back on track. Only your motivation just keeps right on slipping, and you can’t figure out why.
We’re raised in a society that implants a certain mindset from a young age: There’s a time to work, and there’s a time to play. Interestingly, the clothes we’re wearing have a huge impact on the way our brains perceive the role that we’re filling.
It’s called enclothed cognition, and it causes our psychology to shift based on the way we dress. In the study linked above, students were given doctors’ coats and then guided through a few tests. The results showed that while wearing the coats they performed better on the tests and displayed an increase in selective attention.
And then, because scientists are jerks, they put the same coats on other students, but told them they were artist’s coats. The result? Test performance dropped significantly.
See, it doesn’t matter what you physically wear; it matters how you feel when you’re wearing it. The students who thought they were wearing doctors’ coats felt more intelligent, educated, and successful, and so they took the tests as if they were. On the other hand, the students who thought they were wearing an artist’s coat felt like they dropped out of business school and let down their parents.
So try leaving the pants on. Heck, put on a tie and a sportscoat if it makes you work better. Wear a dress, ladies. Imagine you’re a CEO of a massive company. The human brain is powerful.
This next entry might not apply to everybody. I work with clients, but I also devote a lot of my time to personal endeavors. I have a few blogs, I write crappy e-books, and I have to keep up with this website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter, to name a few. I do it all for the sake of my bank account, but even money isn’t enough to keep me motivated all the time.
When I’m doing work for clients it’s easy enough. I do the work, and I get paid immediately. Some of this other stuff isn’t quite so formulaic. When I start something new I never know for sure if it’s going to bring in a paycheck or just waste hours of my time.
But the thing is, I know that if I never try any of these projects I’ll definitely never make money with them, because as far as I know there’s nobody out there paying for thoughts in my head.
So I set up systems for myself to stay motivated enough to carry my personal projects to fruition. One of those systems is developing the mindset that I’m my own client.
When a client gives me an assignment, it usually and/or always comes with a deadline. Always. Hi clients. When I make a plan for my own projects then, I give myself a deadline, usually breaking it down into a series of deadlines.
If I’m writing an e-book, for example, I’ll set a rough word count goal, then tell myself to finish a chapter every two days. And then I listen, because I like myself and want me to have respect for myself as a writer, which is easy because writer me respects client me and wants me to know that even though there was that tiger ranching thing I still like me enough to….you know what? Let’s move on.
The point is, and again this isn’t something that applies to every freelancer, if you have a goal to complete, be hard on yourself. There’s nobody else out there holding you accountable, so it’s up to you to stick with it long enough to see results. This is a structure that works for me because I’ve based my entire career on meeting deadlines. For you it may be something different, and what you need to do is find that system.
Nobody reads my blog yet, so I can safely put this point on here. It’s a controversial thing to say, especially since freelancing as a career has more recovering alcoholics than Kentucky, but I’m only including this because science has my back (hi science).
Back in the day, drinking at work was sort of a thing. I say back in the day even though I wasn’t alive when this was really happening, but I’ve seen enough Mad Men to know that if you weren’t drinking, you weren’t really working.
Oh, but he’s just using something he saw on TV and calling it reality, I can almost hear you saying, as you chomp furiously on your third bag of Doritos and wonder when this post will end. Well, not so fast, imaginary internet reader!
That was a link, and specifically it was a link to an article in The Economist which takes a look at the onsite drinking habits of American workers, past and present. Between political pressure and an increasingly public eye centered on the workplace, fewer and fewer people could safely drink during working hours.
But isn’t that a good thing? I mean we’ve all seen the guy in the cubicle down the hall with the “water bottle” that smells like antibacterial hand soap flopping sideways in his chair like a salmon in a suit half an hour after lunch. How can that be conducive to a productive work environment?
You’re looking at this the wrong way. Getting drunk every day is not going to power your motivation levels. A drink or two, on the other hand, can make you more creative and increase your ability to solve problems.
So maybe a few drinks every day won’t help motivate you for hours of tedious work, but once in awhile it may be able to help you get past a difficult problem that you’ve been beating your head against. And besides, you’ll live longer.