We’ve been doing interviews with several pros about freelancer self care. It’s always helpful to hear from the experts, and we wanted to pull all their good ideas into one place. Taking care of yourself is an important part of any freelancer’s business. Unfortunately, most of us put it off or don’t even think about it … until it’s too late.
Why Self Care MattersWe don’t take self care seriously until something serious happens.
When Jenny Beaumont lost her mom to cancer, she re-prioritized her life. She remembers working on her laptop in the hospital room with her mom, missing out on some of those final moments:
“None of us knew how to just be there with one another, to spend that time talking about things, or just sitting in silence, to accompany one another through those most difficult of times. Those are moments I can’t take back, but which have now reshaped my attitude toward life in a positive way.”
Don’t wait for something serious to force you to take self care seriously. Take care of yourself now.
“The life of a freelancer can drive you mad if you don’t find balance.” –Patrick Neve
All the freedom of freelancing means you can abuse that freedom. You can work long hours and never take breaks—and you won’t last long.
It’s crucial that you understand the importance of taking care of yourself.
Freelancer self care is just as important as finances or contracts or marketing. Consider it another part of your business that you absolutely cannot neglect.
The first step to taking care of yourself is to know yourself. Everybody relaxes and recharges in their own way.
- Introverts want to hole up by themselves, while extroverts want to hang out with other people.
- Some people think a good vacation is a whirlwind tour of action and excitement. Others want to drop into a hammock and not move.
- Some freelancers like to think about code 24/7. Some need to spend time with something completely different so they can come back with fresh eyes.
- We all have different strengths and weaknesses, different areas where we need to grow. Part of taking care of yourself is learning and growing, but that will look different for everyone.
- How often do you need breaks? Do you like long sessions of work followed by long breaks, or shorter work sessions interrupted with shorter breaks? Can you recharge your batteries over a weekend or do you need a solid two-week vacation?
Freelancer self care is all about figuring out what works for you.
And to make it harder: What works for you can change over time. The ideas and hobbies you found energizing a few years ago might not work the same today.
The bottom line is that you need to pay attention to yourself. When are you feeling stress? What helps relieve that stress? Figure out what works and what doesn’t, listen to your body, try different things.
Freelancer Self Care Starts With Health
Every single freelancer we talked to about self care mentioned health. You need to eat right, you need exercise, you need good sleep.
“The thing that motivates me to stay healthy the most is that I’ve recognized that my eating, exercise, and sleep directly impact my work and my business.” –Brian Casel
If you’re not healthy, you’re going to have a hard time getting work done. Again, take action before it becomes a crisis.
It starts by recognizing the sedentary nature of computer work. Sitting all day long is incredibly unhealthy.
You can’t chain yourself to a desk all day. You need to get up and move around. Brian Casel uses a standing desk. Patrick Neve drinks from a 32-ounce jug to force himself to get up. Jennifer Bourn leaves her phone in the next room so she has to get up if she wants to check it.
Simply forcing yourself to get up and move around is a good way to disrupt a sedentary lifestyle. But it takes more than that.
Several of our freelancers made exercise a priority by starting the day with it. And exercise doesn’t have to be a sweaty, intense affair. Jenny Beaumont starts the day with yoga and goes on walks with her husband in the evening.
Physical health is important, but don’t forget mental health. All that stress can weigh on your mind and result in serious issues. Depression is not uncommon, and sometimes you need some help.
There can be a temptation to self medicate when you find yourself in a dark place: “Having that extra beer or shot to make yourself feel better starts you down a dangerous path,” cautions Adam Soucie. “When you’re teetering on the edge, mixing either with your stress and possible depression is a recipe for disaster.”
If you’re struggling with mental health issues, talk to somebody.
“Having someone to talk to about your deepest and darkest thoughts without judgment is incredibly helpful,” Adam Soucie says, describing the benefits of therapy.
For more on the value of mental health, check out these resources:
- Staying Sane in 2017 iThemes Training webinar with Psychologist Dr. Sherry Walling.
- Taking Care of Business Means Taking Care of Yourself Office Hours podcast with iThemes founder Cory Miller and Pippin Williamson of Easy Digital Downloads.
- Entrepreneurship and My Mental Health WordPress.tv video from iThemes founder Cory Miller.
iThemes founder Cory Miller has been up front about his struggles with mental health and most recently his efforts at physical health (the two are certainly linked). There’s no shame in taking care of yourself.
Give Me a Break
Taking care of your health is a good foundation for self care. Now you need to be proactive about taking appropriate breaks to rest and recharge.
“Every day we need rest: It’s not something that we should push back until the last possible moment. We need to pace ourselves and take care of ourselves every single day.” –Jenny Beaumont
You should take regular breaks throughout the day. Getting up from the computer and walking around, letting your eyes rest, allowing your mind to unplug—even five minutes can make a difference.
Be sure to include breaks as a part of your daily routine. That should also include having an end to your work day. Working late into the night might have worked in school, but it’s not a viable long-term solution.
“It’s really important for agency workers and freelancers alike to have set work hours. Once those hours are over, work stops. Period. You have to have a life away from your code or design.” –Adam Soucie
Regular short-term breaks, whether it’s a 15-minute walk around the block or putting work aside to actually enjoy the weekend, are important. But you should also include regular long-term breaks—also known as vacation.
Taking a vacation can be a real challenge for freelancers: “Vacation is a pretty foreign concept for me,” admits Jenny Beaumont.
Paid vacation is a nice perk of full-time employment, but it’s something freelancers have to figure out for themselves. Taking time off usually means not making money, and for a lot of freelancers that’s not happening.
To make vacation a reality, freelancers have to plan for it and schedule it. That means setting money aside (both to cover the lost income and to pay for the actual vacation) and clearing your calendar.
It can be a real challenge, but it’s worth it. Jennifer Bourn says it’s one of the best perks of freelancing: “We typically take seven to eight weeks of vacation each year, plus long weekends throughout the summer, and all major holidays.”
As a freelancer, you set the rules. So if you think you can’t manage a vacation, you need to change the rules.
Our freelancers have some tips for how to make the most of your vacation (once you do manage to make it happen):
- The anticipation of vacation is the best part: “We almost always have our next vacation planned,” says Brian Casel. “If we don’t have some kind of getaway planned in the next few months, we (especially me!) get antsy and it makes work less enjoyable.” (This is one of the lessons from Happy Money).
- Time to readjust: Michelle Schulp tries to take a day on either side of her vacation to adjust. You need a day to step away and unplug, and you need a day to step back into things.
- Unplug from email: “I would always recommend steering clear of emails while on vacation,” says Patrick Neve. “Email can easily eat up hours of time that would be better spent creating memories with the ones you love.”
- Leave work behind: “It’s all about being present in the moment and allowing everything else to fall into the background,” says Jennifer Bourn.
- Turning work trips into vacation: A lot of work trips do double duty as vacations for Michelle Schulp, and she makes that work by taking time for meaningful social connections. That energizes her and makes it more than a work trip.
Jennifer Bourn has also written a couple posts about how to make vacations happen: How to Take a Vacation From Your Business Without Freaking Out & How to Take a Real Vacation Even If You Own A Business
Vacation can be a powerful reward, but you also need more regular rewards. You should have small, daily or weekly rewards—whether it’s taking a few hours off in the middle of the week or a special snack or treat.
Figure out the reward that motivates you, even if it’s as simple as a sticker.
“We have to reward ourselves once in a while. It’s easy to feel guilty for doing this, but if you never reward yourself, you’ll burn out.” –Patrick Neve
Learn New Things
Freelancer self care doesn’t have to be all vacations and rewards. Sometimes taking care of yourself means improving yourself. Sometimes you need to learn new things or stretch your creative muscles with a side project.
Maybe you need to take a class and push your skills. Or maybe that class should be in something completely different from your daily work.
“Never stop learning and never stop trying new things.” –Brian Casel
Again, you need to know yourself and what works best for you.
Interact With Others
Another way to take care of yourself is to hang out with the people who inspire and sharpen you. Go to some events and spend time with your people.
Maybe rubbing shoulders isn’t what you need. Maybe you need to invest in people. Look into mentoring an up and coming freelancer. Inspire the next generation of coders.
Sometimes passing on what you’ve learned and investing in others can recharge and refresh you. You’ll gain a new perspective and a sense of accomplishment you won’t get from keeping everything to yourself.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
Freelancer self care isn’t just about taking time away from work. It’s also about working better.
Taking breaks and getting exercise and all the things we’ve talked about above will actually make you more productive.That’s right, take some time off and get more work done. It’s magic!
Not really. You’ll be happier, more engaged, and more energetic. You’ll attack your work with more vigor and brain power, you’ll have more stamina, you’ll do better work in less time. And getting things done will make you feel even better. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle.
So take a look at how you work and find ways to be more productive.
You can find some advice in the book, Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much by Tony Crabbe. The premise is that busy is a myth and should never be a goal. Instead of rushing around working harder, we should work smarter.
A lot of taking care of yourself is about how you work. Some tips from Busy for a better work life:
- We Feel So Busy, But We’re Not
- Reduce Task Switching
- Stop Being Busy and Work Differently
- Make Bold Choices About the Work You Do
- Fighting Busy With a Smile
And yeah, if you’re too busy to read five blog posts about being busy, we summarized it for you in one.
Our list of 99 productivity tips can also help you work smarter, not harder.
The Perks of Freelancing
Finally, the perks of freelancing really make taking care of yourself easier.
Brian Casel, Jennifer Bourn, Patrick Neve, and Jenny Beaumont all said that a flexible schedule was one of the best perks of freelancing. That flexibility means you can tackle family drama and finish work later. Or work extra hard now so you can take a three-day weekend. You’re not punching a clock and following someone else’s demands. You make your own rules, and that freedom allows freelancers to breathe easy.
That’s quite a boon to self care.
“The biggest ‘perk’ is just giving myself permission to prioritize self care,” says Michelle Schulp.
Get more insights on freelancer self care by reading the complete interviews with our experts: