Since going freelance I learned about the value of not working at all, and how it affects me and my work when I actually do work for clients.
These are my insights in how I feel like I struck a good balance between working for clients and working on my own projects (or not working at all).
This article is not strictly meant for freelancers, but also people working on a payroll.
Short Attention Span
I’ve worked at quite a few companies, some better than others, but never have I worked at a single company for too long. I have never hit the five year mark anywhere I have worked.
A lot of times I felt stuck in the work I was doing, and could not get out of it. Of course there were times I could have talked about it more, but at the time I did not really know why I felt like I did.
I get bored way too easily when I solve the same problem repeatedly. Even if this problem is something other people were not so good at solving. I could not find joy in doing these tasks at a certain point.
This resulted in me searching for new challenges outside of what I was doing at the time. Meaning I switched jobs quite a few times.
How I Tried to Keep Myself Motivated
A possible solution to my problem was to work a lot more on my side-projects in my free time, which I started doing a lot more over the years. This rekindled the excitement for the work I was doing for a while.
This also made it quite clear that I love working on my own projects more than working on actual work I did at the office day in day out.
I asked to work a day less, and my employer at the time thought it was a great idea. The money which I earned was still enough to support my lifestyle, so I could afford to do this. Yes, I earned less money than I did before, but all that did not matter to me, because I valued my free time over time I spent at the office.
Picking Myself Over Job Security
After about two years of working less and working more on my own projects I felt like I still wanted to spend more time working on my own side-projects.
That’s when I decided it was time for me to get a more risky about my approach to work. Take on jobs as a freelancer and allow my side-projects to fill in the rest of the time I have left during the week.
Essentially giving up on the security a job at a company gave me, and making sure I could manage to get clients to hire me to support my life.
Say “No” More Often
I cannot stress this enough. Part of knowing what is good for you, is knowing when to say “no”.
When working at companies I’ve always felt like “no” was not an option most of the time. Saying “no” means refusing to work, and thus going against the contract you signed when you started working for them.
I know this is not entirely true as you can most likely talk about certain situations, but a lot of times saying “no” is actually not an option. A lot of decisions about where the company is heading are out of your hands.
It is important to share what you think with the company you’re working for. Being able to discuss the work you’re doing and steering it in an enjoyable direction is really important. Being able to say “no” to questions makes your wishes more clear, and people know what to expect from you.
The same goes for when you are a freelancer. For me right now, I could say “yes” to every job offer and can take on as much work as I possibly can, but I choose not to. Saying “no” has given me the room to know what is good for me, and what is not.
I’d rather be honest about not wanting to do something and telling them someone else can probably do it better and cheaper, than to take on a job I did not want to do in the first place.
Do Work Which Works in Your Favour
Saying “no” more often also leads to being able to pick work which you feel more comfortable with. I have found that I’d rather not take on any new clients for months than to take on work which I know will not improve me in some way.
If the job allows me to explore some new territories and if I can learn something on the job I am always more likely to find enjoyment in it. An ideal job at a company would look like this for me, but that is really hard to come by.
However, going freelance has allowed me to do this. I know I am in a lucky position as the things I do are quite niche and there is a lot of market for it, but to not take advantage of this situation would be foolish.
Side Projects Are an Investment
I grade the work I do on side-projects just as important as the work I do for clients. Sure, the work I do for clients brings in money on the short term, the time invested in side-projects will pay off in the long run.
Every minute I spend working on side-projects is a learning experience for me. I get to test out new unexplored technologies, I get to try some solutions to problems, I will take the time to actually learn something new.
What I learn from the failures and successes of these projects I will bring into the work I do for clients. This results in better work for my clients, which in turn will lead to better job offers.
I view working on side-projects as work too. Some might say you’re “not working”, but it is just as important as regular work to me, maybe even more important.
Strike a Good Work / Life Balance
It’s hard to invest a lot of time in side-projects when you have a full-time job. That’s the reason why I quit my job before. It’s possible to do both, sure, but in my case I had too little time to do all which I wanted to do.
Some people value free time away from the desk more than others, but it’s important to make sure you do not overwork yourself. Too much work leads to bad performance.
I can determine my own pace when I am working on side-projects which gives me a lot of room to not work at all. Taking time off from the desk job and doing something different. Something which can be hard when working with strict times.
Determining my own pace resulted in much better concentration and shorter bursts of inspiration for me. These little bursts of output and inspiration are super valuable to me now. Something which would previously cost me a day to do can sometimes be done in an hour, but at the same time the next day I might not be feeling it at all and get nowhere.
Being able to be more flexible about my schedule was allowed me to work more efficiently, but that might not be the case for others. I’ve seen it backfire for some.
That’s why I try to stop thinking in time and rather think in the value of the work that needs to be done. No matter how you get there and how long it takes, the value of the outcome is always the same to the client.
Value does not equal the time you put into it. Just make sure you provide the value you promise. If that means you need to take more time off, do it, live a little.
The Value of Not Working
Side-projects have helped me see what’s important in my work life. It’s not about working all the time, but finding the right things to do.
Short term money does not the weigh up to the long term benefits of working on myself. In a way you could say that not working is also working.
Not working helps me reflect and improve. Helps me do the things I love in my field of work. It shows me not to worry as much.
I am sure my opinion and approach will change over time, and that is what makes life and work exciting. There is always room for improvement and self-reflection.
What I hope is that we can all find a great balance in the work we do. Everyone works in a different way.