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Freelancing: How to achieve the flexibility and freedom you want


I recently wrote about a survey of freelancers’ attitudes that found the top two reasons people decide to freelance is to enjoy flexibility and freedom. Surprisingly, money is not first on the list.

So it’s also surprising that I see much more written about how to make money as a freelancer than about how to obtain flexibility. Therefore, today I am writing about how to be flexible.

When self-employed people, especially writers, write about their schedules, they love to brag about their discipline. They arise every morning at 4:45 and they’re at the computer by 5. They read their final paragraphs from yesterday to get in the flow and then they start tapping away. At 7 they go to the kitchen to make coffee. Back at the computer by 7:15. By 11 they’ve completed their daily quota of 10,000 words and closed down their writing project for the day. Then they’re off to drink sangria and sing folk songs with the local natives or chop down trees to heat their cabin in maple-syrup country.

They never work evenings. They never work weekends unless they are on the even more virtuous seven-day plan. They enjoy life more than the rest of us because they have earned the right to enjoy it, by golly.

I simply can’t work like that.

I have a kinesthetic style. This means I crave movement.

I can’t sit still. Back at my office job, I was fetching coffee and sharpening pencils incessantly. Now, working at home, I have flights of unfocused creativity where I put together words, daydream, doodle on the piano, think and walk, often in the morning hours that are so production efficient for others.

This used to worry me. It was getting to be noon or even 2 pm and I hadn’t done anything “productive.” Now I understand my rhythms and I’m confident that I will do the actual writing later in the day, sometimes even late at night. When I sit down to do it, the first draft comes fairly fast, with multiple revisions to follow, often at separate sessions.

This complicates billing by the hour—I give clients a hefty break because it’s hard to measure time accurately. However, I get stuff done on time despite lots of meandering around during the process.

There’s a successful diet that was implemented by Ellen DeGeneres’s formerly anorexic partner, Portia de Rossi. Portia quit obsessing over calories, fat, etc., and simply ate what her body told her to eat. She reached and maintains a normal weight easily.

I haven’t mastered this form of dieting because I’m not sufficiently in touch with my food needs. However, this is how I conduct my work and it works just fine.

Not only do I indulge in giving space to my creativity, but I also attend daytime yoga classes and lunch with friends.

The secret to completing more paying work is to get more assignments in the first place. Somehow I always finish assignments by deadline. My usual flights of fancy, pacing back and forth, coffee drinking, and outdoor walks naturally fall away when I am working against a tight timeframe. (Sure, it is possible to actually overbook yourself, but that’s not usually the issue for me.)

The other secret is to get immersed in assignments early. Read all the background info that is provided by the client, list all the people who must be contacted, order any books, office supplies or whatever that is needed on day 1 or 2. Then think about it in odd moments and literally sleep on it so the project is well under way before sitting down at the keyboard.

When I was pregnant with my first child my (then) husband and I would worry that we had no time to raise children. After dinner we would watch Entertainment Tonight, read the paper, do the dishes, do other stuff that I can’t specifically remember, and go to bed. When would we fit in caring for a baby?

Amazingly, once the kid was here, we did get her fed and changed. Proving there is time to do what needs to be done.

Originally posted 7-8-12

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