The Freelancer’s Workday

I’ve completed my first year living the dream as a full time freelancer in the RPG business. I am so lucky to be able to do this, and so grateful to Clark who provides the steady paycheck and the insurance that makes this possible.

I’m still struggling with some stuff, though. I’m sure that, like a marriage, you never actually reach a point in your career where suddenly things are perfect and you have nothing left to improve. It’s a lifelong relationship that grows and changes over time.

Here are some of the things I’m still working on. If you have any advice or similar stories, I’d love to hear it.

I haven’t learned how to differentiate my workday.

It’s not like I leave an office at the end of the day and head home—my office is a corner of the sofa. It’s also where I help the kids with homework, it’s where I sit to watch TV, it’s where I write book reviews, it’s sometimes where I eat dinner. Working looks a lot like everything else I do. This means that it’s all too easy for my work to be interrupted by other things and for work to become a constant undercurrent. “Sorry, kids; I know we were doing stuff, but I just got an email I need to deal with.” Often it feels like I’m always half working, and that’s not ideal for my family or my job.

It would be great if I had room to make a home office, but I don’t. Working away from home gets expensive, and it means I have to deal with lots of other people—honestly, one of my favorite parts of working at home is that often the only other living thing I have to deal with face to face is a sleeping cat. Since I’m working with people who live in different time zones or have day jobs that aren’t this, I feel like I need to be available well beyond a typical workday. It feels like a constant tug of war, and I’m not yet gracefully handling transitions.

Even though my time is flexible, that doesn’t mean it’s unlimited.

Because I could always technically get to my editing later, it’s hard to say no to family and friends who need something. This is all the more true because I’m one of the few people who does have the flexibility to help out during the workday. And often, it really isn’t a big deal to run an errand or even give up the occasional day—I can make up the time in the evenings or something.

But when I don’t know how to say no, it’s also really easy to lose several days, and that’s not so easy to make up. And the more I don’t say no, the more people expect me to be available during the day. I think it’s hard for people to understand that I’m working a real job when I’m sitting at home on my sofa and there’s no boss breathing down my neck if I take a personal phone call.

It’s true that my workdays are flexible, while my evenings are totally full with my kids and—if I’m really lucky—some time with Clark. But I’m having trouble learning how to protect my work time while still living up to my responsibilities to extended family and friends.

Home is distracting.

One reason I have trouble saying no to people is that I’m painfully aware that I probably could give them some time if I hadn’t gotten distracted by Twitter, or finished that book, or given in to the urge to take a nap. Most days I do pretty well, but some days everything seems more interesting than whatever I’m working on (this is in no way a reflection of whatever I’m working on, because the same thing will engage me completely the next day). Because I work alone, I have to motivate myself to stay on task. No one will actually know if it takes me five hours to do something I could have done in two.

I find it especially difficult to stay focused on things that don’t have deadlines breathing down my neck. I’ve always been like this—I was the college kid pounding away on the paper due that day as the sun rose over my computer monitor. I’m learning to set arbitrary deadlines for myself on long term projects, but sometimes I find myself hard to fool!

I’d love to hear from you.

What are some of the issues you face as a freelancer and/or someone who works from home? Have you found any strategies that work particularly well for you?

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