Over the course of my almost decade-long career as a journalist, I have had two stints as a freelance writer. While I got to do some interesting work during that time, it was also one of the most stressful periods of my life.
The worst part, a lot of that negative energy was self-induced. Even when I had projects lined up, and a few steady paycheques, every day ended with me questioning all my decisions that had led up to that stressful moment.
This self-flagellation usually started with the question: What did I do today? Was I productive?
More often than not, the answer was negative. I compared the work I got done while I was doing a full-time job, with the to-do list that I had finished as a freelancer, and the latter always fell short.
I could not shake the idea that I was not working to my full potential, and was, therefore “wasting” my time. Instead of motivating me to do more, what this did was weigh me down with anxiety. Suffice to say, I spent way too much time thinking up ways to bridge this imaginary productivity gap.
Yes, it is indeed imaginary, and the earlier you redefine “productivity” for yourself in your freelancing career, the better.
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The Need To Redefine Productivity
Most people start their freelancing careers because they find the rigid structures and deadlines of their full-time job stifling. This is not true for all- there are many who quit their 9-5 because they want to be self-employed, or because they have a “passion” that they want to monetise.
But the majority will relate to option A.
When we start freelancing, we often forget the reason we dropped out of the proverbial ‘rat race’, and start holding ourselves to the same rules of productivity, that made us quit the job in the first place.
During my full-time job with a portal, I had to edit/rewrite up to 10 stories a day; that meant that I wrote more than 2000 words a day. When I started freelancing, I decided to hold myself to that same number. Suffice to say, I fell short and how!
While I was berating myself for “wasting my life”, I did not take into account that as a freelancer I was spending time pitching articles, following up on payment, researching photography options, going to networking events etc.
All these were tasks that were not on my plate when I had a full-time job as a writer/editor.
Goal Setting As A Positive Exercise
This does not mean that as freelancers, we must not give ourselves goals and targets. We must. As a freelancer, you spend a lot of time and energy looking for work, and that is a legitimate activity, which should be included in your new definition of “productivity”.
As a freelance writer, there were days when I did not do any writing. Instead of spiralling into negativity, I learned to hold myself accountable to realistic goals and show myself some love when doing so.
Instead of giving yourself an insurmountable task and then feeling terrible for not achieving that goal, set realistic targets. I moved my daily goal from words to the worth of the work I did. Thus sending emails, online research and time spent on LinkedIn all became part of a productive day.
Redefining Work And Leisure
Adding to the theme of self-love and self-care, another thing I learned to do, is giving myself time off, without feeling like I was failing myself, or being unproductive.
When you have a full-time job, you are given specific days off; you do not have that luxury as a freelancer.
But if you do not give yourself time to rest without feeling bad about it, you are just escalating the chances of a quick burn-out. If you stick to a daily schedule of work, you can reward yourselves with a day of leisure. You have earned it.
The freelancing life is a stressful one, every day you will see rejected pitches, unanswered emails and delayed cheques. Adding self-hatred to this mix is not a good idea at all. So, show yourself some love freelancers, do not let an outdated idea of productivity bring you down, instead let’s redefine it.