Every freelancer has a story for how they started freelancing. To start off our November Freelance Austin meeting, “Reset Your Default: Freelance as a Form of Self-Care,” Christine Moline shared her story with the room.
Ten years ago, Christine had a stable full-time job in New Orleans and was on the path to homeownership with her husband. She had everything figured out, knew exactly what her life plan was and, possessing all the confidence that comes with being in your mid-20’s, saw no reason for a contingency plan.
She clearly remembers the day she and her husband closed on their first home, a memorable day in anyone’s life. It was a Wednesday, but before they had a chance to start moving in that weekend, the city started to evacuate for a coming hurricane. She and her husband headed to Austin to wait out the storm. Katrina hit that Monday. On Tuesday, there was news that 85% of the city was flooded, and on Wednesday, Christine saw the image of her neighborhood on the news, underwater.
She immediately went from knowing exactly what her life was going to look like in the years to come to facing a total reset. The prospect of looking for full-time work didn’t make sense in those first months, as her days were spent at the library researching resources for relief and working with the insurance company to ensure they got the full amount of their plan for the home they’d lost.
In that time, she worked up a list of helpful resources that she distributed around town to other people who had been displaced by the storm. That helped get her on the radar of some academics putting together a panel on Hurricane Katrina and she was invited to participate. One of the other participants was impressed by her work putting together the resource list and mentioned they may have some work for her when she was ready. That work was her first brush with working more on her own terms. She negotiated to get Fridays off, and started working to grow her freelance business on the side.
How Freelance is a Form of Self-Care
To anyone who feels like they’re running around in circles every day with 1,000 items on a to-do list that never seems to get shorter, associating freelance work with self-care may sound crazy. But one of the main points of Christine’s talk emphasized what really makes the difference: freelancing allows you to control your own life.
Whether or not you take the time for the self-care that you need is 100% up to you. We all live busy lives and it can be hard to keep up with taking care of yourself when you’re balancing so many obligations, but Christine offered some tips to help.
8 Tips to Stay on Top of Taking Care of Yourself
- Remember that you have control over your time.
A full-time job leaves you with limited time left over at the end of the day to work on your own projects. You start out feeling like you have a deficit of time. With freelancing, you start with an empty calendar that you can fill in on your own terms as you go. Much of that space will be filled in with work, much of it with other obligations, but some of it can go to fitting yoga into the day or getting your hair done. Christine recommends filling those slots in first, so they don’t get lost in the sea of obligations you have for other people.
Mary Anne Connolly (@MaryAnneComm, @MACMediATX), one of the attendees, suggested an idea one of her entrepreneurial mentors, Mary Dean, shared with her: see yourself as your own client. When someone wants to set up a call at a time that you’ve already devoted to a trip to the gym, just say, “Can’t do it then, I have an appointment with a client.” It’s a little psychological trick to help you remember that making time for you is as important and necessary as making time for your (other) clients.
As a side tip for anyone currently working a full-time job, but hoping to freelance more, Christine suggested negotiating for Fridays off. Then you’re at least starting with less of a time deficit and have a full extra day each week to work on building your freelance business.
- Find your routine.
Christine mentioned the book Manage Your Day-to-Day from Behance that had a line that stuck with her: “Routines help set expectations of availability.” Having a routine to your day helps you gain a clear understanding of where your time needs to go, where it actually goes, and how much of it there really is.
If you can make self-care part of your routine for each day, it becomes easier to see everything else as something you have to fit in around it. Which brings us to Christine’s third tip…
- You can set your own boundaries and say “no.”
Once your routine gives you a better gauge of how much time you have to work with, it can (and should) empower you to get more comfortable saying “no” to the things that don’t fit, or that you frankly don’t want to fit into your schedule. One of the things freelancing quickly helps you realize is how much saying “no” to the things you don’t want to do opens up the space for saying “yes” to more of the things you do want to do.
Do you have a demanding client that keeps getting in the way of fitting your self-care into the day? You have the power to walk away.
Saying “no” is uncomfortable for many of us though. It feels awkward and unnatural – or worse, like we’re giving up valuable business we can’t live without (pro tip: you usually can live without it). Christine suggests practicing. Just say “no,” right now – to no one in particular, just for practice.
- Turn off your distractions.
How often does a text or email require an immediate reply? Decide exactly how often you’ll check your email and social media accounts during the day and stick to it. How much more time will it feel like you have if you don’t have to constantly drop what you’re doing to respond to every email that comes in.
You can turn off your desktop notifications, leave your cell phone in another room (or just fail to keep it charged for a little while), and remove all the distractions that keep you from getting your work knocked out faster. This is part of learning to say “no” – your client can wait for your response until later this afternoon, your time is yours.
- Determine your non-negotiables.
Decide now what you’re not willing to give up for work. Write your non-negotiables down and post the list somewhere where you’ll see it as you’re planning your schedule for the week or on the phone with a needy client. Some good examples Christine gave are:
- 8 hours of sleep every night
- Time for exercise every day
- No Sunday work allowed
- No answering calls after 5pm
These are the basics required for her to make sure she’s taking care of herself. They trump everything else. What are yours?
- Move for at least 45 minutes a day.
Staying in one place all day is unhealthy. Christine mentioned advice she heard from the oldest living veteran, Austin’s own Richard Arvine Overton, that the secret to making it to 109 is to always keep moving. He’s not the only one with that advice, those that have studied centenarians pretty much always come up with the same thing. Making sure you move throughout the day is crucial.
If you’re finding exercise hard to fit into your calendar, multitask. Christine sets up walking meetings with clients. It’s unconventional, but it works (and your client gets an opportunity to fit something healthy into their day too). Sometimes she co-works with a friend and they stop for dance breaks. Figure out what you need to do to make sure some movement makes it into your day, every day.
- Take a break.
One of the great benefits to freelancing is that you now have no limits on your vacation time. The downside is that it’s suddenly harder to figure out how to fit a vacation in when your pay is tied to how much work you do. Many freelancers can actually find it harder to take the vacation time they need, even now that the restrictions are gone.
Make sure you don’t fall prey to that thinking. Plan the trips you want to take (that you can afford), get them on the calendar, and stick to them. We need breaks into order to stay productive and sane (and, you know, to enjoy life).
- Build your own tribe.
When you work a full-time job, you don’t get to choose who you spend most of your day with. As a freelancer, you do! You have all the power in choosing what professional contacts you make, who you schedule networking lunches with, and the longer you’re at it, the more picky you get to be about what clients you take.
Christine recommends being proactive about making the connections you want to have. Specifically she suggests:
- Identify the people in town you want to know. You can check out local magazines, organizations, and Google to find friendly faces in professional positions relevant to what you want to do. Keep an eye out for these people around town and plan to attend events where they might be so you can make an introduction.
- Volunteer. You’ll meet people who care about a cause you care about, and volunteer opportunities often provide you a chance to show your skills.
- Just say hi to people. On the bus, at the grocery store, wherever you are as you go about your day. It may feel awkward, but Christine’s made some lasting friendships this way.
- Join established communities. Professional communities like the WCA and Freelance Austin are great resources for meeting people. Meetup.com, crowdsourcing spaces like Tech Ranch (where we had our meeting) and even less obvious sources like Yelp Elite can all be useful for helping build your tribe.
- Ask good questions. While Christine has found plenty to love in Austin since life brought her here unexpectedly all those years ago, one thing that drives her crazy about the culture here in comparison to New Orleans is the preponderance of the most boring of questions: “What do you do?” If you want to meet people, ask better questions. People don’t always want to talk about work (especially if they’re in between jobs or figuring things out). Ask about their favorite restaurant, hobbies, the last movie they saw – something that will steer the conversation in an interesting direction.
As you can see, Christine packed a lot into her talk! The goal of it all was to get everyone in the room (and hopefully those of you reading as well) to make self-care a priority. When you do, you gain the bandwidth to not only be more creative, but to be more thoughtful and giving toward the people in your life. Making time for you makes it easier to make time for others. She ended on one of the most important points of the talk: self-care isn’t selfish.
Christine has freelanced full-time for three years as a communications and transition management consultant for small business owners, academics and corporate executives. In this role, she guides overwhelmed professionals in the process of streamlining business practices to make more time for their personal lives.
A native of New Orleans, Christine began her career as a publicist in 1998 writing and editing marketing communications for the YWCA of Greater New Orleans’ development and communications department. Since then she’s supported a number of non-profits and universities in this capacity, including The University of Texas at Austin. She currently serves as the director of communications and technology for the Austin Chapter of the National Association for Professional Organizers.
Learn more about Christine’s work at Dashboard Priorities.
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