How Working Less Made My Freelance Business Thrive

Look after yourself, and your business will thank you.

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In a world that keeps telling us to do more, be more productive, be faster, be available 24/7, the advice to do less may seem counterproductive. But hear me out!

My story — addicted to work

When I first started out as a freelancer nearly 20 years ago, I soon found myself working day and night. Admittedly, I got a kick out of seeing the money roll into my bank account, and I was almost addicted to working.

I stayed up late into the night as a matter of course. My clients knew they could reach me pretty much around the clock. I thought it was the hallmark of professionalism to respond to all emails within minutes, sometimes seconds.

I thought sleep was for the weak, and I could earn more if I just stayed up and worked more… and more… and more. Sure, financially it soon paid off. I reached a comfortable six-figure salary which eventually enabled my husband to quit his job and stay at home to look after our newly born sons for a few years. But boy did it take its toll on my health, both physically and mentally.

And I’m not alone in this: a six-month study published in the journal Human Relations has shown that freelancers’ well-being is negatively impacted by the number of hours they work.

The aftermath — health problems

At some point, I noticed I was always feeling sick and just not right. Physically, I felt unfit because exercise and healthy eating weren’t priorities. In fact, Red Bulls and sugary snacks were my ‘friends’ to keep me going. In hindsight, it was a recipe for disaster.

I was eventually diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and had to make some changes. Almost overnight, I had to cut down on my working hours. I told my clients I was no longer available after a certain time. Regrettably, this lost me some clients because I’m based in Australia and most of my clients are in Europe. So not being able to reach me for half of their day just didn’t cut it for them. But something had to give.

The way forward — lifestyle changes

Determined to look after my own health as a priority going forward, I no longer checked emails every minute. And if I did, I deliberately didn’t reply to emails until the next morning. I switched to a whole-food plant-based diet, and after a while, things were looking up.

Now, why am I telling you this? Because this whole experience made me re-evaluate my business strategy. I decided that I needed to take a more holistic approach to stay well. As enticing as that high bank balance is, my health and my family life were more important. That much became crystal-clear in that time.

Today I believe that no solopreneur can just keep going like the Duracell Bunny. Yes, I know, we all feel like we’re invincible, especially when we’re just starting out, motivated, and things are going well. But turning into a workaholic will come back to bite you. Burnout is not a far-fetched myth.

Holistic solopreneurship

My philosophy now is that solopreneurship is all about holistic, not just material wealth. We need to look after our mental and physical health as much as we need to look after our business. And if there’s ever a choice to be made between the two, your own self should come first. Work can wait.

Let’s face it, none of us are truly indispensable. If we do have to turn away work and can’t recommend a colleague, our client isn’t going to die. They’ll work it out and find another solution.

So what do I recommend? Personally, I’ve established a routine that no longer sees me working day and night, but makes time for exercise, breaks, catch-ups with friends or colleagues, and meditation.

After dropping my kids off at school, I head to our gym room and either run 2 to 5 km or do a Body Pump class on YouTube. A couple of times a week, I also fit some yoga or pilates in. And I have a daily reminder at 11.00 a.m. that ensures I take some time out to meditate. Meditation has been scientifically proven to increase well-being.

I also redesigned my office and included a relaxation area and some personal effects and paintings I find relaxing. I buy fresh flowers every week as well. Now my office is more of a ‘me’ room than just an office.

Photo by Farrel Nobel on Unsplash

A thriving freelance business

Sure, I work less and earn a bit less than I did back then. But it sure is worth the trade-off! My days are now scheduled around both work and my other commitments — to myself! If I miss out on a project because I didn’t reply to an email late at night, that’s fine. I’m totally okay with that. At least I had a good night’s sleep and feel refreshed and alert the next morning.

And most of all, I enjoy so much more job satisfaction today than I did back then. I pick and choose only projects that are my cup of tea, I’ve expanded my business and added content and copywriting to the mix (and I really enjoy the creative process!), and I only work with positive, easy-going clients. To me, my freelance business is truly thriving.

So my recommendation, especially if you’re a bit of a workaholic, is: take a good look at your routine and your health, physical and mental. Are you healthy and feeling good in yourself? Or are you walking around with dark circles under your eyes, fuelled by caffeine and haven’t exercised in months?

My advice

Trust me, no income in the world is worth ruining your health for. Your future self and your family will thank you if you make some changes — starting today.

Evaluate your client base to see whom you can do without, and systematically try to acquire better clients who won’t always need you to reply immediately and completely projects yesterday. Over time, your business commitments will be less stressful. You’ll feel like you can breathe again.

Make a list of things you’d like to do for yourself but always felt you didn’t have the time to do — like doing yoga or going for a walk every day. Create a calm, happy space in your home or office that’ll lift your spirits. Schedule exercise and mindfulness activities into your calendar, alongside your work projects.

As a solopreneur, your business is part of you, but not all of you. By the same token, if you’re thriving, your business will too.

Originally published on Medium.

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