A new milestone in my little freelance life has been reached: I work full time. By this I mean I have enough work to fill a workweek, at least if you average out my hours over the course of a month. I am all sorts of grateful for this, as it means I am no longer pacing about the house, pulling out my unwashed hair in desperation and fear over the future.
Another fork in the road is how I seem to have lost the ability to do the office thing anymore. This is such a whiny point to make, but I just find it unbearable to have to leave the house at 8am now, and to sit in a designated spot and work for a set number of hours, that sort of thing. There is of course no sympathy whatsoever to be had for this. So I was interested to read Susannah Breslin’s article in Forbes, on the best and worst of working from home, where she noted that the brain can apparently only fully focus on something for 90 minutes before it needs a change. In the office you have to constantly fight this, and as Breslin sagely points out: “That’s not maximising productivity.” When you’re working unsupervised you start to develop a more natural pattern, and once that’s done it’s really hard to go back.
As I’ve figured out how to work for myself, I have realised I operate best with hardly any system at all. One week I’ll work from the coffee shop drinking multicoloured smoothies, the next week I’ll be working in bed while living on re-heated coffee and porridge. The freedom to do it this way is half the point of freelancing, in my opinion. Not to mention how it makes me so very happy. If I was interested in recreating office routines I’d go find a job where chasing invoices was someone else’s problem. So on that note, here’s my list, inspired by Susannah Breslin, with a few things I’ve learned about my year of location-independent working.
BEST. My time is my own. I am not a morning person and this has been a massive problem for me my whole life. Now I do things at the times that work best for me.
The pyjamas factor. Sometimes I’ll do a day in-house at an office, but looking around these places shows there is a lot of clockwatching going on. While the freedom to wear jammies is not to be ignored, what I love most about working remotely is that no one cares how long my tea breaks are, let alone what I’m wearing. It’s all about the work and what it looks like on deadline day.
Boss power. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the amount of work and the fact that it’s all down to me. Then I remember that I am in charge of this operation and I call the shots. This makes it a lot easier to do the boring stuff too, as it’s another building block for the big picture. The element of choice makes all the difference.
WORST. The slacker within. Sometimes I muck around too long during the day and have to spend all night to finish something. This doesn’t happen too often anymore though, as the horror of it is whipping me into shape.
Too many hats. I have to do all the organising and then I have to do all the creative work: I like both roles but I struggle to shift between them. This means I end up getting no writing done when I’m in organising mode, and ignore my emails for days when I’m in a writing mode. This isn’t really an option.
“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” I should probably include a point about the lack of guarantees here, and it’s true: I have no idea what I will be working on a month from now. But somehow that’s not a massive deal for me, maybe because I’m still in the start-up phase and wide-eyed with excitement of it all. But even so, the pragmatism at my core knows that since I have work at the moment, this means I’ll probably get work again - because I am capable. I remind myself of this whenever I get the fear.
… “Reinvention is constant,” wrote Breslin, who is a far more seasoned freelancer than me. This is what I’m hoping will be my experience too. I have the freedom to change things, but it’s still a very unfamiliar feeling. Like when it occurred to me, only last month, that I don’t have to stay in London all the time, I can go elsewhere to work. This is obvious, but it takes a while to really get it, and something tells there’s so much more to come. What I am finding fascinating right now is that the choices and opportunities are starting to seem exciting instead of scary. I keep stepping forward, tentatively, and slowly the dream is opening up.