In freelancing, I’ve learned that it’s not just our time we need to manage. It’s our energy.
Some projects I’ve taken on these past five years have occupied a tremendous amount of what one of my freelancing friends calls “head space.” Those are the jobs that feel like hard work–sometimes because they’re in an area that, I discover after the fact, that I don’t really enjoy; other times, it’s because they involve working with difficult people. While they may be high paying, they can also drain my creative energy. I find they also leave me distracted when I’m supposed to be enjoying some down time, whether I’m going for a walk or hanging out with my kids. Sometimes, the effects linger for weeks.
There are other gigs that seem to recharge my energy, even if they take a lot of time. Working on a deeply reported feature story on a topic I love for a great editor, for instance, reminds me of why I got into journalism in the first place.
Through trial and error, I’ve figured out that I can handle about one fairly stressful project every two or three weeks, without it seriously draining my energy–as long as it will help me significantly with a key goal for my business, like branching out into a new type of service or client. I’ve tried to keep my ideal project flow in mind when deciding what jobs to accept and which ones to refer to someone else.
One payoff of being a freelancer is that you never have to start work with the dreads–as long as you plan your work load the right way. However, that doesn’t happen by accident.