The art of freelancing is often a game of finding balance among a series of double-edged swords. One of the biggest of these is the freedom: so often creative work can be done whenever and wherever you choose. This is fantastic when it comes to scheduling travel, long walks to the park, and mid-day matinees, but it can pose a serious threat to those of us who at least occasionally struggle with procrastination (it’s all of us, right?).
Getting it right is a highly individualized issue, and requires an ongoing process of self-discovery. As someone relatively new to the self-employment game, I had some idea of how I best operate upon setting out. In my last full-time role, I worked from home about two days per week. I already knew that I get a surprisingly sizable boost in productivity when I sleep in an extra two hours. Then when I wake up, I open my laptop immediately and dig in. There’s no leisurely internet-surfing over coffee first, and I don’t leave the house for my lunch-hour jog until the day’s priorities have been sufficiently addressed. If I end up trailing off around 4:00 p.m. after having gotten a strong start, it’s totally fine.
If there is a universal piece of advice to offer on the subject, it’s probably that you should take advantage of an office environment whenever it’s an option. When you’re putting in 40-plus hours per week at a regular office, the breathing room you find in taking things home can be a huge relief. But when your standard is to have no standards—showers, clothing, and decorum all being optional behind closed doors—it can be equally refreshing to have somewhere to be by a certain time, and to remind oneself of the rather efficient organizational principles that define most people’s workdays.
It’s a bit of a side note, but I’m also beginning to believe that being in the same environment as the client you are doing creative work for can be fundamentally beneficial. Creative fields are defined by subjectivity, and the work of pleasing a client’s tastes can sometimes feel like a cross between method acting and blind guessing. The more you can breathe the same air, the more likely you are to find the right rhythm quickly. Additionally, the client has a little added peace of mind that you aren’t fudging around on your hourly rate (note that this arrangement may not always jive with product-fee based work when you don’t want to reveal how quickly you are capable of producing), and you’ve given yourself no other option but to focus. Plus, you can always pull back and reclaim your prerogative to do things on your own time and in your own place. I find it’s typically at least worth a shot.
For many freelancers, this particular struggle is simply an issue of environment. There is a reason people rent out cubicles at shared office spaces; the brain likes to have a separation between the places it associates with sleeping, eating, and marathoning Stranger Things versus the places where professionalism and productivity live. A smaller commitment than a cube rental is the popular habit of taking one’s self out for extended cups of coffee. Good lighting, an innocuous soundtrack, and the occasional interruption can be the perfect blend of society and solitude. They may not say a word to anyone other than the cashier, but you can bet the laptop crowd’s sideways glances are keeping each other in check. One of the things I love best about this career style is the variety—in the last week alone, I worked out of a trailer parked in the Columbia River Gorge; in a Colonial manor house that’s on the National Registry of Historic Places; on the North American campus of an international sportswear brand; and at my own kitchen table. I can keep that feeling going by seeking out different places and neighborhoods to grab an Americano and punch out a couple hours’ worth of work. If you live in a city, there are probably new places opening and closing all around you. There’s no excuse to get in a rut! Plus, who knows who you might run into… they might wind up being the crack you trip on to get to your next gig.
In short, there is no magic formula. It’s a journey, just like every other aspect of life as a creative for hire. It’s our job to observe our own behavior and react and adjust accordingly. Whether that means paying a monthly fee for a place to be at 9 am five days a week, or committing to a lifestyle in which underwear rarely plays a role before noon is up to you. That’s the beauty, and the danger, of this life.
Marjorie is a former Creative Circle candidate based in Portland who recently accepted a full-time offer for her dream job. She is a writer/editor and stylist/producer with an emphasis in the design world. If you are interested in working with someone like Marjorie, please contact your nearest Creative Circle office.