Every year, the freelance gift guides start popping up all over the joint. And they a totally valid part of our experience. New toys to play and work with are fantastic. It’s always great to grab a few new book titles and have a read. Or invest in a course or two.
But after the last few years of bushfires and floods, Covid, inflation and the expectation that we’re all meant to be big, brave and bold as we bounce into another year has left a lot of freelancers cold. In fact, we were joking about how much better we received the Christmas decorations showing up straight after Halloween this year as it showed there could be an end to things.
So, instead of doing a traditional freelancer gift guide, the Freelance Jungle is putting together something a little different this year.
Here’s the freelancer’s guide to gifting yourself a better 2024 via:
1. A more manageable TO DO list
2. More focus on accomplishment
3. Using time as an ally instead of a foe
4. Less debt
5. More savings
6. Greater economic stability
7. Strengthening the self-compassion
8. Better community connections
9. The chance to play, learn and explore
10. Manufacturing accountability
A more manageable TO DO list
We all want to stay productive and on top of the freelance workload. But TO DO lists can be sources of endless punishment and shame. Especially when we write lists that are so long, we never seem to finish them.
It’s time to reframe the narrative and make your to-do list an ally for your business by:
· Limiting how many things you’ll include on a daily TO DO list. You only need 3 to 5 things for a regular workday, less if you work shorter days
· Aiming for variety. Want to feel in control? Give yourself the freedom to choose what you want to work on to match inspiration and mood when you can
· Breaking tasks down properly. Make it manageable by adding tasks instead of projects
Recognise that work will always be there – and change your attitude toward it. Overwork keeps going by throwing more challenges at you – only when you decide what a good work-life balance means to you can you find it.
More focus on accomplishment
Many freelancers work hard with the mindset of “if I finish this, then I can relax/play/get this done.” But once we clear one bit of work, another five things appear. We’re in this never-ending obligation to work with no glimpse of hope for freedom or accomplishment. That obligation often makes us feel like we don’t have a choice in when and how we work.
It’s a myth that we’ll have time for other projects or marketing after work. What usually happens is that the work keeps growing and taking up more of the schedule. And while that’s going on, we’re not giving ourselves a chance to reflect on the work we’ve done in a meaningful way.
It doesn’t matter why you work; we all need to feel like we’ve accomplished something.
The first step to breaking the habit of obligation and embracing accomplishment is:
· Timeboxing how you work. If it’s the end of the day, wrap it up. If it’s lunchtime, go eat something. If it’s a meeting, keep it brief. Set boundaries and break up your day
· Take charge of your schedule. It’s your job to plan your day properly. Treat yourself with the same level of accountability as you do with deadlines and clients
· Reflect on three daily accomplishments. Make it fun by creating art with your TO DO lists or keep a jar of achievements on your desk
· Acknowledging hidden issues beneath work’s surface. Sometimes it’s better to look at what drives you subconsciously than relying on work to be a miracle cure
The more you stop and smell the work roses, the more aware you’ll be of where your motivation and drive comes from.
Using time as an ally instead of a foe
Most freelancers struggle with elements like:
· Knowing what to charge
· How long a project will take
· Managing project deadlines
· Keeping clients accountable
· Putting time aside for marketing, study, special projects, side hustles, etc
It all usually comes down to the same problem- a rickety relationship with time.
Humans have a natural tendency to underestimate how long something will take. We have an in-built desire to ignore time because it helps us forget about our mortality. We usually go for the best outcome because even the most pessimistic of us are secretly optimistic about our abilities. When you factor in the whole capitalist tendency to measure hours in dollar values and the freelancer’s fear of charging too much, things get really tricky.
Time is our most valuable resource. What we need to do is simply get better at working with it.
You can transform time from a foe to ally by:
· Tracking your time and understanding how long things actually take instead of guessing
· Allocating specific time blocks for meetings, communication, and non-essential tasks
· Keeping an achievable work timetable. For example, only planning each week at 60% capacity allows for things to run late and still meet the deadline
· Removing people pleasing from planning and deadlines
Lowering your debt can have amazing benefits for a freelancer. But hardly any freelancers think about how to make it happen.
The pressure to make money kills freelance dreams, whether it’s because of poor cash flow or getting caught up in unnecessary income competition.
Getting out of debt usually involves:
· Chasing the overdue invoices. Don’t let a client’s approval come before your financial well-being. Show clients you are serious by asking for timely payments and standing up for your worth
· Knowing where the cash goes. Not keeping track of your expenses means you won’t know where you stand financially. Get an accounting package and analyse how much money you’re spending and how much profit you are generating
· Always have a contingency fund. Make sure you have enough money in your bank account to cover a month without working as a minimum
· Changing the way you think about money. The only people who benefit from you thinking money is evil and that you should hate dealing with it are the ones trying to take advantage of you
Treating your business like a business means keeping track of your records, setting goals, and staying on top of your spending.
If you’re not saving money as a freelancer, you won’t really appreciate the value of your services. The more you save, the more motivated you’ll become to add more savings. Gamification takes over when the money starts to grow.
Ways to encourage more savings include:
· Taking the money out before it gets to your account. Don’t forget to subtract your taxes, business costs, and super before you receive the remaining money. Another option is to limit yourself to double your mortgage payment or a certain amount in your everyday account to keep your spending in check.
· Consolidating your funds wisely. Do use separate bank accounts – just not too many. Think about what will help you live, pay bills and save
· Pay extra on your bills. My partner and I upped our mortgage payment by about 20% and deducted that from our everyday accounts. It’s like our little trick to avoid freaking out about interest rate increases while also saving up for renovations and paying off the mortgage faster. You can do the same thing with electricity, gas, and water to help you through tough times
· Negotiate and plan to pay less. Ring the bank and ask for a mortgage reduction. Check your electricity and water plan regularly. Change providers if you can get a better software or internet deal. And use time-based sales like May madness for your hosting, Black Saturday for your software, or Boxing Day sales for office furniture
Greater economic stability
When clients take forever or when we’re constantly chasing work, it can really drain freelancers. That’s why you should make your financial situation as stable as possible by:
· Getting your pricing right. Use Rachel’s List Pay Rates report or similar industry reports to push back on low prices. Know what it costs you to do business!
· Work smarter. Having a part-time job can make freelancing cash flow easier to manage. Taking contracts for a set time and saving a buffer is also useful. Consider finding a job that requires minimal mental effort, allowing you to freelance after hours
· Define your reinvestment goals. Limit education investment to less than 5% of earnings and assess professional memberships based on non-peer networking benefits
The goal is to ensure your investment is worthwhile and keeps you debt and stress-free.
Self-compassion is vital for freelancers and creatives. We’re no strangers to challenges like self-doubt, unstable income, and the constant pressure to create. Plus, we live in a fairly unstable world. With all the natural disasters, economic ups and downs, comparisons, and competition, plus the stress of worrying about family and friends who don’t get our lifestyle, our heads can easily get twisted.
Self-compassion can help you meet these challenges head on. You can nurture self-compassion by:
· Getting back in touch with your creative side. We tend to focus on honing our skills, making a living, and serving our clients. But we should always be available to be creative, curious, and explore. That means making time for creative projects, travelling, learning, engaging with ideas, exploring the creativity of others and trying new skills
· Practising mindfulness. Mindfulness goes beyond meditation. We can be mindful through reading a book, singing a song, gardening, swimming, exercising, volunteering, journaling, crafting, sewing, knitting, and more. The aim is to stay present and engaged with the task at hand
· Stepping away from unrelenting standards. Being a perfectionist, obsessing over setbacks, punishing yourself for mistakes, setting impossible expectations, and thinking in extremes can really mess with a freelancer’s mental health and confidence. Instead, embrace self-compassion through allowing yourself to experiment and challenge yourself in a positive way. Create encouraging self-talk, view mistakes and blips on the road as lessons for learning, and give yourself time to regroup.
· Creating a supportive routine. Set yourself up to feel good about the work you do. If you enjoy reading articles for social media inspiration, find time to read. If you find you are much more productive after tinkering or planning, do it. If learning something new brings your client relationships to life, make sure you have time and budget to learn. Find a routine that works for you
And check out some of the wonderful free stuff on self-compassion supplied by Dr Kristin Neff.
Better community connections
A common complaint for freelancers is their marketing is failing to get likes or comments. Or they absolutely despise networking. Or they never know what’s going on social media or in online groups, or don’t know which events to go to.
The real issue here is not being proactive about connecting with the community.
All of us face issues with visibility with social media platforms, anxiety with self-promotion, or issues managing marketing clutter. And we all know that feeling of being left out or seeing cliques form.
However, we can be a community connector for someone else by:
· Being the person who comments, shares, and likes other people’s content on social media
· Shouting out to other freelancers regularly
· Admiring other people’s stuff and championing it
· Taking notice of people who notice you (instead of the ones that don’t!)
· Setting up groups of people who support each other across social media
· Talking to people who listen – and seeing where that takes us
· Resharing other freelancer’s blogs, Substack, and content
· Reaching out with compliments and opportunities
Switching the narrative from expecting others to notice you to supporting others can really change your mindset about social media and community.
The chance to play, learn and explore
Freelancers are a unique bunch. We fight for the right to stand up independently and assume more risk for more creative control. We put lifestyle and need ahead of comfort in a lot of ways. We’re curious by nature.
And then something happens along the way. We become driven down by expectation and often recreate the jailers we left in traditional employment environments. Here comes responsibility, a focus on trying to prove yourself, overbooking, worrying about how everyone else fares, and moving towards competing on something that isn’t your own race.
Arguably, the first thing to go as the timetable expands and the work crush takes over is the playing, learning and exploring. And this is dangerous for people who are a little bit maverick, brave and curious because you’re essentially cutting yourself off from your best assets.
You’re also entering a race where the measurements are not your own. The people pleasing, competing on dollars charged and made, the high visibility lifestyle, it’s not something a lot of freelancers find comfortable or comforting. But this is where the focus shifts to.
But you can invite play, curiosity and exploration back into the day by:
· Setting aside time each day to catch up with industry news and techniques
· Organising a day a month where you do your business admin and then follow up with learning, playing and exploring
· Finding yourself an accountability buddy to bounce ideas off
· Setting yourself creative challenges for your marketing, social media and more
When it comes to freelance production and our own ideas, creativity, marketing, products, and courses, what’s missing is accountability. When we work with clients or study, there are deadlines and people’s expectations we want to meet.
But when it’s us with our own ideas, there’s no such thing.
That’s where accountability comes in. And in freelancing, you can manufacture accountability by:
· Having an accountability buddy or pod (yes, a new intake of Freelance Jungle accountability pods will occur in 2024)
· Opting for the course with deadlines, exams, and practicals over self-paced
· Pushing your creative process through challenges, grants, and prizes
· Booking in appointments with yourself to work on your ideas
· Share the date for your class, course, or idea before it’s even ready to have a working deadline
· Choosing a day every month to focus on social media, marketing, finances, learning, etc. – and stick with it
· Showing up to events, even when you’re swamped, to practice self-care and beat procrastination
Meeting deadlines ensures high production. Visibility and commitment go hand in hand. The more barriers you create, the stronger your accountability muscle becomes.
Want to treat yourself to a fantastic freelance year in 2024? For more tips like this, join the main Freelance Jungle Facebook group and the Freelance Jungle Patreon now.