The traditional American workplace has developed around making sure employees work hard enough, but not too hard. Labor laws give workers hourly limits; bosses provide accountability. For the typical employee, knowing if you’re working hard enough is as straightforward as waiting for a reprimand or the urge to sue your employer.

In the comparatively anarchic world of freelancing, insecurity over whether or not one is working hard enough causes many freelancers to work themselves into insanity. Maybe it’s the whole bit about only making as much money as you earn. Maybe it’s the tinge of guilt we feel from getting to work at home in our yoga pants. Whatever it is, I’ve noticed far more overworking than underworking from my peeps in the freelancing business.

I got caught up in overworking myself in my first years of freelancing, only stopping when when I would suddenly feel like my soul was bleeding. That’s not a fun way to live. But ever since conscientiously pulling back, I’ve walked around with this little guilt devil on my shoulder that constantly whispers in my ear, “Are you working hard enough? Shouldn’t you be working more? Couldn’t you be?”

That’s a surefire way to ruin a good mid-day dog walk or cancel your plans to go to the gym. Because I’m determined to make freelancing a sustainable career, it’s crucial that I’m able to make a living and avoid working my way through the things that make life fulfilling. What I’ve found is that while labor laws and looming bosses can’t be the productivity guardrails for freelancing, a series of indicators help keep me in balance. These are a few.

If no one is really sad that I'm working instead of playing, I know I'm probably no working hard enough. When they give up hope, I've probably been going overdoing it.
If no one is really sad that I’m working instead of playing, I know I’m probably not working hard enough. When they give up hope, I’ve probably been overdoing it.

Signs I’m Working Too Hard

    • I refuse any in-person meetings, even when there is an obvious benefit to being present or interacting with the other person.
    • There is no time to even consider sketch out plans, develop new ideas, or envision next steps. There’s no getting anywhere when you’re only treading water.
    • My phone rings. It’s a friend or family member. I am SO PISSED THAT THEY THINK I HAVE TIME TO TALK.
    • The answer to every new job request, client or career suggestion is always yes, without taking the time to consider it.
    • I have multiple to-do lists on multiple whiteboards/phone apps/computer screens. They are all VERY IMPORTANT.
    • When other people have paid vacation or holidays off, I basically hate them forever.
    • The idea of leaving the house more than one time each day is unthinkably indulgent, but the inside of my house is nearly unlivable in terms of cleanliness.

Signs I’m Not Working Hard Enough

    • I plan or agree to in-person meetings that have no benefit over a phone call.
    • I feel too comfortable with today to take time to sketch out plans, develop new ideas, or envision next steps. There’s also no getting anywhere when you’re just floating along.
    • I call people in the middle of the day. You know, just to say hi.
    • There isn’t at least one pending assignment that is slightly scary to me.
    • When I sit down to make my weekly to-do list on Monday, and I just assume Thursday and Friday will fill up by the time I get there.
    • I decide I’m just going to take this afternoon off, because I can. Again.
    • My house looks amazing. And I did my hair.

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