Painting my nails on a Wednesday afternoon always feels a little scandalous. Never mind that the last 48 hours were an intense marathon of working from waking up through Daily Show time. Or the fact that painting my nails takes ten minutes, and I’lll go back to working when I’m done. It seems indulgent. And I feel guilty about it.
Even though freedom is the number one reason freelancers cite for choosing to work for themselves, it’s difficult to get cozy with it.
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.