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Maxvoltar - Living the freelance life while keeping your sanity

Maxvoltar is the personal weblog of Tim Van Damme, a freelance interface designer at Made by Elephant.

50° 54' 47" N, 4° 25' 50" E


Living the freelance life while keeping your sanity

Almost 6 months ago, I quit my day job and started my own little one-man business. I’ve been enjoying every second of being my own boss. Despite pulling all-nighters to meet deadlines, choosing which projects to accept and which to decline, and having a lot more responsibility, freelancing is an incredible fun way of living. Here are a couple of things I learned so far, and wished I had known from the start.

Monday = Meetings

If you have multiple meetings in one week, try scheduling them all on the same day. If possible, schedule them on the first day of the work week.

Meetings tend to break the flow of your day/week. By grouping them together, you only “waste” one day, freeing up the other 4 (or 3) for some serious work. By having them all on a Monday, you don’t just get thrown into another week of work, you slowly roll in, warming up the brain while having meetings.

Friday = Fun!

Make sure the last day of your work week is fun. Treat yourself with a reward before you start the weekend. Being it having a beer during lunch, quitting an hour earlier to play some Wii/PS/Xbox, or going to your favorite fastfood joint. A Friday should be a day looking forward to, not “Meh, still 8 hours to burn before the weekend.”

Booked = Booked

If a month is fully booked, it’s fully booked. This is a mistake I made more often then I’d like to admit. Whenever a client called, I would get it done within a week. After learning this the hard way (a burnout and 4 days out of action because of exhaustion), I started living by this rule.

If a client needs something by tomorrow, and he only mentions it today, that’s his problem. You’ve got a tight schedule, and have promises towards other clients.

Have a personal project

If you end half an hour earlier, and there’s no time left to complete the next item on your to do list, do some work for yourself. You can maintain your website, work on a secret project, make a logo for a non-existing project,… This way, you end your day on a creative and relaxed note, giving you extra fuel for the next day.

Meet others

Go out and meet other freelancers in real life. Freelancing is a lonely profession. Besides client meetings and the occasional visit of your cat, you don’t have a lot of contact with the outside world (Twitter isn’t human contact, neither is your feed reader).

Go to conferences, barcamps or twunch’s, and share your experiences with other freelancers. You’ll be surprised how many new friends are doing the same thing day in day out as you do!

Take a day/afternoon off

Don’t be scared to take a day/afternoon off. If you schedule big projects back to back, you’ll soon burn out.

Elliot has a nice article on this:

“[…] in booking in new projects, I haven’t give myself enough time for each one to run over, as they inevitably will.”

Re-energize by grabbing your camera and shoot some pics of nature/buildings/strangers, or take your girlfriend/boyfriend out for a small city trip or whatever.

Remember: “All work and no play makes jack a dull boy.”

10Comments

  • prisca

    3688 days ago

    Great writeup, Tim :-)
    I particularly agree with your personal project point. I find that working on something just because I feel like ii is energizing and can take you creative mind onto different paths for both your own and your client projects.
    Love your idea of ending the day on a creative and relaxed note, I think I will try that :-)

    thanks, Prisca

  • Sam Brown

    3688 days ago

    Agree with just about everything you said, I try and split my time 75% client work 25% personal projects. This may be a bit hard to follow for others but I find it helps a lot in not burning out on big, long client jobs.

  • prisca

    3688 days ago

    75% / 25% sounds ideal… not sure if I could manage that though… One of my favourite creative outbursts is doing little freebies for friends :) They tend to just give me a green light and I can let loose… be creative without the restrictions – always fun for me and appreciated by them :-)

  • Vincent Callut

    3688 days ago

    Good points but not always easy to follow.

    I tried grouping meetings in one day (Friday for me) but there’s always a customer that is not free this special day and you really need to see him during the week.

    It goes the same with the creativity time. Even if you don’t want to break the rules you’ve fixed, when a project needs fixes or when there’s a deadline for a project, you have to finish it, not matter what.

    I think this may work when you develop products (web apps for instance) that you will market yourself. But, when you make projects for customers, it’s not that easy to make them understand that they don’t manage your day to day work.

  • Tim Van Damme

    3688 days ago

    @Vincent: I understand you can’t live 100% by these rules. They’re just tips on how you could improve things.

    Clients do manage your day to day work (sort of), but they do not manage your evenings and weekends. Don’t let them come too close, because next time, they’ll be coming even closer.

    On the other hand, if you promised a project to be finished by tomorrow, it’s your responsibility to have it done by then. Better scheduling next time!

  • Vincent Callut

    3688 days ago

    It’s been 8 years that I’m self employed. The first 5 years, I worked days, evenings (nights sometimes) and week-ends…and had no social life.

    Now, I never work in the evening and always get my week-ends and holidays.

    The problem is that I’ve developed a lot of projects during these years and there’s always maintenance to do (bug fixes or improvements). That is really schedule killer ! And it gets worth as the amount of created projects goes up.

    Another problem is that I’m working with 3 graphic designers most of the time and I’m the only developer (not to mention that I manage customer relations). When I win a big contract, I’m busy for months. And it’s hard to say to customers that you won’t be free until next January.

  • Tim Van Damme

    3688 days ago

    Vincent,

    I’m lucky to have a lot of projects that don’t require maintenance once my work is done. Mostly, my designs and static code goes to a team of developers, and that’s where my part of the deal ends.

    Why is it hard to tell clients you can’t accept work for a couple of months?

  • Vincent Callut

    3687 days ago

    Because they have deadlines too (events for instance) and they tell me too late what they need. If I don’t accept their extra work, it’s a big problem for them. I understand that the main issue here is that they need to be educated and forsee their future needs, but that’s not an easy task.

    The second reason is that I answer to various public work offers but I don’t know if I’m gonna win the contracts. Sometimes, contracts arrive at the same time and they have deadlines to match. The problem here is that I’m the only developer in the company.

    My point is that, no matter the will to schedule and plan correctly, it’s not always easy to say no to customers.

    I’m not complaining here. I’m used to deal with these facts and don’t get too many problems, while keeping a very good quality of life.

    Anyway ! Keeping up the good work. I like very much what you’re doing.

  • Erwin Heiser

    3683 days ago

    Some solid advice here and a lot of it is very recognizable to people in the freelance business. Love that sentence at the bottom of the screen btw, it made me laugh :)

  • Bill Canaday

    3676 days ago

    Love the line at the bottom of the screen … mind if I pay homage by stealing it? ;-) It reminds me of the “Any Browser” buttons that were (sort of) popular a few years ago.

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