Managing Stress as a Freelancer

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It's been over a month since I left my last midtown NYC office job. Since then, I've been freelancing full-time in administration (arts related and otherwise.) This has been quite a change, as I had been working consistently in offices in the Times Square area since graduating in 2015. The exciting positives of this major life move were apparent as soon as I turned in my resignation. I basked in the joy of not having to ride the subway during typical commuter times any longer. I would get to be my own boss and set my own schedule. I would have more time to pursue my own creative endeavors. I would get to experience the "free" part of freelancing. 

I did acknowledge that this transition would have some difficulties. I did not, however, expect my anxiety to reveal itself as intensely as it did in my first solo weeks. Suddenly, setting and managing my own schedule and hours became daunting. Tasks for a variety of clients began to pile up and I felt stressed. Really stressed. I even managed to mess up my neck without knowing the cause, which only seemed to confirm that I was in for a ride on the struggle bus. Freedom didn't feel as good as I hoped it would. I started to question my choices: Am I not cut out to be a freelancer? 

Thankfully, I'm in a place in my life where I'm able to recognize when my own anxiety gets the best of me. I was failing to manage my stress and it was all bubbling to the surface. I knew deep-down that I have the skills and drive it takes to be a full-time freelancer: I've done it part-time for a year and I've always been able to accomplish goals I've set out for myself after getting over initial fear. All I needed to do was set myself up for success by giving myself the correct tools to handle my stress levels. Below are some ways I personally manage stress as a freelancer:  

  1. Keep a detailed calendar. An organized freelancer marks appointments and meetings on their phone or in a physical calendar. Take your calendar setup a step further: detail all of the working and resting hours of your day. For example, if you know you have a meeting at noon and need to complete tasks before it, schedule that morning working time in your calendar in addition to your standard events. Similarly, write down your bedtime, social time, and free time. I'm more likely to stick to my schedule if it's more specific and less likely to feel stressed when I have a clear plan of attack. I also suggest maintaining a daily routine if your schedule allows for it. Waking and going to bed at the same time each day is beneficial, and knowing what your days generally look like is less stressful than improvising. A structured schedule and routine can make you feel more balanced. 
  2. Tackle big tasks with full attention first thing in the morning. My anxiety is usually at peak level when I feel a deadline looming. The longer I put something off, the worse I feel. That's why I start my day with my biggest, most daunting task. Getting it done first thing will prove to be a huge relief and will make the rest of the day seem like a breeze. Doing this also tends to set a trend: the earlier I get to work on my task list, the more productive I'll be throughout the day. It is also important to complete these big tasks with as few distractions as possible. Multi-tasking or checking phone notifications will only delay tasks from getting done. 
  3. Change up your environment. While wearing my pajamas all day can be awesome, I tend to feel stuck if I spend too much time working from my apartment and get distracted by my bed or household chores. Staring at the same wall every day becomes stressful, and I'd prefer to maintain a more relaxing energy in my apartment. I can't afford to rent a solo office, but I can switch things up by finding alternative workspaces. I've worked in coffee shops, public parks, restaurants, libraries, and other odd locations that offer WiFi. Recently, I've started using a co-working space, Creative Workspace by the Harlem Business Association. I like it because it provides an office setting at a fraction of the price of a full office rental. Of course, leaving your home to work comes with additional expenses, but it can be worth it if it improves your productivity rate. If you can't afford to utilize a separate workspace, you can still make adjustments to your home office that can help you focus and de-stress. Designate your work surface and keep it tidy. Get dressed if it means you're less likely to get sucked into Hulu. Avoid doing work on the couch, bed, or other place where you tend to relax. Put on music or background noise that encourage focus (Spotify has some great productivity playlists!) 
  4. Step away from the screens. I spend an unfortunate amount of hours on my laptop and cell phone for work. It is easy to get sucked into these necessary/evil devices for too many hours of my day, and doing so can be seriously stressful and time-wasting. Put down the phone and close the laptop when you can. Of course you should utilize these technologies for work, but minimize overall screen time when possible. Many freelancers feel it is imperative to check their phone constantly in case a client needs something. Constant connection may seem important, but it can increase anxiety. Clients can wait: your time and well-being are important too. I generally try to reply to emails and texts as quickly as possible, but pausing a task to reply to any message that hits my inbox is a distraction. I've started to use the "do no disturb" function on my phone more often to help decrease the temptation. 
  5. Pay attention to your health and well-being. Freelancers juggle numerous clients and gigs at any given time. Working alone means you won't have a co-worker to complain to and can be very isolating depending on your personality and line of work. This multi-focused job style can make it difficult to prioritize yourself. You are important. Be sure to schedule adequate time for self-care. Doing so will help you relax and reduce your stress. Go to a doctor or a therapist when you need or want to, meditate, keep a journal, hang out with friends, exercise, plan a lazy Sunday in your calendar, or try a bath bomb. There are numerous methods of self care and they don't have to be expensive. One of my favorite ways to practice self care is to simply go for a walk around the city. A walk gives me a chance to get up from my desk and move, and I spotting cute babies and dogs makes me happy! 

Thanks for reading! I wish you productive vibes and decreased stress levels as the winter months approach. Have any additional tips for managing stress? Leave a comment below!