This article was written by Lesley Vos, a private teacher, freelance writer, and regular contributor to publications on lifestyle, business, and self-development.
I do remember October 3, 2012. It was the day when I had died.
It’s not a joke but the ugly truth of life cropping up along the way of most freelance writers like me.
That month heralded three years since I had started to work remotely. Sure, it was my choice to go freelance. First, I was in university and had no opportunity to best balance school and work. Later, I had en euphoria from a chance to be in charge of my time. Finally, the moment had come when I couldn’t stand that pace of life anymore.
It destroyed me. I looked in the mirror, and the only thought came to the mind: “What have you done to yourself?”
I underrated my opponent, which name was freelance work.
Poor time management, procrastination, emotional burnout, a lot of stress, constant frustration, lashing out at relatives and friends, high-functioning depression. This is a short list of symptoms I had got after three years of remote work in 2012. It was nobody’s but my fault as I couldn’t control and organize myself the right way for such life.
And it was the moment when my five years of returning to sane self-started. That wasn’t easy but, as Sinatra sang, I did it my way. Today, I continue freelancing as a web writer for brands like PlagiarismCheck.org, do ghostwriting for columnists of HuffPost, Entrepreneur, and Inc., teach the French language to high school students (I have major in Linguistics), and write a fiction book.
Celebrating the fifth anniversary of my rebirth this year, I draw a line under all positive changes happened to me and share them with those in search of work-life balance on a way to better selves.
Five years of remote writing taught me the essentials many ignore.
1. You don’t need time management to keep up-to-date with everything.
You need to prioritize instead.
My big mistake was a living by time. A night owl, I forced myself to write on mornings because someone somewhere said it was the best time for brainstorming and productivity. I tried Tomato Timer to manage working hours and Trello – to plan projects and control every minute of my day.
The problem is, you can’t plan everything.
For positive changes, I had to stop strict scheduling and start prioritizing tasks. It wasn’t easy to stand the thought of crossing out Facebook hours on evenings. As soon as I understood it was my productivity peak, I gave up social media for better work.
Another challenge I faced was taking time off.
I was sure that the more time I spent at the computer, the more tasks I would compete. Often I forgot or simply ignored dinners, making do with coffee and snacks. Needless to say, it ended with health problems. So I had to take medicines or spend time and money on doctors, which did no good for productive work, happy life, and peaceful self.
No matter what you do for a living, health should be your #1 priority. No one will need your productivity if you literally kill yourself to reach it.
2. Don’t do work and relaxation at the same place,
When working from home, I couldn’t resist the temptation of spending all the time in my bed. I wrote there, I ate there, I watched movies there, and I slept there. What can I say?
Never do that, even if you have a one-room apartment! Design a business area in it and work at the table rather than with a laptop on your knees.
That’s a psychological trick: when working and taking some rest at one place, none of them works out! In result, you’ll have a feeling that you work 24/7. Which, eventually, leads to fatigue and exhaustion.
What I did was separating my room into two zones.
One is for computer work: I have a comfortable office chair there, a table with all-in-one PC as well as a lamp and home plants on it. I spend the main part of my working day there.
Another zone is for relaxation and inspiration: this is my sofa where I can take a break from work, read a book, call to my mom, have a cup of coffee, or just meditate a bit.
3. Don’t be afraid of procrastination. Use it to your benefit instead.
What took the most energy from me was the attempts to deal with procrastination. I knew it was bad – countless blogs and infographics on how to beat this monster said that at least – but none of the tricks worked for me.
Unless I’ve made friends with my procrastination.
And you know what? It made me less stressed and more focused.
I followed the method of “incubation process” by Joseph Sugarman suggesting to think of a problem, postpone it, do something pleasant instead, and then go back to that problem with the best solution. Nothing strange here, as the most creative ideas are scientifically proven to come after procrastination.
Procrastination also improved my skills.
After writing long papers, I wasn’t in a hurry to proofread and edit them at once. It appeared that such procrastination provided me with a fresh look at my writings and allowed to see their flaws and strengths. Thanks to procrastination, I gave up the idea of multitasking that made me less productive and blocked my creativity.
The lesson learned? Everything is fine when it does a power of good. No need to force yourself, blocking your positive energy and killing your backbone.
4. Spend more time outside.
Among the biggest challenges for remote workers – unless they are travelers – is… leaving the house.
Sounds funny, but if you don’t have to go out when it’s a rainy November day outside – the only consistent decision seems to stay in bed under a cozy blanket and not leave it until the next summer.
So did I, and it was my one-way ticket to major issues with health. Since 2012, I’ve made it a habit to go out regularly, even if I have to work. What I do is go to co-workings or coffee shops and write articles from there.
5. Never work on weekends.
Sure thing, you might be passionate about your work, especially if it’s your personal project; but at least one day off a week is a must-have.
I had to say no to all those “I just quickly flip through the chat” or “I’ll be in the mail for a second”. Because those seconds turned into hours, made me think of work again, and eventually led to burnouts and nervous breakdowns.
It’s great when you get new ideas on a regular basis; but if they interfere with sleeping and spending time with close people, there will be no meaning in life other than work, tension, and fatigue.
All this comes with experience but, as they say, forewarned is forearmed.
I know people who couldn’t deal with freelance because they didn’t know how to organize the process. So they quit, got nervous, and recovered for a long time.
To feel the advantages of a remote job, you first need to make friends with it. Like I’ve done after five years of fighting for positive changes. Today I am happy I was able to recognize that point of no return, killing me in 2012.
Do you believe that a destroyed person can do that? What points of no return, if any, did you or your closed ones experience and defeat?