We’re fast approaching Blue Monday (Monday 21 January). This dismal day is widely believed to be the most depressing of the year thanks to a triple whammy of post-Christmas blues, cold nights and massive credit card bills.
For freelancers, this can be heightened by a seasonal slowdown in commissions, making you panic that your clients are abandoning you and that your career is on the slide. And it's when our tax return is due in a matter of days.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you’re feeling dragged down by January Blues, here’s some solid advice to pull you right up again. Follow these steps, and you’ll soon be back on track, feeling positive and upbeat about the year ahead.
1. Stop worrying about money
You’re feeling sluggish, and dispirited, but you’re not sure why. Nothing particular is going wrong; you’re just lacking in energy and motivation. Could something be weighing on your mind...?
If so, the most common culprit is money. It’s easy to lose track of where you are with your finances, tax and VAT. But just pushing these things to the back of your brain, rather than addressing them, is a sure route to listlessness and low mood. So it’s time to grasp the nettle. And the good news is that there are lots of online services that can make dealing with tax and finances a breeze.
Our favourite is Coconut. A current account that takes care of both your banking and your tax, in one free app, it’s specifically designed with freelancers in mind. That means that, unlike other apps, you don’t have to spend time and energy working out how to fit it into your life; it already does.
Download Coconut on iOS or Android and you can open an account in minutes with a passport or driving licence. Once you’re approved, you’re ready to do business, and you’ll find tracking your expenses, getting paid on time by clients, and completing your tax return are so much easier. And perhaps even more important than the money you’ll save is how much this will lift your mood; not just in January but throughout the year.
2. Make backup plans for slow workdays
It’s a fact of freelance life that January and February tend to be drier months than most for work. After the “feast” of November and December, when clients are desperately trying to get stuff done before the holidays, comes the “famine” when everything slows down. Typically, January and February see companies taking a fresh look at the year ahead and prioritising strategic planning before commissioning any actual creative work.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get work with a little hustling and enthusiasm, but it may be that you have a few days in January and February where you’re kicking your heels and waiting for that next commission. So it’s essential to have a game plan, lest you waste your time unproductively and become more frustrated than ever.
There are plenty of productive ways to spend your time that may not earn you money directly but will make you more employable, perhaps at higher rates, over the longer term. You could devote your downtime to improving your portfolio site or social media presence (is your Behance or LinkedIn profile, for example, the best it could be?). You could start learning a new skill, such as coding or 3D software. You could reconnect with past clients who’ve fallen by the wayside; attend a creative event and do some networking; write a guest post for a popular blog, or stretch your skills by becoming involved with an open-source project.
The important thing is to choose how you’re going to spend your downtime, and then commit to it fully. Because spending three days in a darkened room watching Netflix, while continually hitting refresh on your email inbox in the hope of more work, is not going to help anyone.
3. Ditch your resolutions!
New Year’s Resolutions can be a great way to motivate you to improve yourself over the year ahead. But because we often find it challenging to keep to them, they can also be a common cause of stress and low mood.
If your resolutions are weighing you down, don’t beat yourself up about it. There’s no law to say that you can’t learn from failing at New Year’s Resolutions, ditch them, and maybe make new ones instead.
For example, let’s assume your goal was to learn to code and create your portfolio website. But you’ve hit a wall and can’t get your head around anything beyond basic HTML and CSS. Rather than beat yourself up, focus on the positive: for example, what you’ve learned so far will help you communicate and collaborate better with web developers in future. Then perhaps you might decide to reframe your goal in more realistic terms. For example, your new resolution could be to build a portfolio site using a platform like Squarespace and then over time customise it using the bits of code you can master.
We’re not saying you should wimp out of your resolutions at the slightest sign of stress, of course. But equally, if they’re making you miserable, then stop punishing yourself — instead, pivot to something you find more enjoyable and treat it as a lesson learned.
4. Be less isolated
One of the best things about being a freelancer, working from home, is that you don't have a daily commute. But the downside of spending every day working from home is the social isolation that can result, which can have a significant effect on mood; something that can creep on you unexpectedly. So it’s worth taking some positive steps to force yourself to get out and about.
For example, maybe it would be good to work one day a week in a co-working space. Alternatively, if your client’s office is local and has spare capacity, might it be useful to ‘embed yourself’ there once in a while? (This is a growing trend for creative freelancers, as it often leads to far more meaningful meetings and discussions than those held over Skype.)
Also, check out creative meetups and events in your region; you may be surprised by how many opportunities there are for freelancers to meet and network (we’re all in the same boat, after all).
And beyond that, even working in a coffee shop or pub regularly can help lift your mood and boost your creativity. Try it and see: what’s the worst that can happen?
5. Start a new hobby
Although you love what you do for a living, the brutal fact remains that you do it every day, and repetition can make anything seem like a chore. The start of a new year can often heighten the feeling that nothing in your life ever changes, that you’re stuck on an endless conveyor belt from now until eternity.
With that in mind, it can be useful to shake things up by starting a new hobby, one that’s completely divorced from your day to day creative work and that gives you new and exciting goals to aim for.
Whether you want to start a band, delve into ceramics, or learn to surf, pick something you’ve always wanted to do. Try it with passion and commitment, and then whether you’re good at it or not won't matter. It’s all about bringing back a sense of anticipation and thrill into your life, raising your mood and helping to bring back your creative mojo.