How to be a happy freelancer

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You went freelance to have a happier work/life balance, enjoy all the perks of working for yourself and be your own boss – so why do you feel so miserable, stressed and exhausted?

When we work for ourselves, we often make mistakes that lead us to hate our business rather than enjoy it. We forget the reasons why we went solo in the first place and become trapped in a vicious circle of negativity.

Being a business owner, you'll have many ups and downs. There will be times when you'll feel like pulling your hair out. You'll have unpleasant experiences with people, you'll sometimes mess up, and you'll forget to take regular breaks.

You may even work 15 hour days, seven days a week and push yourself to breaking point. No matter where you're going wrong, I've put together these top tips to help you become a happier freelancer.

Have a morning routine

When you work from home, it's all too easy to roll out of bed and stumble sleepily straight to your desk. Before you know it, it's 11 am, and you've not even had a shower or had breakfast. Adopt a healthy morning routine. Get up, have a shower, get dressed, shave/put on make-up, relax and have breakfast. Start work at 9 am like everyone else if you can.

Stick to regular working hours

Just because you work for yourself, doesn't mean you have to slog through every waking hour to make yourself a success. Avoid long working days by sticking to a normal routine, and adhering to normal office hours.

Studies have shown that working for more than seven or eight hours a day doesn't mean you'll get more work done. It's because your productivity levels will drop. You're best calling it a day at the same time every evening. There will always be more work to do, granted. But you have to accept that your job list can never be ticked off in one day. Trust me; things can wait until tomorrow.

Work when you want to

Of course, not everyone suits a regular working day. If you're most productive between 11 am and 2 pm and again between 5 pm and 8 pm, then work during those productive times. Don't spend more than seven or eight hours at your desk each day.

It doesn't matter how much work you've got to finish, if you're spending 15 hours at your desk in one session – it's time to figure out where you're going wrong. Consider any distractions and get rid of them. Turn off social media if it's ruining your concentration. Eight hours every day is all you need – make those hours as productive as possible.

Get your work environment right

A desk facing a brick wall in a darkened room isn't going to make anyone happy, so make sure your workspace is inviting and comfortable. Ensure there's lots of natural light, a window to look out of and your desk is clean and tidy. Get a decent office chair – an ergonomic one, if you can. And set yourself up so you can easily listen to music if it helps you to be happier.

Take regular breaks

Freelancers who forget to take breaks can become ill. I can't stress this enough – take time away from your desk. Breaks help you to recharge and boost your productivity. Health officials advise you take a five-minute break every hour, even if it's just to get up and stretch.

Know when to stop

Guess what! Just because everyone else is working 9 am until 5 pm without stopping, doesn't mean you have to! If you're having a bad day or you're feeling unproductive, put down your tools and take the rest of the day off. Put an 'out of office' responder on your emails, saying you're in meetings and add a suitable voicemail on your mobile. Clients won't know you're really in your local swimming pool or catching up with friends, so don't worry about it!

Get outside

A dose of daily sunshine is great for you. It's a scientific fact! Get outside, and breathe that fresh air, even if the sun isn't shining. There's nothing worse than feeling cooped up at home or in your office. It can leave you feeling isolated and depressed. Get outside and stretch your legs, even if you're going out to buy a sandwich for lunch.

Book holidays

Having something to look forward to is a beautiful thing when you freelance. Particularly when you've got a massive workload. Book regular breaks and holidays to keep yourself sane and have something to make all that hard work worthwhile. And when you're away? Leave the laptop and mobile at home, so you can completely switch off and recharge your batteries.

Exercise

Exercise is proven to reduce stress. Join a gym, if you can afford to, or dust off your bike and get out there. Do at least half an hour of exercise every day. I wouldn't be able to cope without my gym membership. It reduces my stress levels, keeps me sane, and when I'm pounding the treadmill, I often come up with solutions to many problems I'm facing.

Eat well, sleep well

Look after yourself by adopting a healthy diet and ensure you're getting plenty of sleep every night. Avoid alcohol if you can and save it for special occasions. Alcohol is a depressant, so although you think it makes you feel better after a stressful day, it'll make you feel worse. Alcohol also disrupts sleep, and you'll feel terrible the next day. Eat well, drink lots of water and get a good night's rest. Leave the alcohol to the weekends.

Get out and about

It's easy to get cabin fever when you work from home, so turn your business into a virtual or remote company, so you can work from wherever you like. Grab your laptop, store work in the cloud and use mobile apps that help you manage your business on the go. Make the most of being your own boss and have a better work/life balance.

Be impeccable with your word

No matter where you are, what you're doing, or who you meet, always be impeccable with your 'word'. Never bitch, slander or moan about anyone. Those poisoned words might make you feel better in the short term, but they'll only come back to haunt you. Saying and doing nice things instead makes you happy – it's a fact, so really think about what you say to people in business.

Don't make assumptions

Most of our miseries come from making assumptions about other people. For example, that client you know who drove past you the other day and didn't wave back? They weren't ignoring you – they didn't see you! Or that fellow freelancer who was supposed to call and never did – it's not because you did something wrong!

You'll no doubt torture yourself over assumptions like these. Stop! Everyone is dancing to their music and perceives things differently. So always assume the best! And if the worst happens? It happens. Just don't waste precious time and energy inventing dramas or issues that might not even exist.

Don't dwell on negativity

Why are we programmed to remember the bad things people say or do rather than the good? It's in our nature to dwell on negativity, but we can change the way we think. If someone attacks, snubs or hurts you, don't spend ages analysing the situation – learn to move on. Instead, make sure you remind yourself of all the positive things people say about you and your work. It will help you to stay focused and happy.

Never burn bridges

In business, there will be many situations when you have to deal with difficult people or clients. Whatever you do, always stay positive and never burn any bridges. The creative industries can be a small pond, and you never know when you're going to bump into people again.

Have money in the bank

Nothing is more stressful than living each month 'on the edge' and being constantly worried about when the next paycheque will come in. Stop this misery by having a cash reserve. And while you're at it, keep your overheads low and avoid lengthy contracts with expensive things, such as vehicle contract hire or mobile phone agreements. You don't want to overburden yourself with too many expenses or bills to pay.

Always save for your tax bill

We all do it – leave the tax bill to the last minute, that is. To be a happier freelancer, start saving for your next one every month. Put money aside and don't touch it! Remember, it was never yours to keep in the first place, so leave it alone to avoid a nasty shock at the end of the financial year.

Do what you love

Freelancing sometimes means we offer services that we don't enjoy. While it's often tempting to broaden your offering, you might end up doing more of what you hate, rather than what you love. If you can, stick to what you enjoy, and take steps to ensure you win more of that particular work.

Don't overburden yourself

It's all too easy to book in too much work, especially when you want to make as much money as possible to avoid those quieter months. It might seem strange at first, but you really should stop over-committing yourself and have a more manageable workload.

I'm not saying turn work away – try and find ways to manage workload more effectively. Why not create a strict work diary and tell new clients that you can serve them, but only within a specific timeframe? It might not work for everyone, but you could certainly give it a try.

Pat yourself on the back

Freelancing is tough. It requires a load of discipline and skill. If you're running a successful business – and by successful I mean you're making ends meet – then you should be darn proud of yourself. Pat yourself on the back and be proud of what you've achieved. Not everyone can go solo. You've done it, so be happy about that.

Always do your very best

Freelancing brings all sorts of challenges, stresses and pressures. But if you always do your very best, you can't ever be hard on yourself. Be the best you can be, go above and beyond, and you'll always be happy that you did all that you could. And your clients, colleagues, associates and fellow freelancers will always praise and love you for it.