Is There a Dark Side of Freelancing? (and How to Deal With It)

We all know that, in theory, freelancing is the ultimate dream job … There’s no daily schedule, no one forces you to get up in the morning, no boss to stand behind you, and you can essentially get as much or as little work done every day as you please.

But is it really that great? As it turns out, for many people who have already entered the freelancing world, it isn’t.

And to be honest, I was one of those people at some point. Consumed by the dark side I was (you could say).

So, what does this even mean – what is the dark side of freelancing?

Here’s the dark side

Quite simply, the dark side is when your freelancing career takes a slightly different turn than you’ve expected.

For instance, it’s when instead of having no one to dictate your daily schedule, you end up with a handful of people doing it.

It’s also when instead of deciding how much work you want to do on your own, you have your clients making this decision for you.

Or when instead of having no boss, your every client tries to boss you around in one way or the other.

So where does the trouble usually start? And also, what to do to either not fall into the dark side, or get out of it as soon as possible?

First signs of things going bad

Your experience may differ, but for me, the first realization that things were not going well was when I noticed that immediately upon getting up in the morning I already felt I had too much work to do and too little time to handle it. To put it simply, that was not what I signed up for with this line of career.

Generally speaking, every kind of job should be sort of balanced. No matter what you do, you should be confident that you always have at least 5-8 hours every day to spend on relaxation, hobbies or whatever else that’s not work-related.

So the rule of thumb is actually pretty simple … if you don’t have those 5-8 hours, the dark side has gotten to you.

And please don’t give me this “I’m working now so I can reap the benefits later” -speech. This is not a good way to live your life. And if you’re not convinced by what I’m saying then let me bring some more people into the picture.

Things we regret

There was an interesting study done in my country some time ago. Unfortunately, I can’t give you the “where” or “when” because I don’t remember exactly, but I promise I’m not making anything up.

The study was conducted in a nursing home of some kind. A group of people was asked about the things they regret the most looking back at their lives.

The top answer was: Living a life other people thought was right, instead of living their own way.

Another answer: Working too much.

For me, this is quite serious. If those are the things people regret in the long rum then is it really worth to “work now so you can reap the benefits later?” In theory, it makes sense. But in practice, “later” never comes.

Freelancing balance

The solution that got me out of the dark side, and the one I advise you to try for yourself is focusing on balancing your work by reducing freedom.

Yes, I know, freedom is what makes a freelancer, but as it turns out it doesn’t actually do any good to improve our productivity.

Therefore, start by setting fixed work hours.

Pick your most productive period of the day and dedicate to working a certain number of hours during that period.

The exact number of hours is up to you.

Now the most important part is to stick with the schedule and not work outside of the hours you’ve set. And I really mean it.

If you set your work time to 9-5 then after 5PM you are done no matter what. No more email, no more proofreading, no more contacting clients. Done.

However, this also means that you have to remain focused throughout the whole 9-5 period because if you get distracted and end up watching some cat videos on YouTube, you won’t be able to make up for the lost time.

This may sound like a brutal change, but it actually brings a number of benefits.

Benefits of getting out of the dark side

The most surprising thing about this sort of mindset is that instead of reducing your freedom, you’re actually becoming more free than you’ve ever been. It’s all because your “free time” REALLY IS your free time. You don’t have to worry about some pending work, and you get 5-8 hours every day to take part in some great non-work activities.

Your diet will also get back on track. Snacks will stop being the core of your nutrition and you will be able to eat like a human being again. With more spare time you can even learn how to cook great meals and then enjoy them in peace (exactly what happened to me).

Let’s face it. Our job is not the only thing that defines us. It should never be like that. There are just too many cool things to do every day, and if you stick with a fixed schedule, you will be able to enjoy them all.

Dealing with clients

In short, don’t worry about it. Your new way of working will have no impact on your clients whatsoever.

First of all, there’s a reason why they’re called “clients” and not “customers.” The main difference is that clients are people who work with you to create something bigger. Customers are people who come to your store, buy something from you, and leave.

Or to put it in perspective, freelancers who write $5 articles have customers. Those with $100+ articles have clients.

Customers get frustrated when there’s no one at the cash register in the store. Clients can understand that you have your work hours and if they send you an email at 5PM, you won’t respond until 9AM the next day.

Your clients can really adjust to your work schedule with no problems. Besides, do you actually want to attract people who expect you to respond to their emails within 5 minutes … round the clock, at every time of the day or night?

Cut-out-’n-keep guide

Here’s the set of guidelines in a concise form:

  • Assess the problem. Do you have 5-8 hours of free time every day? Do you ever find yourself regretting that you work so much?
  • Strike a balance. Set a number of work hours and pick a fixed daily schedule.
  • Stick with the schedule. No work can be done outside of the schedule.
  • Use your free time to have fun, learn new things and grow as a human being.
  • Be confident about what you’re doing.

Just give it a month. I’m sure you can afford such an experiment… If it doesn’t work, you can always get back to your previous schedule of all-day-long working.

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