“Some days you feel like you’ve done everything you need to. Other days I feel like I give up before I ever get started.”
Productive days aren’t as frequent as you might think, especially if this symptomatic sound-bite from a freelancing friend is anything to go by.
There’s a misleading perception that seven hours of productive work each day is normal (or eight if you really hate yourself and eat your lunch at your desk). It’s a myth upheld by nine-to-five drones and their thirty-seven hour contracted working week.
What a wretched pile of steaming horse shit.
Without the pretence of looking busy in front of corporate peers, as a freelancer you quickly realise that even four hours active work is a very productive day. And a realistic day of work must accommodate biscuits, poos and wees, day-dreaming or aimless chin-wags with colleagues. These things aren’t essential in the traditional sense, but they’re things that make your working day worth turning up for.
Motivation is the hand that guides every freelancer, and occasionally it doesn’t so much guide you as pull your pants down, slap you in the neck and then point at you. Progress is slow some days when distractions and apathy conspire against you (much like they do to our freelancer friend above) and this is about how you deal with it.
Think about what a realistic productive day is again (i.e. less frequent and shorter than you perceive it to be) and let’s consider the implications.
Practically, it means that one billable day for a client (that they perceive as seven hours remember) might actually span two or more days (rather than one). You’ve a duty to remind your clients of that. But emotionally it should have a profound effect on the expectations you have of yourself.
It’s about sensing what you’re truly capable of on a given day and adapting your activities to suit it. It’s the difference between when to write a day off and casually tie up loose ends, or take advantage of a day of applied concentration to accomplish tasks you’ve been avoiding. But more importantly, it’s about realising that both kinds of day are completely normal.
The least helpful reaction would be to set your expectations astronomically high, fail to accomplish everything you intended to do and then feel unhappy about it. That’s a guaranteed way to have a very shit time and erode what little motivation you have left for tomorrow when it all begins again.
Instead it’s better to lower your expectations to a level closer to reality. Track your time to measure what your productive day is for example, become aware of when you naturally crave breaks from applying yourself and learn the difference between being lazy and genuinely tired.
Good and bad days continue to happen whether you like them or not. And adaptable human freelancers with resilient fortitude simply pull up their pants and get on with enjoying the journey.
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