Balancing Freelance Work with a Full-Time Job

balancing freelance and full-time work

I started working for Don’t Panic Management as a freelance content writer back in May. I work full-time as reviewer, editor, and web administrator for a children’s book review journal, and I was comfortable both with freelance writing (several years’ worth of book reviews before I joined the company full-time) and with blogging. How hard could it be, right?

Wrong. Juggling my day job with my DPM projects (along with a serious dance habit, my relationship, and a social life) has come with a pretty steep learning curve. It’s a work in progress—I’ve definitely pulled some all-nighters and worked during lunch breaks, and probably will find myself there again—but here are a few things I’ve learned in the process.

Designate Dedicated Worktime…

Set aside specific blocks of time in your schedule to work on freelance projects. I like to get up early and work on freelance projects from about 6 to 9 am before I head into my day job. This is perfect for me because I start my full-time job at 10 am and have a super-short commute. And let’s be honest, the last thing I want to do when I get home from work is more work. Early-morning hours may not be the right time for you, but the important thing is to schedule in time for freelance projects rather than winging it.

…and Sacred Free Time

Early on, I promised myself that I wouldn’t work for either job on the weekends unless the situation were truly dire. My boyfriend’s job is extremely demanding and requires a lot of late nights, so our time together on weekends is precious. Add to that the fact that my weekends tend to be pretty jam-packed with dance obligations (rehearsals, performances, teaching class…), leaving pretty much zero time or energy for work. Instead of spending weekends feeling like I should be working but not actually working, I purposely give myself that time off.

The Timer Is Your Friend

DPM uses FreshBooks to track hours. While FreshBooks allows you to add your hours manually, I love the timer function. It lets me take as many breaks as I need (for as long as I need) and then get right back to work. (More on the awesomeness of working with a timer later.)

Get Off the Couch

Make sure you have a space where you can get into the work mindset, even though you’re at home. If you’re on the couch, it’s way too tempting to get sucked into leisure-time activities (cat videos, anyone?). On extra-distracted days, I head out to a coffee shop or library to get out of comfy-couch mode into a more productive mood.

Another thing about workspaces: if you live with a partner or roommate, keep your workspace away from the living room or other hang-out places, and/or schedule your work time around typical relaxation time. Working while you can see someone else kickin’ back is the worst (rivaled only by working with a movie or video game as background noise).

Know Thyself

Be realistic about your work style, the work you are doing, and your own limits. Since my day job entails a ton of writing, reading, and editing, I know that I’m usually burned out on the written word by the time I get home. I also know that I tend to procrastinate and work better in short sprints than slow-and-steady. Knowing all of that about myself and the requirements of my work has helped me work more productively.

A few tricks I’ve found helpful (applicable for both jobs):

  • Whenever possible, I don’t schedule freelance work right after my day job.
  • Having a work playlist helps me get in the zone (I like Spotify’s “Deep Focus”).
  • Taking breaks is crucial—embrace the cat videos and dance parties!
  • Eating and caffeinating regularly is a must to avoid hangriness.
  • Occasionally I have to call it quits for the day if I’m not getting anywhere.

On that last point: sometimes you have to just throw in the towel, particularly if it’s late at night or you’ve had a long, stressful day. One of the great things about using a timer to track your work time is that you can log even tiny increments. If you start a project but ten minutes in realize a more productive use of your time and brainpower right now would be making dinner (or sleeping, or whatever), those ten minutes aren’t lost. Of course this doesn’t work if you’re up against a deadline—so planning ahead is essential to building in that “not now” time.

Stay Connected

When you’re working remotely—especially at odd hours—it’s easy to feel lonely. I have found it super helpful to know that my DPM colleagues are plugging away as well. Having a day job isn’t really conducive to co-working in Sococo with my teammates, sadly, but I do take advantage of our closed Facebook group to catch up on their lives. Our warm email exchanges frequently make my day (thanks, guys!).

It’s OK to Feel Overwhelmed

Feeling overwhelmed is no fun, and it’s not really sustainable long-term. But here’s another true thing about feeling overwhelmed: it doesn’t mean you’re not doing a good job.

I recently moved to a new apartment, then immediately went on a ten-day vacation to the UK. The lead-up to these two events was hectic and extremely stressful, especially given that I was working ahead on projects that would be due during my trip—for both jobs. And I was co-organizing and performing in a major dance event. My tendency during this period (and during other overwhelmed times) was to believe I was doing something wrong: if I were more on top of things, I wouldn’t be so stressed out! In reality, the situation was crazy, and I could see that once I took a step back. It also helped that I continued to get positive feedback from both jobs and from my fellow dancers. I frequently remind myself that I’m doing a good job even if I feel like a hot mess.

Despite the challenges of balancing all the different facets of my life, freelancing with DPM has been a great addition. It’s given me an enthusiastic and supportive team of coworkers, flexibility in my work schedule, and—most importantly—a measure of financial stability I haven’t had before. And while I’m still figuring it all out, I’m looking forward to continuing that journey!

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