When I started freelancing in 2013, I had zero idea about what my life was going to look like. Freelancing was something that industry stalwarts considered just before retirement, after building their hefty client portfolio over the years. As a 24-year-old, I was not cut out for this, which is why I treated it as ‘extra pocket money’ for three years before realising this was going to be my way of life.
There’s a lot no one tells you about life as a digital nomad. For starters, it’s slow, sometimes extremely mundane, and anything but glamourous when you’re your own accountant, salesman, branding manager, executive, and designer. Thanks to social media, we take freelancing to be a glamorous career where you can work at exotic locations, order perfect coffees at client-meetings in a beach-side cafe, work in the middle of a jungle, go backpacking across South America for two months — you get the drift.
Yes, it is all of this, but there is a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes, things that social media doesn’t show us. What do you do when all your clients need your time? How do you prioritise? How do you set boundaries and expectations? How do you say no and when? Staying sane is a life skill, and it only comes through discipline.
Initially, be prepared for a hustle that looks #basic.
There is one secret to getting the dream job of a digital nomad – learning to stay sane. When you’re finding it tough to switch off from work, filled with anxiety about losing projects if you don’t make yourself available to the world, sanity is nothing but a distant dream. FOMO is big in the freelance world. More often than not, we allow FOMO to let us work our way to burnout.
So how does one freelance, stay sane, and not let work dominate life? Here are some tips that can help.
Manage Time With To-Do Lists
A to-do list is a fairly easy way to learn how to manage time and eventually discipline yourself. But many people struggle with creating it. A simple to-do list puts down all that needs to be done, but what’s the priority? Now that’s where the real struggle lies.
Divide your to-do list into four quadrants, and list tasks depending upon their urgency. Things like “Instagram post for a client” is a top priority, while “catch up with a friend” will be on the last quadrant, and so on.
Maintain Hours of Availability
Many think that freelancing as a digital nomad means working at any and all times of the day. That’s only partly true – you have deadlines to follow, timelines to stick to. Effective time management and prioritisation will help you plan your days. I find it right to hustle hard during the week and take the weekend off to rejuvenate, spend some time with loved ones, and most importantly, myself. Planning a week helps you understand your daily productivity, you bounce with more energy, and you’ll start to notice that the work you left for the weekend can easily be finished off over the week.
Personally, I switch on my laptop at 8:00 am and shut it at 6:30 pm, and even if I see an email that can be responded to at 9:00 pm, I don’t. My work timings are also mentioned on my email signature, and I put on a vacation responder on weekends too.
Switch on DND Mode
It’s Sunday evening, but instead of reading a book or being with your family, you’re sitting in front of your laptop, sending out pending emails and proposals to potential leads. You’re tired, jumpy, and vaguely cranky, but you push through because you have no other choice. If all of this sounds familiar, treat this as a reminder to take a break.
Our minds, just like our bodies, deserve a break. Research shows you’ll do better work if you take more time off and that working 24×7 could be counterproductive. Take time off from your laptop, switch on the DND Mode on your phone, read a book, bake, learn a language, cook, enjoy a nap, water your plants, do anything that helps you switch off and connect with yourself. Because, do you really want to take a client call on a Sunday afternoon when you’re halfway through your Sangria brunch, or do you want to set boundaries and have them respected?
Workout and Meditate
Staying physically, mentally, and emotionally fit should be important to everyone, freelance or not. But as a freelancer, it holds a special place in my heart because I’ve experienced growth via wellness.
Working out isn’t only about looking a certain way or fitting into those pair of pants; meditating isn’t only about pausing. Together they contribute to a more mindful way of living. Practising wellness habits will help build confidence and self-love, two things a freelancer needs to stay strong in a world where self-doubt is high.
Take up a form of workout that makes you happy, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the gym. Dance, sign up for yoga or dance your way to a fitter life. Take out 10-20 minutes daily for meditation.
Finding balance is a very individual process – for some, it is about a digital detox or connecting with people on the internet, and for others, it is about picking up their favourite book or meeting friends. The idea is to chase what works for you and not something that you think looks good. Find your balance to find your point of happiness.
Being a digital nomad is not just a career. It is a lifestyle. That involves a lot of emotional unlearning. But one learns to swim against the tide, eventually, with a smile in place.
All images: Courtesy Unsplash; Instagram: Dumbellsndrama