Note: This is the second of a two-part series about self-care for self-employed and freelance workers. This post focuses on mental health. For our post on physical health, click here.
First of all, to all the freelancers and self-employed entrepreneurs out there: we salute you. Taking on all the functions of a business on your own is no easy task and we see you hustling out there! We also know that when you’re a one-person show, you might be pushing some things to the back burner, including important facets of self-care.
When you’re on your own, you don’t have the benefit of…well, benefits, as in the health benefits that may come from an employer. This means you may be less likely to see a health care professional. In addition, without a workplace full of social cues, it is considerably harder to know where work life stops and home life begins.
That’s why it is so important for self-employed workers and freelancers to take steps to protect their mental health. Here are some tips to keep yourself in top shape so you can keep hustling!
Get to know your schedule
One of the benefits of being your own boss is that you don’t have to abide by a traditional 9-5: you can punch in when it is best for you. So take stock of your own circadian rhythm (your biological clock) and figure out what your ideal schedule is. Having said that, make sure you schedule breaks for yourself, no matter what shift you are on.
To get the most out of your times of peak energy, you may also want to consider tracking your time to see where your valuable hours are going. By using a spreadsheet or app to track what you’re working on and how long you spend doing it, you may find areas to make changes to. For instance, maybe you can reduce the time you spend checking email or consider making some of your regular meetings shorter.
Knowing where your time is going will help you use it more effectively, which makes it easier to separate your work and home time.
Start using micro-deadlines
You wouldn’t eat a huge meal in one gulp, right? Treat your projects the same way – in bite-sized functions. By breaking down a larger project into smaller tasks, you ensure no steps are missed, you earn the satisfaction of crossing items off a list and greatly reduce the stress that comes with rushing to meet a deadline. For instance, a task called “Client Presentation” could be broken down like this, each with its own deadline:
- Create presentation draft
- Proofread draft
- Make final edits
- Package file and send to the client
Since we’re on the topic of deadlines, only focus on one at a time, okay? Multi-tasking may seem effective on paper, but trust us, it isn’t. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, the act of switching back-and-forth between tasks in anything but efficient. One study in particular concluded that even though the act of switching between tasks is around one-tenth of a second, constantly jumping between tasks will take more time in the long run and involve more error. The study went on to explain, “Even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time.”
Know your value
Especially for freelancers, it can be hard to say no to any job. But you are not a workhorse: you are a human being with physical and mental limits, just like anyone else. And when you push yourself too far, you are not producing your best work, which is a disservice both to you and your clients. More importantly, you become stressed, which is directly tied to conditions such as heart disease, stroke and mental health problems. You deserve better than that.
That is why creating a gap between work life and home is incredibly important in your journey to self-care. To help separate the two, here are some ways you can start taking steps in the right direction:
- Have a designated log-off time…and stick with it.
- If you have the space for a home office, designate a single spot to do your work and nothing else. If you use a shared space like a dining room table, make sure you pack up your workspace at the end of the day.
- We cannot stress the importance of breaks enough, so make sure you take them throughout your day. One study has even landed on the “perfect productivity” ratio: 52 minutes of work, 17 minutes of break. That might not be feasible for everyone, so at the very least, take a break every 90 minutes. (For more physical health tips, check out part one in our series on self-care for self employed workers.)
Reach out for support
No matter how hard you work, it’s important to not allow your social life to take a backseat. Staying in contact with others is a key factor in staving off loneliness and depression, which can be easy to fall into when working alone, especially in the 24-34 age group. So, make sure you take the time to check in often with your friends and family via email, phone or video chat. If you’re able, try and meet up in person at least once a week.
Also, don’t be afraid to look into resources to help you cope with stress, such as finding a therapist for in-person or teletherapy sessions, trying yoga through online videos or using a meditation app to help you relax. You may be flying solo from a business perspective, but you’re not an island. Surround yourself with a strong support network and you’ll be well on your way to your self-care goals.
The bottom line: Freelancers and self-employed workers need to take extra care of their mental health due to working by themselves. Take a pulse of what your ideal schedule is and understand where your valuable hours are going. Break large tasks into smaller deadlines to eliminate error and stress. Know your limits and set boundaries to build space between work and home time. Surround yourself with a support network of loved ones and licensed mental health professionals: you might be working solo, but you’re not alone.