Freelancing: How to Deal with Long Working Hours
Working long hours is in many cases a must for freelancers. In the beginning of starting up your own business as a freelancer/small business owner, you will always see that it takes more work than expected. This can be a tough challenge for many, especially if you come right from studies or a 9-5 job. Getting rid of these long hours completely will prove almost impossible, so the best you can do is to try dealing with them as well as you can.
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In this article I am focusing on how to deal with it once you're there, along with finding ways to minimize these situations when possible. Remember that for creatives in particular it can be hard to stop and have a break if you're in the middle of something. It can prove hard to say NO to new projects, even if you know you don't really have the time. Still there are things that can be done to make this better for you and your business, both short term and long term.
When Do You Work Long Hours?
Typically you would see yourself working long hours under certain given circumstances. These are usually:
- Starting up as a freelancer
- Starting up a new business in general
- Closing up on deadlines
- Catching up for lost time (low efficiency, having been sick and so on)
- To make up for having set a busy schedule
- Taking on too many tasks to be able to deal with during "normal" work hours.
Tips To Handle Long Working Hours
Here are some tips from me that have proven to work well, at least for myself. I hope you find something here that can help you and give you ideas to come up with your own tips.
Take Regular Breaks
This is a must. I read somewhere a few years back that for every hour you work, you should get up off your chair for at least five minutes or more. As mentioned it can be hard to get up and walk around if you are in the middle of a design, research and so on, but this is very important. I started using this practice myself some time back and immediately saw improvements in my productivity. If it's hard to keep track of time you should get a time management app, timer or even use the alarm on your cellphone to remind you of this.
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Get a coffee, have a look out the window or just walk around your office a bit. Your eyes will feel better and your blood-flow gets back up and going. Also your arms and neck need these breaks if you've spent the whole day in front of the computer.
Eat! (Away from the Keyboard)
You probably have set times for breakfast, lunch and dinner already - but many tend to forget that when you work those late hours your body still needs the regular refill.
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A good practice would be to have a meal or snack at least every three or four hours . If you forget this one, the hours may feel a lot longer and you will get tired quicker. Take this opportunity to get away from your keyboard and eat somewhere else.
Getting regular exercise is important for everyone, especially those of us having a job where we sit still most of the day. Use your imagination and the options are endless; cycling, hiking, hours at a gym, aerobics, tennis, swimming and more.
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If you try to include others in your exercises you will also feel better mentally as social activities always are a good thing.
It's important to have a life offline as well. This helps you stock up on some extra energy for those long hours, and also helps your brain get a time-out from all the work. Take time for this and it will be a good boost to your productivity and mental health for sure. Make sure to leave room for this, as working alone can have many negative effects on both how you feel and how well you produce.
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Take Vacations / Days Off
To be able to keep a good quality to what you do and stay in good health, you will be in need of days off. If you've had a period of many late days before the finishing of a project - schedule one or more days off. If you can't find the time for taking a longer vacation in your current situation, you should still get at least a day off occasionally. Looking at it from a longer perspective this will most definitely increase your overall productivity.
Image credit: Kirstie Joy
Plan Open Hours
This is more of a general freelancing tip. When you plan your weeks you should always leave a few hours open each week. This way you will be able to use these for that extra work that "always" seems to come up no matter what you do. This can increase the need for those extra hours and save you when changes need to be done last minute to a project .
If you sit by the computer for 10+ hours some days, you will eventually experience some sort of issues with your eyes/arms/neck/muscles. One way to deal with this can be to look for alternative ways of doing some of your work. If you write a lot - a thing as simple as using pen and paper to take notes once in a while, switching to another computer or using a voice recorder can be golden. I've found this very helpful personally and can definitely advise others to try this out. Sometimes when I'm brainstorming for articles I turn on the voice recorder on my phone and go for a walk. Many of my best ideas were born away from the keyboard.
No matter what equipment you have you will most likely experience some sort of injuries unless you change it every now and then. Check out different mousepads, keyboards and chairs. Sometimes it can be as simple as having two chairs that you switch between, same goes for mouse and keyboard. Your body wasn't made for doing the same movements for that many hours in a day - which is why you get those injuries.
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The quality of your equipment is important, but so is the option to change it. Get a chair that is good to sit in – it'll be worth the extra money. And change your position during the day as much as possible. Variety will do you well.
Set Work Hours
Even though you work extra hours it's important to remember to get up at your normal time. If you're not able to do this, you could easily get stuck in a pattern of working late almost every single day in order to make up for waking up or starting too late. Most of us are more efficient earlier in the day so you can get a lot more done for each hour worked then.
Try Out a Different Environment
If you're having a late meeting try looking for alternative surroundings. The client's office or a coffee shop can be a good change of scenery instead of doing everything from your own office all the time. Not only will you get to switch chairs and surroundings, but you can also get new energy and creativity from the change.
Starting Your Day Earlier
To turn things around a little bit I'd like to suggest for you to start your day earlier when you can. You can save yourself some of those really late work hours in this way. It could feel a bit hard to get up an hour or two earlier, but after a week or two of practising it you will find it a lot easier.
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The morning hours are usually a bit quieter too, so the possible distractions are fewer. By trying this you could be more efficient and get your evenings off to socialize and relax.
Don't Mix Work and Private Errands
If you're set to work late, don't interrupt yourself by going to the grocery store or taking private phone calls and emails when you're supposed to be working. This will steal from your already full hours and possibly have you working even later until you're done. Leave personal errands until after you've finished to make sure you are efficient and get finished as "early" as possible.
Love Your Office Space
If you work in an office that you can decorate, do it! Make sure that this room where you will spend so much time working, is a room that you like. Light and/or bright colors often trigger creativity. Having a desk with lots of clutter can be a good thing for many creative souls, but make sure that the rest of the room is tidy. Bring in some decorations, make sure there is enough light and have a good temperature in the room. Make sure it's a room that you enjoy walking into. If possible this should also be a room that is not in daily use for any other purposes as this can ruin your work peace when you put in late hours.
Image credit: Benfor
I hope these tips have given you some new ideas on how to be able to deal better with the situation of having to work long hours. Remember that there are always many ways to improve and adjust to how you work. Your body and brain are your tools and you need to take good care of them. Take that hourly five minute break even if you don't feel like you need it. Many work-related injuries come sneaking up on you over a long period of time. By following some of these tips you can slow that process down, maybe even stop it completely.
I hope you've enjoyed it. As always it would be great to see you leave your feedback in the comments along with sharing the article if you like it.