Guest Post: Work Less, Earn More & Get a Life

I’m honored to share a guest post with you today from the wonderful Jennifer Mattern on how to work less, earn more, and get a life beyond freelancing. Today’s post covers phases one: the workaholic and phase two: exhaustion. Check out the first part of this post for Phase one: Workaholic and Phase two: Exhuastion –today’s post is on Phase three: Taking control.

Jennifer Mattern is a freelance business writer and professional blogger who writes about freelance writing, social media, indie publishing, and small business. She also publishes e-books for freelance writers and is scheduled to publish her first nonfiction book, The Query-Free Freelancer, next year. Jennifer Mattern is behind All Freelance Writing, ProBusiness Writer, and Social Implications. Check out her sites — the lady knows her stuff.

How to Work Less, Earn More and Get a Life Beyond Freelancing – Phase Three: Taking Control

Once I resolved to make changes, I was able to identify my underlying problem. I was stuck in the “work more” mentality rather than the “work smarter” one. To get more done I didn’t have to work more hours. I just had to learn to use the time I did devote to work more efficiently.

One of the biggest changes I made was to my working hours. No more did I get out of bed when I felt like waking up, telling myself I could work as late as I needed to. I knew that I was completely unproductive in the afternoons. I chained myself to my desk but still didn’t get much done during those hours. I started setting my alarm for 4:00am.

While I can’t say I pull off my “new” schedule every single work day, I do most of the time. And the benefits are amazing. I have an hour to do whatever I need to do to wake myself up — make coffee, work out, make a decent breakfast. Then I start work around 5:00am. I work until noon — figure an eight hour day, but my lunch hour is the last one (starting at noon). That leaves me with seven working hours a day.

Done By Lunchtime

I get more done in those seven hours than I ever got done working from dawn ’til dusk. Why? Because my brain is alert. The world is quiet at that hour. And I can finish a day’s worth of work long before that afternoon slump kicks in. I learned to plan out my days in a way that let me optimize my time. And after a while, I did that so effectively that I was able to move to a four-day work week.

That’s right. I work a whopping 28 hours per week and earn a full-time living that’s better than most 9-5ers I know. And at noon each day, when most people are taking a lunch break before moving into another few hours of work, I’m free to do whatever I want. I can enjoy the sunny afternoons, run my errands, take care of housework, or pursue hobbies. I took control of my life again rather than letting the work control me.

You can too.

By all means, you don’t have to choose to get up at 4:00am or only work four days per week. But you can figure out what your own ideal work-life balance is, and you can make it happen. Here are the basic steps to doing just that.

  1. Identify the problem. Are you working too much overall? Are you feeling drained? Are you trying to force yourself to work during unproductive times of the day?
  2. Know your worth. That goes beyond knowing what to charge clients for your time. It means knowing the value of your non-work time as well. Until you value that, you won’t be able to effectively find balance.
  3. Build your platform. Unlike some marketing tools, your platform works for you 24/7. Yes, you’ll spend more time up front to build your base. But the maintenance is reasonable (like updating your blog or participating in interviews periodically). You can take breaks when you need to, and your platform still attracts new prospects.
  4. Learn to delegate. Lose the “I can do it all” mentality. Sure, you can do a lot on your own. But that doesn’t always mean you should. If it would cost you more in billable hours than what you’d pay to have something done, delegate the task to someone else. That’s especially true if your working hours are already accounted for by other tasks.
  5. Improve your productivity. Detail your working days for a while. Where is time wasted? When do you procrastinate? When do you get the most done? Choose the right work schedule, plan your tasks ahead of time with to-do lists or daily schedules, or do whatever you need to do to more efficiently use your working hours. Then you can finally cut back on the total number of them you need to work each week. When you come to value your time off more, you’ll find it’s easier to increase your productivity because you’ll want to get more done so you don’t have to sacrifice your non-work time.
  6. Be firm about it. Let clients know if you change your availability. But more importantly, be firm with yourself. Your work time is for work only. Your personal time is not for work, so stay away from it during those hours. It’s okay if you have to make rare exceptions (such as a pressing client deadline that you’ll miss due to your own error), but “rare” is the key word there.

I can honestly say I get done more in a typical four day work week now than I ever did pulling crazy long hours on a regular basis. I love my work even more. I have time to do whatever I want to do outside of work. And even though my work availability might seem counterintuitive, clients have, for the most part, actually been happier — they get projects turned around faster when I work during hours when I’m most productive.

You can find the right balance for you too. Have you already? Do you have other tips to share? Leave a comment and tell us about it!

[Image Credit: flickr user Garrett Crawford]

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