Why the break from 9-5 can mean work 24/7

So you go freelance, relish the freedom and settle down for an easier life.

Dream on.

She thought it was all feet-up Fridays and fun – then the bubble burst


Freelance is not easy, especially when you are always on the lookout for a new opportunity, but it can be made even more stressful when you realise that the old 9-5 was a hell of a lot kinder to your free time.

Freelance = working all hours

When you are not working, you are networking, reading your industry’s publications, blogs and news. There’s paperwork to be done, accounts to keep on top of, and advertising. Urgh, ask anyone… that’s the worst. Especially if you are not one of those who can sing your own praises.

When you are working, as in getting down to the job in hand, nitty-gritty this-is-what-you-were-trained-to-do working, things can also get complicated. Do you charge by the minute, by the hour or half-hour, do you still charge when you are taking a break (although I don’t some people seem to, after all, they say, if you were a wage-slave you’d actually get paid breaks) or do you only charge for the actual work?

Then there come the clients who seem to think that phone-calls at 9pm on a Sunday are acceptable, or throw a spanner in the works in the form of a deadline that has stretched so much you have to work into the night to fit the deadline that they set, and that they made neigh-on impossible by being late at their end.

So free time? Let’s just say there’s an art to it. But follow this five step challenge and things may get easier …

Young woman watching airplane fly by from tropical beach
Free time is sacred – don’t let the invaders in


1. Set boundaries

If you don’t mind phone calls in the middle of the night, fair enough. But if you value your free time when you start working for a client, put it in your T&Cs or tell them that you will be in your office between, say 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. So what if you don’t have an office and work from home? Separate work from home.

2. Take breaks

Yes, I know, easier said than done. But it’s vital to your health, both mental and physical. I myself am terrible for this, I know only too well how difficult it is to tear yourself away. But remind yourself that wearing yourself out won’t help in the long run. Take a break, have a coffee, get outside.

3. Do the paperwork as you go along

Really… it’s much easier than leaving it all until the end of the job and adding on a few hours of admin time.

4. Take a holiday

Yes, really. Even if it’s just booking in a week at home with no work. Put it on your calendar and promise yourself to refuse any work during that time. If a project slips, don’t ignore it, let the client know you have a holiday booked.

5. Relax

The world won’t end if you take a duvet day. Yes, you may have to catch up, but you can start the next day refreshed. It’s much better to take a day off than stare at a computer or try to get a project done when you are fatigued – you simply won’t be productive and a day off will recharge your batteries.

So, there was a reason you went freelance. Was it to tire yourself out and run yourself into the ground, or to make a decent living and be in charge of your own working hours? Don’t be beaten down, take charge and reclaim your free time.

16 Comments on “Why the break from 9-5 can mean work 24/7

  1. You said it all Sara-J. Every little bit. One good thing though – your clients seem to appreciate you more. Some of them, that is. And remember, you don’t have to take every job offered.

    And another drawback – you don’t get paid until the job is done, and probably a month after that as well. Happy days!

  2. Always nice to get that check, but yes, often the wait, especially after that holiday, although, I too, have mostly had on time or early payers. Great stuff, Sara. I really need to work on the daily boundaries and the vacation time thing…:)

    • Boundaries are THE hardest….especially when you want to stay professional but also don’t want to disappoint clients!

  3. So true! When my friends and family heard I was going freelance, they said they wish they could afford to do that – only working when they felt like it or taking all the time off they want. Ha, if only!

    Yes, it does have major advantages like taking time off during the day if needs be but that usually results in catching up, sometimes working until the wee hours.

    Freelancing suits my personality, it’s as simple as that. I excel at management. I detest working for ‘the man’ and being limited. There are no boundaries when you work for yourself, only goals, ambitions and challenges. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

      • Sara, I agree! Many people think that working from home means not really working — just playing around at working. So, now when I’m asked what I do, I no longer mention that I work “at home” or “from home”. I say that I run my own editing business, which of course is the truth.

      • yup…I do the same thing, I run my business online so I could be at home one day and somewhere else the next. Where I work isn’t important, it’s the quality of work and your relationship with your clients that matters.

        I’m terrible in that I now lock my door when I’m working… if anyone drops by “for a quick coffee” I can head it off by either saying I’m too busy or lay ground rules or, say an hour, because I have work to do. 😉

      • It is indeed, especially when it’s my elderly mum on the phone in the middle of the day: I find it very hard to tell her I really should be working. (I bet she doesn’t call my brother for a chat, because he works in a ‘proper office’…) I also have a problem with saying no to voluntary work, which people expect me to take on because they don’t regard my work as a real job. Maybe assertiveness training should be advised for all freelances!

      • Erm…me too on the voluntary front…but now I only say yes to the stuff that I *want* to do.

        It’s really hard though 😦

  4. I’ve been telling colleagues this kind of thing for years. The good news, though, is that freelancing doesn’t have to be quite 24/7 if you have a foundation when you start out, and that the business aspects get easier to handle as you go along. Also, the more successful you are, the less you should have to work. Eventually. Ideally.

    • Definitely Ruth! I think creating boundaries and doing paperwork as you go are vital.

      Still haven’t got to that last stage though 😉

  5. Pingback: Getting the Balance Right | Northern Editorial

  6. Pingback: The Catch Up Game | Northern Editorial

  7. Pingback: Top 5 Freelance Posts | Northern Editorial

  8. I worked as a piano teacher for many years before starting my editorial business and the same things apply – I have often found it difficult to keep my own time separate from work time. Some really helpful thoughts here. Thanks, Sara!

Leave a Reply to Ruth E. Thaler-Carter Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: