5 Sanity Tips for the Overworked Consultant

Are you feeling burnt out today?

Is freelancing taking it’s toll on you?

Are you questioning why on earth you ever thought you were cut out for freelancing?

That Friday Check (or cheque for my Canadian readers)

It was a Friday in my first year of freelancing and it was pay day, just like every other Friday.

Things were slow so the money wasn’t in the account and I hadn’t been talking to my wife about it. (Yeah that’s a bad idea)

So I called a great client in the next town and asked them about the payment they owed me. Lucky for me they said yes and I took my wife out for a drive to get the check.

2 weeks later it was a similar story with similar players and I wondered if I was even cut out for freelancing.

Working till midnight

I no longer remember what day of the week it was or quite what year it was in my freelance career but we had a kid and she still cried a bunch in the night so that means it’s in the last 3 years.

It was around midnight and I had finally finished work and was trying to go to sleep but that kid was crying again as babies do and my wife needed my support.

See I had been working all hours for a while which meant I wasn’t being the dad or husband I wanted to be and I knew it.

I grabbed my daughter and rocked her as she cried full blast in my face and my wife grabbed a few precious hours of sleep with the fan on (to drown out the crying).

Then I got a few hours of sleep but when the alarm went off I cried because I simply couldn’t do this freelance thing. It was too much working late and then dealing with a kid and then having to get up and knowing I’d be working late again, and still have to work on the weekend.

I wondered if I was really cut out for freelancing.

Still late

Then there was the time when my daughter was sleeping well and I had lots of work. Who complains about lots of work?

No one complains about that after needing to drive to a client to get paid so you could get paid.

But I was still working late (though not weekends since I was the primary care giver on weekends) and there wasn’t really an end in sight.

I wondered when I’d learn enough about freelancing that it felt like I had it together.

Fridays

For the last 2 years I’ve tried to keep my Fridays to myself for some recharge time.

But in the last 6 months there was this client that always had some big question or phone call on Friday that I simply had to be around for.

I let them talk me in to Fridays over and over.

I was tired and felt over worked.

I wondered if I should get a job or something since this freelancing thing is hard.

Freelancing is hard

Are you seeing a pattern here? In the last 6 months I’ve sat at my desk or at the coffee shop and wondered if I’m really cut out for this freelancing gig.

I’ve felt burnt out and over worked.

I’ve felt bullied and like I didn’t have anything together.

Now I simply have a few years of perspective that help me step back and know I’d rather work for myself than almost anything else.

I also have 5 things that I know are more important than taking that final call or writing one more line of code. These 5 things help me live a life of sanity.

1. No Fridays

No is an important word to learn and I stick to my guns on NO for my Fridays. Now it’s a 9am mastermind meeting with some of the most awesome business people I know.

Usually a bike ride follows for a few hours.

Then I read or maybe hang with my kids.

It’s an investment in my relaxation and sanity because running a business is not a sprint, it’s a long haul committment to keeping on keeping on.

2. Invest in me

Part of this is my Fridays off and part of this is being willing to spend some money on my business and myself to get better at running the business not just working in it.

That means going to conferences that I’m not speaking at and aren’t WordCamps and that also means they end up costing thousands of dollars to attend.

It’s absolutely worth it if you want to stop just being the grunt in the trenches and want to start running a business.

3. Book weekly

I wrote a bunch about weekly billing as my time management tool so I won’t dive deep today.

The short version is that you can’t manufacture time out of thin air. I’m bad at gauging my time and at context switching. Every freelancer I’ve talked to thinks they can manufacture time out of thin air and gets overcommitted.

Billing weekly means I just look at the number of weeks booked out and say I’m booked till I see a blank week.

No more time manufactured out of thin air and way less stress.

4. Mastermind

I’ve already mentioned that my Friday involves a meeting with awesome people where we talk about our businesses. This is one of the crucial things to my business success.

When I’m holding on an idea and it really comes down to fear they give me a kick in the pants and I launch.

When I’m not getting my tasks done between weeks they ask me why. Did I overcommit or was I just lazy?

They take a look at projects early and provide feedback good and bad.

They are a group that I can really trust and dig in with. They are friends that can be relied on.

It’s no longer just me on my own. I’ve got a group of people to talk to about my business problems.

Maybe it’s not a Mastermind for you but do you have a mentor? I know that I mentor one WordPress developer and have helped her out of coding problems that were basic for me but something she just didn’t know (I simply have more years experience). I’ve also helped her out with business questions so that she can have some more margin in her life.

I think it really should be all three.

  1. Have a mentor (and yes I’m looking)
  2. Be in a mastermind – This is a great course on masterminds
  3. Be a mentor

You’re only alone because you’re too afraid to ask for help.

5. Invest in my family and friends

Again I get to do part of this with my time off on Friday but it’s more than just a day a week. Last week I took off at 3pm and ran an errand for my wife.

Not because she asked me to but simply because it would make things easier for her today.

Another day this week I took an hour lunch and got the baby to sleep after a morning of crying. Then read a story to my 3 year old.

I take my daughter out almost every Saturday on a daddy/daughter date because being a dad is 1000% more important than being a good programmer.

When 5pm rolls around I stop what I’m doing. I stopped writing this article with the Mastermind section above blank because it was time to stop working and be with my family.

Yes being a good steward for my family does include earning money to provide for us but never to the exclusion of the relationships.

I try to help my friends when they move or when kids are sick by bringing meals or by fixing their bicycles when they need it. Being a good friend is 100% more important than being a good programmer.

Who is your family? Are you spending time intentionally investing in relationship with them?

Do you look for ways to deepen the relationships you have with your friends?

40 hours

Now after reading all of that you may think that I take a bunch of time off and you’d be right. Remember that it’s not about butt in chair time.

Being a good consultant is more about providing your clients with your 100% best. That best does not come out from 50 hour weeks and working weekends (despite what so many businesses push they’re simply wrong).

It’s simple, the more hours you work over 40 each week means you get diminishing returns. After 4 weeks of 50 hours a week research shows that you have lost so much productivity that you should have just worked a standard week.

Don’t believe me then read.

  1. Bring back the 40 hour work week
  2. Why Crunch Mode Doesn’t Work: Six Lessons (lots of good links to research here)
  3. Why Working More Than 40 Hours a Week is Useless

Take Action

Now it’s time for you to take action and get some sanity back in your life.

  1. Pick a day in the week and take a 1/2 day off to simply recharge on what would be a business day typically.
  2. Budget funds for yourself to take a course about business
  3. You don’t have to book weekly but start saying no and making clients wait instead of just working harder. Scarcity makes people want you more
  4. Start a mastermind group (here’s that course again)
  5. Get intentional about time with family and friends. Plan to build better relationships with them.

photo credit: Robiwan_Kenobi via photopin cc