It's kind of like Han Solo's mercenary life, but with more sitting and typing. You take on jobs, meet interesting characters, not get paid (alot), owe money (sometimes) and you have a trusty shuttle (Honda Fit). You get to work with weird people sometimes, and you have a contact list of people with skills that you use on occasion when you need to get things done.
Every person that I've ever met that glamorizes the freelance lifestyle, two things. One, they have never done it, and two, they might not be able to handle it. And those reading this that have done it, then you know what I am referring to.
Here is a quick look at my day to day freelance life for your perusing pleasure. Some exaggerations may occur to make it more interesting, though not really.
Rise and shine
I get up early. Like really early. 3-4am early. And not because the freelance police make me. I get up early to make the most use of the day. To get in that extra email or Twitter DM response later on in the day. To get the things that I actually want to work on done. By the time the sun decides to make its appearance, I've had a productive morning, including my first cup of coffee.
Note that I don't actually work during this time, in its official sense. I create a rough outline for the day. Things that I want to get done and even how to go about doing them if the idea and solution are super fresh in the mind. I do this in notepad, because again, I'm not trying to impress someone with my fancy note-taking tools. I categorize the day into important chunks (for myself) and I just write whatever comes out.
I find that most of the things that I end up writing during these morning hours I actually end up doing. There is very little hesitation and second guessing going on here.
Pre-planning my day
This removes the unnecessary anxiety and stress that comes with the question "What do I work on now?". Some people prefer to do this the night before. I choose to wake up around 3-4am to do this, and have found that I'm just much more clear with thought than I would be at 9pm the night before.
There are things that you "have" to do. If you are a freelancer, you have to for example:
- Email clients
- Sign contracts
- Make contracts
- Meet with clients
These do not go into my pre-planning. The main reason being that they have to be done regardless. There is no point in reiterating this to yourself, since most of the time the stuff that we have to get done aren't exactly fun things.
My pre-planning goes into work that I "want" to get done. Things that move the needle for me in both my business and in my personal life. Things such as:
- Research blog topics
- Respond to blog comments
- Organize project workflows
- Work on book draft
- Code that fanciful idea that will change the world soon
These are things that I want to do daily and that will have long term impact on my overall personal life. And this is where I want to spend most of my time during the working hours. But first...
Go to the gym
I've been going to the gym every single morning for over a year now and it is a habit that I can't stand, but that's why I do it. If you don't do things that are difficult and that you don't want to do, you carry that with you in your day to day life. This could mean, not taking client meetings, not pursuing that next big business venture, not writing that book, etc. So go to the gym.
But make it work for you. I don't enjoy running, possibly due to a past life where I was some type of chair object. So I do calisthenics instead. What started as a 10 pull-up and 20 push-up routine has now turned into a 60 pull-up set with 100 straight push-ups. What a year can do. Mix in some heavy resistance training 2-3 times a week and your body and mind will thank you for it eventually.
But still work..
I've also met potential clients since becoming a regular at my particular gym. The usual faces i see daily all know where to go to now when they need a website. I'm the only web developer in town as far as they are concerned. It's very Han Solo cantina-esque in some sense. People from all walks of life gather at this fitness hole daily and share information. Just be sure to hang around with the folks that share information to your advantage not the ones that are just stalling their workouts.
This is where I have my first cup of coffee for the day. Again, make this time work for you, not against you. The gym hurts as it is. Just the thought of spending an hour or so in an uncomfortable state, by choice, is bad enough. The cup of coffee (black) keeps me going and pushing for a final few last reps.
Finding a place to work
After the gym it's time to find a place to work. To each their own on this one. Despite popular belief, the beach is not usually a buyable option. There's just no internet, and the water damage your laptop can take is not worth it in my book. Also driving takes time, and i have work to do, so the least amount of resistance that I can place between me and getting work done, the better.
I typically choose a familiar coffee shop. For a few reasons. One, the locals know me there and it's nice to see a familiar face every so often. Also the likelihood of getting my equipment stolen is way reduced when I take that restroom break. And two, again this is about getting work done and not putting too much importance on where it gets done. For that is a giant waste of energy.
I assure you the places that you end up working at will coincide with the current success level of your life. I have also worked in co-working spaces, and while those are fantastically fun (they are), they are also kind of "too" nice and I find that the need to work harder is somewhat diminished there. The coffee shop is just convenient, loud, and uncomfortable enough where you can focus, put your head down, and get the work started.
Once the laptop is on, it's time for work. This is the hardest step in this entire process for me. For one I might not have client work, which means my work for the day is to find client work. And if I do have client work, then I have some form of a deadline probably that I need to meet. I've been doing this long enough to the point where clients reach out on a relatively frequent basis, and depending on the client and job, this could be a 1-3 month kind of deal. Those are good, as they pay more and are more flexible. The downside is that the longer a project runs, the more likelihood of the client ghosting due to financial reasons or just because they lost interest.
I also teach for a coding bootcamp and have to meet students at various parts of the day remotely. Most have become familiar with the typical coffee shop sounds of coffee grinders and random occasional yells from patrons. In between student sessions I will normally do something that is completely different to work in order to reset my thought patterns. Many times this comes down to playing a mobile-game for 5 minutes (mandatory) and then immediately stopping.
Coffee shops are great for getting "business-e" type work to get done. But they are terrible for creativity. That's why you never see artists hanging around for too long at your local coffee spot. It's mainly college students, startup founders and freelancers.
This is why I attempt to focus extremely high during the first few hours at the task at hand. I don't want to live in the coffee shop (like I've seen some do). Some people are in there from sun up to sun down working on various ways of earning financial means. Energy is somewhat finite in our day to day lives. It is a part of our biological clocks if you will. We rise with the sun, hunt and gather, then eat and recover.
As a software developer / startup founder, both business and creativity are highly important for me. I need to find that creative space to make something appear. Whether that means writing a blog post or working on a beta version of some software or creating a landing page. And the coffee shop might not be the most creative atmosphere, which is why as soon as the work is one, I bolt.
Where to next Chewie?
I only call it work because when I call it anything else people get confused and look at me weird. I don't consider anything I do work anymore. I talk to clients, I build things for them, I answer technical questions for people and I create things in the middle. Some people call that work, I call it life. Once the business type stuff is done in the coffee shop, I'm free to leave.
You need that rest/recovery period after any kind of work. So letting the brain calm down for an hour or two can be highly beneficial before taking on anything else. I choose dinner and a podcast/ebook to calm down from the day before I take the tablet back out for a different kind of work. Which I will talk about on a future post.
But that's a typical representation of my day to day freelance lifestyle. It isn't glamorous or high paced and it might involve too much coffee and sitting, but that's the job that I signed up for and someone has to do it.
Nothing that I do as a freelancer/mercenary is typical. Some days are not like this at all. I might be meeting a startup founder coaching them for a pitch deck session one day, while talking for 8 hours on another. To each our own journey I say.
If you are a freelancer, comment down below your favorite (not favorite) thing about it.
Happy freelancing folks.
Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.
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