As a freelancer, I can personally attest to the high levels of awesomeness that freelancing offers. I can set my own rates, make my own schedule, do work that I enjoy, and still spend as much time as I want with my son. Working for myself is definitely the right choice for me at the moment.
That said, this type of work has some potential drawbacks. Each freelancer’s situation is different, whether it’s raising a family, freelancing on the side, caring for an ailing friend or family member, or any number of other things. The one thing in common is that all of the tiny elements of keeping the engine running can sometimes make it difficult to maintain any semblance of a healthy lifestyle while working from home. Here are just a few of the health challenges that freelancers regularly face:
- Inertia, or in other words a sedentary lifestyle. Have you ever gone more than a day or two without even going outside? When nothing requires you to go outside and go somewhere, it can be easy to lose track of the last time you saw the sky. In my case, there is the pervasive sense that there is “more to be done,” whether it’s cleaning, working, or mothering, and “frolicking in the fields” doesn’t often make the to-do list.
- Bad food choices. It’s easy to slip into a poor diet of prepackaged foods, sporadic eating, coffee shop treats, etc. This comes from the one-two punch of 1. feeling like any spare moment I have near my computer should be spent working (not luxuriating in a 45-minute sandwich break), and 2. not having the top-down or coworker-implemented structure of a “lunch hour” to begin with. Sometimes, feeding myself just won’t occur to me until 3pm. (My son, however, seems to prefer to eat around the clock.)
- Weight gain (as a result of the first two). Admirable freelancer Lauren Tharp shares more about this on her own freelancing site.
- Lack of sleep. Freelancers are not alone in their inability to shut the laptop and put down the smartphone, but those of us with a hustle or a side-hustle can easily fall prey to “one last tweet” or “one last edit.” For many of us, though, we need time away from a screen before we can truly unwind and get some good sleep.
- RSI (repetitive stress injury) and other desk-working problems can afflict anyone who spends a large portion of his or her day parked in front of the computer, especially if we’re doing so with poor posture and/or few breaks.
When you have your health, you have everything
So what can you do to make sure you can keep having it all?
- Set good boundaries around your time, your workflow, and your non-working life. Kelly Gurnett makes a lot of good points in this post about maintaining balance as a freelancer. The best thing I’ve done is stopped carrying my laptop into my bedroom in the evening. When it’s time to stop working, I close the computer and do something else for at least 10 minutes to shift into sleeping mode. It also helps me to spend (at least) a little bit of time reading a real, actual, made-of-paper book before turning out the light.
- Plan your meals and have good snacks on hand. Make it easier on yourself to have not-terrible eating habits. Front-load your “what’s for dinner” decisions by sketching out four or five dinners you can make. While you’re making your shopping list, add a few good convenience foods to have on hand to grab when it’s time for lunch or a snack. My go-tos are apples and cheddar cheese (you can even get these pre-cut and cubed), boiled eggs (you can get these pre-boiled), cheese sticks, and carrots and hummus. Make extra food at dinner to have leftovers the next day. There are hordes of bloggers out there writing about meal planning, batch cooking, once-a-month shopping, and whole foods for real people. Obsess if you’d like, or just make it easy on yourself and sketch out a week’s worth of dinners in advance, make extra, and have some easy-to-grab food in the fridge and on the counter for when you feel snacky.
- Hydrate. With water. Maybe tea. This is my favorite water bottle (and that is not a referral link). The closer your drink is to water, the better off you’ll be. Note: if you make a whole pot of coffee, you will feel compelled to drink a whole. pot. of coffee. And that’s not really good for anyone involved.
- Move. This is a biggie for me, and it should be a biggie for you, too. Change positions. Work in more than one location throughout the day, if that doesn’t make you go bananas. Stretch any time you feel stiff — at least every 30 minutes. Go outside and breathe some fresh air while you do that hydrating we just talked about. Take a stroll during what would otherwise be the 3pm slump. Some folks get a piece of workout equipment, like a treadmill or an elliptical, where they conduct phone calls or catch up on reading. My solution sort of came out of nowhere when I spotted a good deal on a rebounder. I brought it home and set it up near my desk; now, when I find myself stuck or needing some energy, I bounce for a minute or two. Maybe you can get one of those fold-up stair-steppers for your House of Cards marathon, or listen to a great podcast while you go for a walk. It doesn’t need to be a major exercise regime — just get up and move.
These are a few things freelancers can do to maintain their own wellness while living deep in the waters of freelancing. Ultimately it’s about taking little steps to set yourself up for long-term success — not unlike the art of freelancing itself!