And yet, yet, deep inside, you know there are times when you’d rather call it a day, a week, a month, for Heavens’ sake! There are times when you're just too tired to keep going: tired of translating, editing, proofing, interpreting, doing in-person and e-mail marketing, dealing with all the ups and downs of client requests, deadlines, feedback, budget, prospecting, bids, etc., etc. It's OK to get tired: it means you've been running and doing what you like for a living, with all the drawbacks every job, even the one you enjoy the most, necessarily comes with. Plus, you're a solopreneur, you're not just your boss: you're the PR, HR, Legal, Accounting deps, sales and customer representatives, Marketing team, all in one.
Almost every freelancer I know has, at some point or other, reached that time when they felt like they were about to collapse, and still kept going strong for another couple of hours, days, weeks, months. I myself can’t say I escaped high levels of negative stress during my first year as a freelancer, and certainly, there are times when stress makes me feel like I need to slow down before it's too late, before I can’t pick up the fork to eat my own food.
But of course, the ideal thing would be to squeeze some time in our routine for exercise, relaxation and, certainly, social life waaaaay before that feeling of zombiness strikes.
So, how can you tell your body and brain are in dire need of a halt?
1. Your eyes cry, even if you’re not crying. You seem to see things, like little insects, dots, flying in the air. Artificial light (i.e., street lights) make you want to scream. Sunlight feels somewhat painful after hours of indoor freelancing. You can’t tell your aunt from your brother. Your head aches almost every day. You loathe the idea of going to the cinema or couch-potating in front of the telly like you so used to do with your besties when you were young and blissfully unaware of the business world.
Prompt: Either you got cojunctivitis or your sight can’t take it anymore, what with your PC staring back at her every time she looks into the mirror (your computer screen), six to eight to maybe ten (!) hours a day. So… why not schedule a visit to your eye doctor? While you may not immediately need to wear glasses, perhaps you could ask them to recommend better habits for your sight, like how many breaks you should take in between facing a computer screen for, say, six hours a day, or which would be the right amount of sunlight you should let in while you work at home. In the meantime, try taking short breaks from your office or studio and go take in fresh air. If you have a patio, a small garden, a balcony or simply a window you can go to or look beyond the blue horizon from, just do it! Your eyes will certainly be grateful, the landscape will refresh both your sight and your mind, and taking in some air won't do you any harm, on the contrary! If you feel like it, wear your headset during your five-minute sightbreak and listen to your favourite tunes while you face the sun, the sky, the next building or plant. Do this around five times in an hour and, hopefully, you will not only help your eyes, but also boost your productivity at work.
2. You find it hard to focus, your mind is just elsewhere. You start greeting people in the street that, it turns out, you didn’t actually know. You just thought it was them, but… nope, not them really. You forget to plan your own day, say “Yes” to almost every project that lands in your inbox, then you “forget” what exactly it is that you agreed to do and when or how.
Prompt: Take a break. No, not just a ten-minute break, but a real break, like a whole week or a whole month, if possible. You obviously need to recap here, review the whole picture. Where is your business going to be three months from now? Where are you going to be three weeks from now? Is that where you want to go? Not really? Well, then, you need to take action. Give yourself some well-deserved time off and switch off every possible means of contact with the rest of the world—tell your clients, family and friends that you’ll be literally off for a couple of days in order to recharge your batteries. Read a short, easy novel on a topic you know won't require much of your thinking and logic to understand, laugh at, smile at, be inspired by. Avoid screens, buttons and clicks during your break period altogether. Skip the temptation to tell the world on social media what great a time you’re having by switching off—if log in on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., you'll be sure to have missed the whole point, right? Once you’re back to work, don't immediately take on everything that comes up just like you used to do: plan, devise a business plan, a productivity plan, a break schedule. Stick to that for a week, see what works and what you'd rather change for the coming weeks, but don't drop planning altogether. It seems like you were in need of it to see that multi-tasking may not be that good for you or your business…
3. You have this unstoppable pain in your back. Your wrists screech when you flex them back. You suddenly find yourself crouching 24/7, which includes the time when you’re not working. You find it hard to find the right body position to sleep tight, and your neck hurts even when you’re not sitting doing some TEP work.
Prompt: Get out of your seat. Play some Enya music. Stretch. Attend yoga or pilates sessions, go jogging, stretch before and after you attempt any sort of exercise, even strolling. Hire a personal trainer if you like. Stretch your body, your hands, your arms, flex your wrists before they begin to tell you they're aching. Adopt a ten-minute exercise routine just after you get up and right before you sit in front of your computer to start working. Have breakfast, make your breakfast your priority when you get up, never skip breakfast, always introduce fruit and water to begin the day, and don't forget to keep yourself hydrated as time goes by. There are so many things we freelancers can do in order to avoid being more sedentary than our job will require us to be that you can’t simply it blame it on your lack of time or opportunity. A little willingness is all it takes, and perhaps an alarm or countdown to remind you when it’s time give your joints a break from mouse and keyboard position. So work out.
4. Your spirits are low, you’re always starving or not hungry at all; you can’t even pick up that book you so wanted to read and bought, or watch TV, out of lack of general interest in doing anything other than procrastinating.
Prompt: Social life calling freelancer! Get in touch with your friends and book a table at the nearest restaurant or offer to pay them a visit and buy lunch or supper on your way to their place, so that you can enjoy a good meal and a good laugh together again, like you used to do before you got lost in translation projects and deadlines. Chances are your pals will really appreciate your getting in touch after such a long-time-no-see run, whether that be a week, a month or… well, maybe after a year you’ll need to work harder than just calling and visiting. So what, get creative! There’s nothing a Porche or a Gucci handbag can’t buy, hu? Get back to the people who’ve been leaving messages that you never answered, make an effort to rebuild family ties, attend gatherings, look for a date, enroll on an Art or Drama workshop. Look for something that will drag you out of your comfy zone and demand that you focus your attention and creative skills into something else, way different from what you usually do as part of your work routine. Whatever you do, don't let fear of rejection or failure keep you stranded in your chair, taking more and more work just because that's easier and perhaps more tempting: as long as you can manage to make ends meet, try at least one new activity to shake you out of your weekly routine this year, a hobbie that will inevitably imply interacting with people, not (just) machines and other objects. Anything where art plays a part (whether it be music lessons, painting, dancing, learning a new language for the sake of learning it (not to start translating there too!), taking part in a drama workshop, doing some creative writing, reading out loud with a friend, etc.) will do wonders for your health and train your brain in ways that will surely render you an even better freelancer and entrepreneur. All it takes is a smile!